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September 16, 2021 Women in Leadership: How Can Women Shatter the Glass Ceiling? Steve Longo

Women in Leadership: How Can Women Shatter the Glass Ceiling?

Despite the recent advances of women in the professional world, the glass ceiling still looms large.

Women in leadership roles, and those aspiring to rise into leadership roles, face many challenges in advancing their careers. So how can employers and associations become allies of women in the workforce and help them advance their careers?

The recent Wiley Society Executive Seminar - “Leading in a Crisis: Why Women Leaders Excel” -  shed some important light on this topic thanks to the insights  and expertise of Dr. Helen Burstin, MD, MPH, MACP, Dr. Darilyn Moyer, MD, FACP and Dr. Shikha Jain, MD FACP.

In advance of the upcoming Women in Medicine Summit 2021, we’ve examined some of their insights in detail, while also taking a close look at the data, exploring what the “glass cliff”   is and offering some action points that employers and associations can use to help women shatter the glass ceiling and advance their careers.

What Does the Data Say?

Women face numerous obstacles to advancing their careers, even though the data says that women often make better leaders than men in times of crisis.

According to a 2020 study, women leaders performed better during the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing lower infection and mortality rates in their respective countries and U.S. states. This has been attributed to several factors, as women in leadership are often:

· More empathetic to the needs of their constituents

· More willing to make the politically tough calls, such as stay-at-home orders

· More likely to have coordinated policy responses

· More likely to listen to experts

· More likely to possess the qualities of transformational leaders, like vision and outside-the-box thinking

Likewise, another 2020 study from Zenger Folkman found that women leaders were rated as being  more effective than men both before the COVID-19 pandemic and especially during its first wave from March to June of that year.

All in all, the data clearly indicates that women in leadership have been very successful, especially in times of crisis. Yet, all too often, women are held back by the glass ceiling of institutional bias and gender discrimination that impedes their career advancement.

The statistics lay bare the harsh reality that women face as they look to further their careers. Consider that:

· Both male and female managers are twice as likely to hire men compared to women for a role

· Men are 30% more likely to achieve managerial roles

· Just 38% of managerial roles are held by women

· Just 10% of overall workplace leadership roles are held by women

· Women comprise just 23% of C-Suite executives

· Only 4% of Fortune 500 CEO positions are held by women

· Women receive pay raises 5% less often compared to men

In addition to the glass ceiling, the “glass cliff” has also held many women back from achieving equity in the workplace.

What is the “Glass Cliff” That Impedes Many Women in Leadership?

Most people have heard of the glass ceiling – the intangible barrier that prevents women from advancing their careers into leadership and managerial roles – but what is the lesser-known but still relevant   “glass cliff” concept?

The glass cliff is the phenomenon in which women are promoted into roles during periods of crisis, when the risk of failure is highest.

The term, coined by University of Exeter psychology professors Michelle Ryan and Alexander Haslam in 2004, also impacts professionals with disabilities and BIPOC professionals in many instances and has been documented in numerous studies.

In their original study of the phenomenon, Ryan and Alexander closely looked at the performance of FTSE 100 companies both before and after their appointment of new board members and discovered that businesses who appointed women had experienced poor performance in the preceding months.

The glass cliff phenomenon has also been observed outside of the professional world. A 2006 study revealed that female law students were more likely to be assigned risky legal cases compared to their male counterparts, while a 2010 study of political science students in the UK found that they were more likely to select a male politician to run for a safe seat in an election, whereas female candidates were selected to run in much more competitive races.

How Can Employers and Associations Help Women Achieve Equity in the Workplace?

Understanding  the obstacles that women face in career advancement, what are some actionable steps that employers and associations can implement to help women shatter the glass ceiling and increase the number of women in leadership roles?

Implement Sponsorship and Mentorship Programs with Senior Leaders

Sponsorship and mentorship of women, particularly from men in positions of power, can play a key role in helping women obtain leadership roles. Sometimes referred to as “he for she,” mentoring rising women leaders can help them navigate the professional world, connect them with new opportunities and break down gender barriers that have traditionally held women back.

Enact a Transparent and Robust Recruitment Process

Referrals and recommendations play a crucial role in career advancement, but all too often, women are shut out of this process in favor of the “old boys’ network” that sees men in power only advance the interests of their longtime male colleagues and friends.

Employers can work around this by encouraging men in positions of power to diversify their referrals to include women, helping them advance their careers and opening the door to new opportunities.

Close the Gender Pay Gap

Examine any pay   gaps  in your organization with a critical eye. The gender pay gap negatively impacting women is well documented – are you part of the problem or the solution?

Do your part to help women achieve pay equity in the workforce.   

Address Childcare Needs and Recognize the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women and Children

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit women especially hard, as millions of women professionals have struggled to balance work, childcare and virtual education for their children in the wake of the deadly pandemic. This, in turn, has negatively impacted the  career prospects of millions of women, causing many to delay their career advancement goals or even drop out of the workforce entirely to focus on childcare and the needs of their families.

Employers can show allyship by offering childcare assistance, flexible family leave policies and other policies designed to give women the freedom they need to both achieve proper work-life balance and successfully advance their career paths. Making these investments can also help employers retain talent and stem the increased turnover rates caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

Develop Policies and Processes to Fight Bias and Discrimination

For too long, institutional bias and gender discrimination have impeded women's career advancement goals. Employers can take steps to correct this by implementing and strongly enforcing policies and procedures designed to counter gender bias and discrimination in the workplace.

Set Goals and Monitor Progress Closely

Set clear goals and monitor your progress very closely. If you’re falling short, consider leveraging the help of external organizations and professionals to see what your business or association can do to improve and make strides in empowering women.

Hold Training Sessions and Workshops

Bring in outside experts to conduct workshops and training sessions on promoting gender equity and combating bias and discrimination against women in the workplace. This way, your entire team can be aware of the challenges posed by the glass ceiling and be a part of the solution in helping women break it.

Change the Culture

Finally, closely examine your business or association’s culture. Are women well represented in leadership roles? Are you doing enough to promote gender equity? Does everyone have an equal voice?

By asking these tough questions and taking a critical look at your company or association, you can make the cultural changes to it that are needed to help women advance their careers and break barriers into new leadership roles.


Join the Empowerment Movement Today

In recent years, women have made great strides in breaking the glass ceiling, but allyship from employers and associations is essential to overcome bias, discrimination and historical underrepresentation in positions of power.

Through a combination of mentorship, a more robust and transparent recruitment process, adequate childcare support, procedures and policies that can effectively combat gender bias and discrimination and other changes, employers and associations can take the lead in achieving equity in the workplace.

Sign-up for the Women in Medicine Summit being held virtually on  September 24 – 25, 2021 to learn more about empowering women in medicine and working towards gender equity in healthcare. Also, be sure to download An Evolution of Empowerment: A Women in Medicine Summit Compendium, 2021, a collection of articles written by speakers at the 2021 Women in Medicine Summit sharing their insights and expertise on the evolution of empowerment in the medical field.

Interested in learning more about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)? Visit Diversity.Madgex.com today to download our free eBooks and sign-up for our interactive workshop scheduled for Thursday, October 28, 2021.