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Removing Road Blocks to Women’s Leadership Journeys

March 11, 2022

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

March 8th was International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The 2022 theme is #BreakTheBias.

2022 International Women’s Day Theme
Imagine a gender equal world.
A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
Together we can forge women’s equality.
Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

In a recent report titled “Women in Leadership: Unequal Access on the Journey to the Top,” SHRM shares new research that shows women, especially women of color, are more likely than men to encounter roadblocks to leadership roles in their organizations.

Female managers of color are five times more likely (21%) than their white female counterparts (4%) to say they have quit a job after being overlooked for a new leadership opportunity at work.

“As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8, it’s important to emphasize that organizations with a higher proportion of women in leadership positions experience improved business outcomes, including greater innovation and productivity,” said SHRM Chief of Staff and Head of Government Affairs Emily M. Dickens. “Yet women are still underrepresented in the C-suite. In a climate where it’s harder than ever to source and retain talent, it’s imperative that business leaders take a closer look at the gender gaps that exist across their organizations to see that every employee has the opportunity to realize their full potential.”

To better understand the challenges that women face as they seek to advance in the workplace, SHRM surveyed HR professionals, individual contributors, and managers from across the economy, finding that women report less tangible support from managers, reduced access to opportunities for promotion, and increased challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key findings from the SHRM report include:

  • Only 61% of women say that their manager encourages them to grow their career compared to 71% of men.
  • Female managers are less likely than their male counterparts to have reached their current role by being promoted internally (40% versus 48%).
  • As women move from individual contributors to managers, they become more likely to believe women in their organization are given fewer opportunities for upward career growth than men (24% versus 37%).
  • White female managers (65%), and especially female managers of color (57%), are less likely to feel included in key networks at their organization than male managers of color (68%) and white male managers (73%).
  • Female managers of color (56%) are much less likely to feel they can talk about their personal life with others at work without feeling judged than white female managers (70%), male managers of color (72%) and white male managers (79%).
  • Female managers with caregiving responsibilities (35%) are more likely to have experienced a pandemic-related career setback than their male counterparts (26%).
  • Only half (52%) of HR professionals believe that senior leaders in their organization are held accountable for ensuring male and female employees have equitable access to career paths or opportunities that lead to leadership roles.

 “Women in Leadership: Unequal Access on the Journey to the Top” makes several recommendations for employers, including “returnship” programs to connect with women who left the workforce during the pandemic. These programs help women re-enter roles that are better aligned with their experience and engage them in ways consistent with their goals.

What Can Organizations Do?

To better support all workers along their leadership journeys, employers should:

  1. Develop a meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategy for their leadership pipeline that is aligned with the organization’s mission, vision, and values.
  2. Track and examine key DE&I metrics to identify gaps in their leadership pipeline and gauge progress toward their goals. Analyze pay equity and retention rates as key indicators to equity gaps.
  3. Identify hidden biases along the leadership pipeline that create unequal access to important resources or advancement opportunities. Equip people managers with training on topics like managing diverse teams and eliminating unconscious bias.
  4. Create more inclusive workplace cultures that foster a sense of belonging for all staff and at all levels.  Previous SHRM research shows that workers who rate the inclusiveness of their workplace as excellent are less likely than workers who rate it as poor to be actively looking for another job (35% versus 51%). They’re also more likely to feel respected and valued at work (92% versus 38%).
  5. Consider implementing “returnship” programs to engage women who may have left the workforce during the pandemic.  Returnships provide valuable opportunities for organizations to access untapped female talent that may have previously been overlooked due to resume gaps. Programs like these can help women re-enter roles that are aligned with their experience and knowledge and engage them in meaningful ways consistent with their career goals.
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