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We live in a time of global, interconnected communities and economies. Ideas, products, and strategies are all shared between businesses, countries, and cultures. But there is a distinct gap when we look at the statistics of who is doing the sharing and trading.
Less than a quarter of the women in the healthcare industry, for example, hold C-level positions. Even industries founded by women and whose processes codified by women, still lack female leadership. By creating paths of upward mobility for women, we can improve the functioning and health of organizations. We have to not only support the women who aspire to be leaders but support the women already in positions of power.
Unconscious bias — ingrained attitudes and stereotypes — fuels key factors in the systemic lack of support for women. From the distribution of administrative tasks to women to rationalizing the lack of women in particular areas as due to a natural lack of ability. This lack of representation not only does a disservice to women, but it limits the ability of companies to reach their full potential.
Women currently hold only 5% of executive positions in Fortune 500 companies. Of the 150 highest-earning companies in silicon valley, almost half lacked any female executive leadership in the last 5 years. This is in spite of the fact that companies that promote and elevate women to high-level positions are valued at up to 42% more. Besides financial benefits, female leadership creates organizational efficiency and promotes creative problem-solving, besides.
In the late 90s, The Hunger Project focused on hunger and food instability in rural China. In these villages, men were responsible for providing food, and women were responsible for providing clean water. THG originally focused on the men but quickly realized that women were responsible for the systems that supported them. As a result, the men were guaranteed clean water and had never had to push for social advancement, so their part in food supply had never changed.
By focusing on the women who were creating dynamic systems that supplied community resources, THG was able to make a greater impact. Since then, Cathy Burke, the previous CEO of The Hunger Project, has focused on supporting and developing female leadership. She has found that empowering women in corporate structures created change like the type she saw in the rural Chinese villages.
So how do we change the systems that keep women from advancing to high-level positions in a lasting way? There are clear benefits to having women in positions of power and a key factor in the suppression of women in the workforce is unconscious bias. A major step in empowering women is to address the ingrained perceptions that have kept them out of positions of power for so long.
When asked to describe men in leadership, versus women in similar positions, the language we use puts our perceptions of women display. When asked to describe male leaders terms such as “bravado” “powerful” and “arrogant” are used. when asked to describe women “multi-tasking” “empathetic” and “strong” are used instead. While the latter are rarely valued as leadership qualities, understanding their power is critical. Embracing the resulting variance in management styles can build systemic changes, supporting dynamic, creative leaders.
Embracing new ideas is critical, as is fostering their development. Helping to build female-centered networks supports women in business and sets them up for success. In male-dominated industries, building support networks that elevate women is even more important. By utilizing your experience to guide them through their career, you can help add to the momentum that has already been built. Offering mentorships to early-career women can provide the necessary support for their pursuit of success.
Whoopie Goldberg is quoted as saying: “We are here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.” One way to support women who are advancing towards leadership is to change the way that we consider promotion candidates. By evaluating candidates on the new ideas and methods that they offer, we can create room for advancement and ingenuity. This opens opportunities for creative problem-solving and management styles often represented by women.
Women are still massively underrepresented, underutilized, and undervalued in the workforce. As advancements have been made over the last few years, we have seen an increase in the number of women in executive positions. Whether It is through mentorship, policy, or education, we need to keep investing in these dynamic female leaders. Empowering women and closing the gender gap betters communities and companies alike.
Supporting women by making active changes to our society is a daunting task. It is one that takes time, resources, and a lot of tenacity. However, it is imperative that we do so, that we bring new ideas and perspectives into our workplaces, solutions, and management. Furthering the success of women, whether in rural China or in corporate America, does nothing but better our future.
Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college, he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics, but technology and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.