As the 118th Congress began in 2023, 25 women served in the U.S. Senate, coming close to matching the previous record of 26 women senators sworn in on the first day of the 2022 Congress. The presence of women in leadership positions has improved over the years, but there’s still a long way to go.
Women now make up 28% of all members in the 118th Congress — the highest percentage in U.S. history. Women achieved another significant milestone in 2023, with female CEOs leading approximately 10% of Fortune 500 companies for the first time, Forbes reports.
Despite these new records, a survey by Pew Research found that 53% of Americans still believe that more women need to hold high political office in the United States. Similarly, 55% believe too few women are in top executive business positions. It’s clear that work is still needed to achieve full gender equality in leadership roles.
TPR Teaching, an educational website, asked 92 business leaders, coaches, and individuals in higher positions of power if there is a need for more women in leadership positions. The answer was a resounding “yes.” It wasn't about fairness; it was considered a business imperative.
“Gender diversity in leadership is not just a matter of equality but has tangible benefits for organizations, including improved financial performance and enhanced innovation,” said Smita D Jain, a certified Executive Coach, Personal Empowerment Life Coach, and NLP Practitioner. “The need for more women in executive business roles and high political positions is undeniable.”
A 2019 study by McKinsey found that companies in the top quarter of gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than their competitors in the fourth quartile. Diversity wins, according to McKinsey's research.
Why Are Women Not Adequately Represented?
Several factors contribute to the perception that women are underrepresented in high political offices. These include the perception that women have to work harder than men to prove themselves (54% consider this a significant factor), gender discrimination (47%), women receiving less support from party leaders (47%), the reluctance of many Americans to elect a woman to higher office (46%), and family responsibilities (44%).
Americans also attribute several vital factors to the under-representation of women in top executive business roles. These include the perception that women must work harder than men to prove themselves (58%), gender discrimination (50%), family responsibilities (48%), the unpreparedness of many businesses to hire women for these positions (43%), and the presence of sexual harassment, which creates a challenging environment for women to succeed (40%).
A survey by the Pew Research Center showed that about one-third of Americans believe that one factor contributing to this under-representation is the lack of encouragement for women to pursue these positions from a young age.
These factors suggest both systemic barriers and societal perceptions hinder women from attaining top leadership positions. It is, therefore, crucial to address these biases and provide equal opportunities for women in politics and business to achieve gender parity.
Encouraging Women To Take Leadership Roles
The Pew studies indicated a correlation link between encouragement and action. The numbers showed 81% of individuals who received encouragement to take on leadership roles actually acted upon it, with 38% doing so frequently or often.
There are many ways to inspire women to pursue leadership positions, as shared by experts in business and coaching.
Women must receive opportunities to take on more leadership roles. This starts in education, where initiatives can help women develop critical skills such as public speaking and decision-making.
“Schools and colleges can introduce leadership programs that encourage girls to participate actively. Organizations should also invest in leadership development programs for their female employees,” Jain states.
Yulia Saf, a female CEO leading a cross-functional global team of 12 in the travel industry, agrees that educational reform is necessary. “We must start with education to encourage more females to take leadership roles. We should encourage girls to develop a love for fields traditionally dominated by males, like STEM and politics,” she said.
Jain also recommends mentorship. “Establish mentorship programs that connect women in leadership with aspiring leaders. These programs offer guidance, support, and valuable insights.”
Nikita Sherbina, co-founder and CEO of Aiscreen.io, insists they have actively pursued an even gender split in executive roles. “To encourage more women and girls, we've implemented mentorship programs and offered scholarships in STEM, addressing the root of gender biases and discrimination.”
Sherbina’s business has benefited from the move. “This commitment has driven innovation, improved decision-making, and expanded our market reach. It's not just about gender equality; it's about maximizing human potential and fostering a more inclusive future,” they add.
Promote Role Models
Promoting successful female leaders as role models encourages other women and girls to pursue leadership roles. Highlighting their achievements and showcasing their journeys can also serve as motivation for others.
“Women-led companies and women leaders are often not represented in media. This is a serious problem because, from a young age, both men and women primarily see male leaders celebrated,” says Andrea Niles, founder of Prospera, a maternal mental health company. “This gives the impression that women are not and cannot become successful leaders and hold high positions of power,” she adds.
By building an extensive network, women can access more mentorship and support from other successful leaders. Organizations should enable employees to expand their networks by planning events such as conferences and workshops that bring together successful leaders from diverse backgrounds.
“Create networks and platforms where women can connect, share experiences, and support each other in their leadership journeys,” Jain advises.
Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives
“Establish diversity and inclusion programs that actively work to create a more equitable workplace culture,” Jain said, urging a proactive approach to overcome gender biases and discrimination.
Jain further recommended that workplaces adopt blind recruitment processes to anonymize job applicants, focusing solely on qualifications and experience. Additionally, implicit bias training should be implemented to raise employees' awareness of their biases and empower them to eliminate them.
The under-representation of women in leadership is a complex issue requiring a multifaceted approach. By encouraging and empowering women from a young age, we can pave the way for a more equitable and diverse future in leadership.