While women are equipped with the necessary skills to perform well as leaders, they are not exercising the ability to self-promote. They hesitate getting their accomplishments known to the people in the highest rungs of the organization resulting to their inability to get the support they need to advance.
This was one of the findings of the latest Conference Board of Canada report released last week. Donna Burnett Vachon and Carrie Lavis authored Women in Leadership: Perceptions and Priorities for Change which is based on the results of a national survey of more than 800 men and women as well as in-depth interviews with female leaders and women who are aspiring for these positions.
The research revealed that the problem does not stem from a women's leadership style which is anchored primarily on consensus, collaboration, and teamwork. In fact, they receive high marks as leaders, with 74 per cent of women and 73 per cent of men in both management and non-management roles agreeing that "women and men make equally effective leaders." They even perform better than their male counterparts in business-oriented and people-oriented competencies.
The issue lies, in part, with a woman's confidence or lack thereof. Compared to men who are more aggressive in putting their names forward for positions where they do not have the requisite skills or experience, women tend to "self-select out." That is, they don't generally take on projects or positions that allow them to advance "unless they feel certain they already have all of the skills required."
But women are also walking a tightrope when it comes to self-promotion, the research points out. Current cultural norms don't look too favorably on females who are proactive and aggressive in flaunting their qualifications to advance as "she runs the risk of alienating her audience." Not speaking up, on the other hand, will also mean not getting noticed as "it's likely that no one else is going to do it on her behalf."
The study authors stressed that this is where mentors, sponsors, and advisors play a crucial role. They give women visibility by allowing them to "let their skills shine in front of the people who make decisions about advancement and career growth opportunities."
Aside from leadership abilities, the report also examined the leadership attitudes, organizational opportunities, and career advancement motivation that affect women's ability to ascend to the ranks of senior management. Their findings show that "attitudes about the need for more women in senior management are still polarized along gender lines."
Some strategies for change include getting the board of directors involved by making woman's advancement a priority; making sponsorship programs of emerging women leaders transparent; and providing more family-friendly policies in the workplace.
Still, the researchers conclude that more women are needed in senior management roles before significant change is felt: "A shift in attitudes will only come when we stop seeing a woman in senior management as the exception and start seeing her as the norm."
By Nicel Jane Avellana, contributor to Femme-O-Nomics.com and r/ally