Why Do Women Leaders Face Discrimination?

Women leaders improve organizations
Supporting women leaders at work is key for creating more inclusive and effective organizations.

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Most companies still suffer from a lack of women leaders at the top. They also suffer from a lack of pay equity. Further, women often face subtle and overt sexism over the course of their careers. All of these inequities impact women’s wellness at work.

Why do these patterns exist? That question has a complicated answer. But, one thing is clear. They shouldn’t exist, based on what we know about the effectiveness of women leaders. Yet, women continue to suffer the consequences of discrimination over time. Below, learn more about what we know about women leaders and why we should all strive toward a more equitable future.

Women and Leader Effectiveness

Interestingly, people rate women as being at least equally effective as men in leadership roles. In fact, while men tend to rate themselves higher in effectiveness, others tend to see women leaders as more effective in these roles. This is true in both mid-level manager and senior-level manager leadership positions. Thus, while there are still far fewer women in leadership roles at the top, people seem to view them as being good at their jobs.

There is some evidence to suggest that this might be because women lead a little differently than men. Because women are socialized to be more relationship-focused, they tend to build more inspirational and personalized connections with others. This can translate into positive impacts on employees and on the organization itself. As a result, employees may view women leaders as more effective in their jobs.

Women leaders are rated by others as being more effective than male leaders, in some roles.
Women leaders are rated by others as being more effective than male leaders, in some roles.

Women and Organizational Performance

Extrapolating this effect, you might expect that organizational performance increases as a result of having more women leaders. In some ways, this is correct. When there are more women on boards, firm financial performance increases. Further, sales performance increases when there are more women in senior roles. So, if you are focused on increasing financial performance – especially in a sales organization – increasing the number of women on your board and in senior leadership may be a very wise move.

For other financial metrics, however, the same boost in performance is not associated with the number of women leaders. To be clear, performance doesn’t decline when there are more women leaders. But, it just doesn’t improve comparatively. Yet, relationships between the number of women leaders and performance strengthens in egalitarian contexts. So, it might be the case that just having women present on boards and in senior roles isn’t enough. You need an inclusive context where their talents and skills can shine, to reap the benefits!

Women leaders can make organizations perform better.
Women leaders can make organizations perform better.

What Can We Do to Support Women Leaders?

We know that women have a lot to offer organizations. But, gender parity has not yet been achieved in companies. This causes women – and whole families – to suffer the costs of added stress and lower financial gains. Based on the above data, each of us can become advocates for women leaders. For starters, we can discuss the benefits of women’s leadership for business and promote talented women who are rising stars in our organizations.

Organizations can also make sure that the climate is inclusive for women at work. We have talked about the importance of building gender inclusive environments before. Senior leaders who are already in these roles need to get committed to equity, in order for this to happen. HR can help to provide training and programming which allows senior leaders to recognize their blindspots and improve their inclusivity. Without having an environment where women can thrive, representation may not lead to business improvement on its own. We hope that this post inspires you to do more to support women at work!

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