I was recently asked what it’s like to be a woman in business. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. Sometimes even really hard. I’m lucky to work with a company that truly sees the value women can bring to leadership roles, but it’s still not easy. I have lots of amazing people around me who believe in me, who see what I have to offer the business and team, who truly want to see me succeed, and who see me as more than a “woman in business” – but not everyone sees me this way. And that’s okay.
I have worked hard in my career to get to where I am. Throughout my career I have been faced with challenges that most men never face, and that some men will never understand. Just because I am a woman.
I once had a customer tell me “You’re just a woman. I don’t want to deal with you because you don’t know anything.” I once had a manager tell me “You’ll never be a manager because you’re a woman.” I once had a coworker tell me “You won’t get that promotion because women don’t belong in management.” I have always viewed these statements as challenges – something that I can, and will, overcome. And I have. Tell me I can’t do something, tell me that I will never become something, tell me that I don’t belong somewhere because I am a woman – I will prove you wrong.
While I wish everyone would think this way, but I know they don’t. The gap is closing, slowly.
While the gender gap is closing, slowly, there is still a gap.
- In 2018 only 24% of senior roles were held by women globally, according to Catalyst.
- While women make up just over 50% of the U.S. population, we account for just under 50% of the workforce, but we also account for just over 52% of the “college-educated workforce, according to the article The Women’s Leadership Gap.
- In 2018 only about 5% of CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies were women, and women only accounted for about 22% of board members of Fortune 500 companies in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center.
- Women make up less than 20% of our elected officials, and only six governors are women, according to Catherine Hill, Ph.D. with AAUW.
Women are still judged more harshly than men, thought of as nurturers rather than leaders, believed that kids will get in the way of her career, thought of as too emotional to make good business decisions, and viewed as the secretaries and caregivers.
“More gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction,” according to Morgan Stanley. This directly translates to a positive bottom line for the company. This doesn’t mean that a company must have 100% women leaders or managers to get these same results, but a good mix certainly helps.
Of course, not all women are right for leadership roles, just like not all men are. Like with any position in any company, the education and experience are crucial elements to be qualified for any role.
What can I do to help bridge the gender gap?
As a woman in business, I believe I can influence both men and women to help close the gender gap, and to create awareness by:
- Setting a good example by being a strong, yet fair leader and manager
- Promoting and helping great ideas be heard and implemented
- Mentoring women who are looking to advance through:
- enhancing negotiation skills
- promoting continuous learning and higher education
- providing opportunities to enhance or build skills
- sharing my personal experiences as a woman in business, especially in relation to navigating difficult or challenging situations
- making them aware of programs or opportunities offered through the company
- ensuring I don’t contribute to the pay gap when hiring
- investing my time and attention when I mentor and coach to provide feedback and opportunities
- support their goals and dreams
- Help bridge communication between men and women within the same company and/or team by pairing them together for projects
- Providing feedback on ways to better work together and be inclusive
Yes, I do all these things with all my team members – men and women alike – but I feel like I can really make an impact with women who want to learn and advance and help them navigate the challenges they will or are facing in the workplace. It’s not the same for both men and women, this is clear.
I expect the same level of work from all my employees. Period. I also work with everyone to help them move to the next level as I fully realize that not everyone is at the same level, so I attempt to level the playing field the best I can. Please note that not all women (just like not all men) want to advance or become leaders and that’s okay.
My impact lies just with me, who I connect with, who I can reach. But, if all of us did this each day with our teams, with our friends and family, with everyone we meet, then we could make a real impact all over the world.