There is an abundance of information coming out these days about women in the workplace, and specifically, in upper level management. And from my Vida Aventura work with clients, I’m not surprised at what we’re learning. The numbers aren’t great, and when it comes to describing how the future is looking, bright might not be the operative word. Diffused is more like it.
In fact, If there was such a thing as a State of Women in the Workforce address, the opening remarks might sound something like this:
Between the pandemic and resulting disruptions, plus an intense pressure within limited timeframes for women to rise in the ranks and arrive at the C-Suite doors, there is still great work to be done.
The State of Women in the Workforce
I’m not trying to be doom and gloom here, so let’s start with some good news. As was reported last year, “In 2021, the number of women running businesses on the Fortune 500 hit an all-time record: 41. But that’s not all. For the first time two Black women are running Fortune 500 businesses (Roz Brewer of No. 16 Walgreens Boots Alliance and Thasunda Brown Duckett of No. 79 TIAA). And another executive is making history at the helm of the highest-ranking business ever run by a female CEO (Karen Lynch of No. 4 CVS Health).”
But here’s where things get not-so-good. According to research from LinkedIn, women’s best chances of securing a leadership position at work is in the beginning of their careers. Here are some key takeaways:
- The pandemic exposed all the ways in which work isn’t working for women.
- The picture is even more worrisome for working mothers and those with more decades of work experience looking to rise up the ranks.
- While women have made substantial gains in recent years in both overall leadership and boardroom representation, the research suggests that women start to lose their footing on the leadership ladder after the first 10 years of their careers.
How many countries can tout that women hold more leadership positions than men? None. Zero. Zilch. In the 20 countries that LinkedIn researchers studied, none of the leadership roles that women shared reached the 50% mark. However, Sweden (37%), the U.S. (36%), and France (31%) came the closest.
Working Women & Life Stages
LinkedIn’s Chief Economist Karin Kimbrough said, “In a sense, what we’re seeing is women who don’t ‘sprint’ early on in their career to reach the top ranks become less and less likely to reach leadership positions as they get older.” She suggests that that drop-off coincides with the life stage in which many working women begin starting families and taking on additional childcare obligations.
In addition, yet another Fortune article explains that, based on a recent report, for every one woman to make it to the C-level during the first decade of her career, nearly two (1.8) men do. And the more workers have under their belt, the more the gender gap grows. For instance, after 20 or more years on the job, for every one woman that rises to the top, 2.2 men get there as well. And the statistics are consistent around the globe.
As for the disruption I mentioned in my imagined State of Women address, the pandemic wreaked havoc on school schedules and created immense childcare obstacles. Which is why, in a separate LinkedIn survey of women workers in the U.S., the top reason for taking a career break was for parental leave. Of those women, nearly half (48%) reported feeling a need to choose between prioritizing their career or their children—not both.
Women have always faced significant challenges in the workplace, and in general, we’ve come a long way. Forward thinking companies and emotionally intelligent leaders have continued to navigate change—especially over the last few years—in support of employee health and well-being. But there’s still more work to be done.
Needed: Support & New Opportunities
Kimbrough suggests that the time to shift the perception of women’s career trajectories has arrived. This includes company wide support for everyone, especially for younger women who don’t want to rush their careers, working moms who need to reprioritize, and older workers who want to handle extra responsibilities.
And I concur. Corporate executives, leaders and managers must recognize this critical time to facilitate growth, and provide opportunities and alternatives to traditional leadership paths. Make the time to explore alternatives with your female leaders.