Women in Leadership: Surmounting Barriers and Bias

Despite the fact that women earn almost 60 percent of undergraduate degrees and 60 percent of all master’s degrees in the U.S., they comprise only 25 percent of executive- and senior-level officials and managers, hold 20 percent of board seats and only 6 percent are CEOs, according to the “Women’s Leadership Gap” report by The Center for American Progress.

According to a 2017 study by Lee Hecht Harrison, “Elevating Women in Leadership,” most organizations see this as a problem but haven’t been successful in fixing it. The study found that 82 percent of organizations surveyed believe advancing women is a critical business issue — yet only 28 percent of HR leaders are satisfied with their organization’s ability to do so.

Jill Ihsanullah, senior vice president of consulting at consulting firm Linkage Inc., said many organizations and leaders are well-intentioned in advancing women leaders but don’t follow through. “Organizations will say all the right things about advancing women, but when it comes down to it, the decision they make is to promote a man,” she said.

Next Concept HR Association CEO Greg Morton agreed there needs to be more action in changing the demographic of leadership. “Folks often push back at the fact that they are expected to put a mix of leaders out there, whether it’s male versus female or people of color,” Morton said. “They say, ‘It’s not my fault [the applicants] are all white men.’ Well, it is your fault because you have to be proactive in solving this. You can’t just sit back and let things happen the way they always have and say it’s not your fault.”

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