Unveiling the Reality of Women in Leadership

Vasantha Priya

08 March 2024

8 Mins

The Reality of Being a Woman in Leadership

Did you know smart, hardworking, ambitious women like you occupy leadership positions in only 10% of Fortune 500 companies? The famous phrase ‘glass ceiling’ came into vogue in the 1970s, and since then we’ve come so far, but we still have a long way to go.

What does that tell you? Why are there fewer women leaders, at the top of the management chain, but plenty at the middle or the bottom?

How can you simultaneously embrace your true potential, claim your seat at the table, and take care of your wellbeing? Those matters are at the heart of our blog, dedicated to you on Women’s Day.

Why Are Women Great Leaders?

Women, ever since we were cavepeople, have been driven by compassion, and care for the greater good. Their agency (ambition, aggression), and competence (intelligence, and creativity) are naturally as high as men, probably higher than men. But, the feeling of communion (compassion, sensitivity to surroundings) is way higher than men.

In general, team collaboration improves if a woman is the head of the group. Everyone feels heard, valued, and cared for in a women-led team. This is because a woman knows how it feels to be talked over, interrupted incessantly, and sidelined. Most women ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone on their team.

Even if two or more team members disagree or argue with each other, a woman leader is more likely to diffuse the situation appropriately, with everyone feeling better at the end of it. That’s why the presence of a female leader leads to an increased perception of fair treatment.

Apart from these admirable traits, a few other reasons why women-led teams are healthier, more efficient and happier are :

  • They think and work systematically
  • Manage complexity and difficult situations without taking it out on the team members
  • Adopt an inclusive approach and find good use for everyone’s skills and potential
  • Perform 20% better financially
  • They show up more effectively than their male counterparts
  • They build and cultivate healthy and strong connections within the group

Challenges Faced by Women Leaders and Entrepreneurs

Several systemic defects stand in the way of a woman rising up the ranks. The following are some of them:

Late, or a Lack of Identification of Potential Amongst Women Leaders

Take an example of a typical team in a corporate setup – a team of 4 people with 2 ladies and 2 gentlemen. If there’s any new initiative coming up, or an extra effort needed, the manager will naturally gravitate towards the males of the group to ask them to stay longer and work with the team, and in most cases, the ladies wouldn’t even be notified that such an event or initiative is happening.

It’s in these projects that the manager and the extended team can see the leadership traits of the employees. When denied the opportunity itself, companies turn a blind eye to identifying the potential of women leaders.

A Dearth of Coaching, or Mentoring Programs For Women

There are a lot of executive coaching programs for women, led by women now. Still, organizations shy away from offering in-house mentoring programs to women and save the mentors to coach their male counterparts. This becomes a vicious cycle.

No Female Leaders or Role Models Within the Organization

Can be a huge disappointing factor for women who have the potential but need the motivation to reach higher. People need to see leaders who look like themselves to understand that it’s possible for them.

Organizations start a vicious cycle if they don’t promote and have more exemplary women in their boardrooms. McKinsey surveyed several women who were trying to climb the corporate ladder, and most of them said, “Until I see somebody like me in the C-suite I’m never going to feel like I belong.”

A Common Myth That Flexible Working Has Lowered Women’s Ambitions

Given how many women juggle family, spousal, and work responsibilities together, they favor flexible working arrangements. It helps them balance their day, and care for themselves. No way does it affect their productivity or ambitions to grow in the company. McKinsey’s 2023 Women in Leadership report states that 80% of remote workers, 83% of hybrid workers, and 79% of on-site employees say they’re interested and prepared to get promoted to the next level.

Broken Rung, and Not a Glass Ceiling

If you’re able to get on a ladder equally, alongside your male counterparts, but aren’t able to touch the pinnacle because of an invisible barrier, it’s a glass ceiling. But, what do you do if several rungs of the ladder are broken, and there’s no way for you to climb up?

That’s what’s happening in today’s workplaces – broken rungs encumber women from moving up, and they’re forced to stay where they started. Unconscious bias drives this practice. This is heavily due to the fact that ‘men are hired for their future potential, and women are hired for past achievements.’

Imposter Syndrome

When you were a child, you had lofty dreams. You wanted to grow up and change the world. As you grew up, somewhere along the way, you settled for less, to fit in, or to tend to the status quo. Now even when you do something you’re completely qualified for and competent, you feel like an imposter counting days until you get caught.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Meta Platforms says it right in her book Lean In, “Career progression often depends upon taking risks and advocating for oneself – traits that girls are discouraged from exhibiting. This may explain why girls’ academic gains have not yet translated into a significantly higher number of women in top jobs.”

Need to be Accepted in the Group and Increased Isolation

Being a leader and going one step further than your erstwhile colleagues can ruffle up some feathers, and there’s a good chance people won’t see you as the same person again. It’s rather lonely at the top rung. This seems uncomfortable for some women and they tend to turn into a people pleaser, stay in the same space, the same cadre to belong to the group.

Chasing Career Clock and the Biological Clock at Once

As women take up female leadership roles, their career clock pivots. They’re expected to put out fires at odd hours, be responsible for their team’s wellbeing, be on top of everything at all times, and manage a lot of people’s responsibilities single-handedly.

During this time, their biological clock also ticks, they go through different phases in marriage, relationships, pregnancy, child-rearing, menstruation, etc, which also demand significant time, energy, and attention. When both these clocks want the same time from a woman, she has to choose one or the other. The ones who choose both can end up burning out, or sick very soon.

Not Able to Set Boundaries

Whether you’re aspiring for a senior leadership position, or are already in one, as a woman, you feel you should always do something extraordinary all the time, to show your team you’re worthy of the position, and you won’t buckle under pressure like others expect you to.

For this reason, you stretch your limits, and take on extra workload, with boundaries blurring out of sight. Society seems as though it’s waiting for you to give up and replace a male counterpart in your place, and it leaves you working 3x more than others, to overcompensate.

Increased Risk to Mental Health

Studies show that women entrepreneurs, and leaders have an increased risk to their mental health, owing to the isolation, overwhelm, inconsistent work schedules, fluctuating menstrual cycles, workaholism, and more. The Resurgo study shows that entrepreneurial women work the equivalent of three jobs and see returns for 50% of one job. Their food habits are disturbed, they have limited time and space for family and friends, and are constantly in the fight or flight mode when it comes to crisis at work.

Proven Ways to Claim Your Position as a Leader

Tips to Care For Yourself as a Woman Leader

  • Get more than one experienced mentor, who shares your values and outlook on life
  • Join like-minded groups (entrepreneurs, leaders, and such). It’ll take pressure off your mind, and you’ll realize you’re not alone in your struggles
  • Ask for help wherever needed, and ask assertively
  • Spend time tending to your old hobbies and passions that you loved as a child. It can spark creativity, act as an anchor to ground you in the present, and give you a creative reset
  • Engage in volunteering and social service activities, organize a charity event, do something out of your comfort zone that requires a different set of skills, and expand your horizons
  • Connect with people from different backgrounds, widen your community and perspectives
  • Just like you schedule meetings, schedule dedicated time for meditation, fitness, and rest. Invest in a quality spa treatment or a getaway to blow off some steam

How Can Nowandme Help?

Given how tough the path to becoming a people leader is, a little support can help you phenomenally. How would you feel if you could talk your heart out to a professional who'd understand what you're going through, as a woman leader.

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