Women have made considerable progress into middle management roles. But women in leadership is still an underrepresented category. This glass ceiling is perpetuated by systemic biases, stereotypes and limited opportunities for mentorship.

To break this barrier, organisations must actively promote women into leadership roles, address unconscious biases and offer programmes that empower women to thrive.

Barriers facing women in leadership today

Bringing more women into the boardroom is crucial for companies that want to increase innovation, profitability, and sustainability. Women are consistently proven to be invaluable leaders, such as by improving ESG and increasing net profit margins.

However, only 87 women are promoted for every 100 men. Significant barriers still persist for women in leadership roles, including:

  • Gender bias, from microaggressions to overt discrimination
  • Lack of representation of female leaders, making it seem unattainable
  • Pay gap, with female CEOs being paid 13% less than male CEOs
  • Unequal promotion and hiring decisions, with men getting promoted more often

It’s incumbent upon organisations to recognise the importance of women in leadership and actively work toward removing these barriers. 

A path to change: 5 strategies & initiatives

1. A systemic approach to challenging gender biases 

Gender bias is a major barrier for women in leadership. There needs to be a systemic approach to addressing biases at multiple levels within an organisation.

Crucial to this is an organisational shift. Companies need to foster an inclusive and diverse culture that values female perspectives and is trained to recognise (and call out) gender biases. Male colleagues should also be encouraged to act as allies by actively advocating for gender equality.

2. Mentorship programmes

Mentorship opportunities are crucial for women aspiring to leadership roles. They provide guidance, support, and a pathway to navigate unique workplace challenges. 

But women have limited mentorship opportunities, caused by a lack of representation in senior leadership positions. Organisations should establish structured mentorship programmes led by inspiring women mentors who have successfully broken barriers.

3. Gender diversity goals

Companies have a responsibility to set clear and measurable gender diversity goals for leadership positions. For example:

  • Companies should set targets for women hired into leadership positions each year
  • Companies should prime a diverse pool of women for leadership succession roles
  • There needs to be initiatives supporting the retention and progression of women 

Crucial to gender diversity goals are inclusive hiring and promotion practices. Implementing fair recruitment and promotion processes mitigates unconscious bias and ensures that women have equal opportunities to advance. 

4. Enablement opportunities for women leaders 

To help women leaders overcome barriers and reach their full potential, organisations must be committed to providing enablement opportunities. 

For example, there are greater societal expectations for women to be caregivers and carry extra burdens in their personal lives. Things like flexible working initiatives and robust post-maternity support enable women to strike a better balance between their professional and personal responsibilities.

Leadership development programmes are also important. These focus on building critical skills and addressing any specific challenges women may face in leadership roles.

5. Visible female role models

It’s important to promote and celebrate female leaders within an organisation. They serve as role models and inspire others to pursue leadership roles.

Instead of male-dominated networks, women leaders should be connected with those who understand their circumstances and drive them forward. Organisations can create forums, affinity groups, and networking events where women connect with other female leaders and build relationships that support their career growth.

Inspiring stories of women leading change 

Ginni Rometty

The need for visible female role models is echoed by Ginni Rometty, the first female CEO of IBM. In this interview, she says: “Women need role models. There’s still a small minority who are running major businesses.”

Starting out as a systems engineer in 1981, Ginni was named CEO in 2012 and even became one of Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. It’s fair to say that Ginni has become a role model for women leaders everywhere.

Mary-Clare Race

Mary-Clare Race, Chief Innovation and Product Officer at LHH, also attributes her success to the female role models in her personal life, including her mother, teachers, and professors. She also speaks about the importance of calling out gender biases:

“I have seen situations where other people were held back or missed out on opportunities because of their gender. In these types of situations, I try to challenge that behaviour and feel we all have a responsibility to call those things out.”

Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi is the former Chairwoman and CEO of PepsiCo (2006-2019). She is also the first woman of colour and the first immigrant to head a Fortune 50 company.

With her at the wheel, PepsiCo increased its revenue from $35 billion in 2006 to $63.5 billion by 2017. She also doubled their sales, introduced low-calorie products, and implemented sustainable practices.

Indra is one of the most highly regarded CEOs worldwide. Her advice to aspiring women is this: “An important attribute of success is to be yourself. Never hide what makes you, you.” 

City CV is here to help

To every woman reading this – you don’t have to go it alone. At City CV, we’re committed to helping every woman advance her career and break into leadership roles. Whether you need a CV writing service or a dedicated executive coach, our job is to help you realise your full potential.