We know there’s a serious lack of women in leadership. A 2015 analysis published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that women account for just 24 percent of senior vice presidents and 19 percent of c-suite executives.
And in niche fields, the problem is even worse. The 2016 Medical Sales Salary report, conducted by my employer, MedReps, found that women in medical sales make up just 14 percent of top leadership positions — the positions that earn the most money.
It’s a problem we’re well aware of, but how do we change it? What can employers do today to actually make a difference, especially in male-dominated fields?
Here are a few things that will help boost the number of women in leadership:
Targeted development programs and opportunities
While both men and women are encouraged to reach for leadership positions, women face a lot more challenges to get there. In fact, a 2015 Pew Research study found 40 percent of Americans agreed that there is a double standard for women seeking to achieve the highest levels in either politics or business — women have to do more to prove themselves than men do.
Not to mention the other challenges women face — bias, both intentional and unintentional, long-held gender beliefs, and the tendency for people to view women in leadership as likeable or effective, but not both.
The road is tough, but support from employers can make all the difference, Sandy Salerno, Area Vice President of Northeast Sales at Ethicon said. “J&J offers so many different programs and initiatives that address these challenges that we see. As a company, we provide different training programs that help women with how to be assertive, how to be an influential leader, and how to be a leader among leaders.”
While companies can’t tackle problems overnight, they can establish programs to help train women in leadership and give them a better foothold as they climb the ladder.
Training and development is a great place to start to help bring more women into leadership, but women need more one-on-one coaching as well. Women tend to doubt their skills more than men do, and that can hold them back in the long run. After all, a study published in March 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America, found that when asked to predict their performance on a math evaluation, men overestimated their scores, while women were more likely to underestimate theirs.
Mentors can help encourage women to push themselves, reach for the next opportunity, and have more confidence in their skills.
“As a woman, you get a little nervous. You question yourself,” Salerno said. “But having the support of a mentor to encourage me to reflect on my success over the years and the changes I’ve made along the way, made me believe I can do this. I have the support, I have the skillset, and I have the ability.”
Flexible work options
Work-life balance is a challenge for every professional, but women reaching for leadership positions may feel this conflict even more. While men and women share household duties more evenly, women still own more responsibility, a 2015 survey conducted by Pew Research suggests. In the survey, 54 percent of respondents said women have a larger role when it comes to managing children’s schedules and activities, and 47 percent said the mother does more when taking care of sick children.
“I’m married with two children — I’m a caretaker, and that is like another job,” Salerno said. “It’s challenging to manage all of that while also building your career.”
But flexibility can make this balancing act easier for rising women leaders. Allow employees to set schedules that work for them, work from home part or full-time, or make other flexible arrangements to fit their lifestyles. That way, women don’t have to compromise their career to spend more time taking care of their families.
Transparent pay policies
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room — the wage gap. According to a 2015 survey conducted by Gallup, only 22 percent of women are happy with their salary, compared with 40 percent of men. It’s no secret that men typically earn more than women, especially in fields that have traditionally been dominated by men. For example, in medical sales, women earn 80 percent of what men do, the 2016 Medical Sales Salary report found. So why would women want to work harder than men to gain leadership positions just to earn less than their male counterparts?
The pay gap is a complicated issue, and employers won’t radically change the entire system, but they can start to make a difference. Adopting transparent pay policies across the company may be the best way to show employees how much is made at every level, how pay is determined and that everyone, regardless of gender, is paid fairly. Opening discussions about pay and making information accessible that explains how salary is determined, even in commission-based fields like sales, may help increase the number of women in leadership. When women know their work will be valued, they’ll be more likely to reach for higher positions.
Societal change won’t happen instantly, but employers can take action now to better support women in leadership in their own organizations.
How does your organization support women in leadership? Share in the comments below!
For more insight on diversity in the workplace, read Are Workforce Gender Equity Quotas Good Or Bad?