Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities in leadership positions
Since the creation of the Beijing platform women have gained recognition in the economical and political sphere, and have more actively contributed in leadership positions. This progress, although positive, has come slowly. In 1995, when the conference was held, women represented 10.3 percent of the U.S. Congress1. Nineteen years later, in 2014, women make up 18.7 percent of Congress, signifying a change of 8.4 percent over the duration of 20 years. If the progress continues at the same rate, it will be another century before equality between genders in decision-making roles exists. Participation of women in leadership capacities is an important concern and the responsibility to amend the situation falls to both individuals and institutions.
In discussing gender inequality in the workplace one of my female friends expressed the belief that gender discrimination is fabricated. If her claim is accurate, I wondered what could cause the discrepancy between male and female roles. Two possibilities came to my mind: First, that males are naturally better leaders . If females were more competent in working with teams and making hard decisions they would have more space heading institutions. Second, that this discrepancy is proportional to the overall participation of women in the labor force, and does not necessarily reflect any type of gender discrimination. A further understanding of the validity of these possibilities can be gained through evaluating research in this field.
A study conducted by Zenger Folkman surveyed 7,280 leaders of high performing companies around the world2. Peers and bosses were asked to rate each leader’s effectiveness on 16 competency scales, including taking initiative, collaboration and teamwork, and effective communication. Women scored higher on 36 of the 49 items in the survey, while men scored significantly higher in only two items. The rest of the items showed little difference between men and women. In this study, women not only had a better score in the expected stereotyped nurturing competencies, but also competencies such as drive for result, practices of self-development, solving problems and analyzing issues. This study confirms that women are just as, or potentially more capable of leading teams and can make a significant contribution when given the opportunity to participate in decision-making roles.
Further research also shows a discrepancy between participation of women in the economy and the number of women in leadership roles. In the United States, females account for 46.9 percent of the workforce3. Yet, only 18.4 percent of mayors of U.S. cities with population over 30,000 are women1. The gap is seen among politicians, judges, armed forces leaders, managers, and negotiators in the United States and other countries. In Cambodia, where women make up 49 percent4 of the economically active population, only 8.5 percent5 of judges and 2.7 percent of prosecutors are women. In Kenya the number of women ambassadors and high commissioners representing the government abroad was 27.5 percent 6 in 2009, even though women account for 46 percent7 of the overall economically active population.
According to the research, my friend’s idea that gender discrimination is fabricated seems to be incorrect. Gender discrepancy in the workforce is a reality in the United States and all around the world. Women not only get paid less for the same work, but also have fewer opportunities of leadership positions in companies and public institutions. What can we do to speed up the progress and reduce that century of wait?
There are several steps institutions can take to help women advance in their careers. One option is implementing mentoring programs where women can advise and look out for other women within the organization. Another important step is to analyze, make, and implement goals to change the number of females in leadership. Institutions should assess how many women are being advanced and how is that changing the organization. They can also strive to weigh the benefits of a balanced leadership team. Keeping track of those changes will help create a culture where males and females work towards advancing women in institutions.
Individuals can also help by recognizing their ability to motivate and empower the girls and women who are in their lives. Individuals can encourage women to strive to secure roles where they can make key decisions that will create progressive differences within their spheres.
Ongoing research highlights the importance of a balanced leadership team, where males and females work together to secure success. As awareness of gender discrimination in the workplace increases, institutions and individuals can work towards creating a workplace where men and women have equal opportunity to contribute to society and organizations.