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Not Enough Women Business Leaders: Is it Our Fault?

Megan-Totkaby Megan Totka

Despite the fact that women now account for nearly 60 percent of the U.S. workforce, just 4 percent of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are female – and women make up just 17 percent of Congress members and 12 percent of state governors. But why?

A sttudy recently released from Florida International University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte doesn’t have the answers, either. Researchers set out to find the “why” behind the lack of women in leadership positions by looking at data from several previous studies and analyzing it. Some factors considered were level of education and skill sets for particular jobs. In all areas, there was no significant difference between men and women. Well, in all areas but one. When men were asked to rate their own capabilities they consistently gave themselves higher marks than women gave themselves. Woman at desk

Is the answer to the lack of women in workplace leadership roles contained inside this interesting sliver of data? Could it be that the reason women aren’t in higher positions is because they aren’t trying to land them?

Of course the true answer to skewed ratios of men and women in power, and the troubling wage gap between the two, is more complicated than one study or self-evaluation can encapsulate. Women who do not ask for more money are unlikely to receive it. Women who do not apply for promotions cannot receive them. Women who believe themselves to be less effective than they truly are can easily convince others to believe that too.

So how can the tide be turned? What will it take to equalize the workforce playing field – once and for all?

I think the answer starts in childhood and that there are already many strong programs in place for today’s young women. Organizations like the National Girls Collaborative Project and the STEM Education Coalition work closely with young women to get them interested in learning and obtaining a higher education. These groups, and others like them, empower young women to be smart and strong leaders. I believe colleges and universities are doing an exceptional job recruiting and educating young women and that enthusiasm must start to boil over into the post-college years.

From there, the workforce must respond. Fortune 500 companies should create equal hiring practices that extend leadership opportunities to women. It should become a standard policy that when a man and woman are hired for the same position, their paychecks are equal.  If it seems that only males are stepping forward to apply for promotions in a particular area, continuing education programs should be put in place to bring all employees up to speed on how to step up in the company. Workplaces should offer greater flexibility and look harder at employee performance over number of hours sitting behind a desk. This point goes for men and women – though women still tend to be the ones who stay home with children when family responsibilities dictate it.

It will take a generation, at least, to reach the true heights of leadership for women in the workplace but with some concentrated efforts, I believe it’s possible.

What do you think the workplace needs to be more female-friendly?

Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons:

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide. 

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Joan DeMartin

Excellent. questions that ring true, not matter a woman's background or education.

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