Barriers to Corporate Leadership Faced by Women

Climbing the Corporate Ladder in Heels: Barriers to Corporate Leadership Faced by Women


According to an intensive annual study in 2018 by McKinsey & Company’s initiative “Women in the Workplace,” in a sample of about 280 companies in the United States, only 34% of senior management roles were found to be occupied by women compared to 66% by men (Krivkovich et al.) In fact, this number and the percentage of women in the workforce, dwindles even further as one moves higher up the ladder.


But why does this gap still exist?


One of the explanations behind the lack of gender based diversity in the C-suite is that women are present in lower proportions from the very outset due to discrepancies in hiring and promoting. This often depends on the nature of industries – typically, many technology companies have lower representation for women. This problem only exacerbates along the management pipeline. 


Often, women are considered to be “inherently unsuitable” for roles because companies prescribe a certain lifestyle to women – one involving the prioritization of home and maternal duties. However, this argument is problematic not only because it stereotypes a certain lifestyle to women, but also because it uses that stereotype as an argument to prevent women from succeeding in the corporate workspace. Although illegal, many managers are implicitly biased by the cost of maternal leave, using that as a reason for hiring women over men. 


Additionally, societal expectations such as these translate in other ways. This double standard culture surrounding women having to choose between a work life and family life, with the choice almost being made for them. In some other ways, it is found that women are inherently anti-risk taking due to the systems they’ve brought up in – a system that reprimands women more strongly for failure when compared to their male counterparts. 


As a result, women often find themselves applying for jobs only when they meet 100% of the requirements, as compared to the average male – who applies even if he only meets 60% of the requirements. When translating this into the workplace, it means women are missing out on opportunities and are unable to climb the leadership ladder because of this strong fear of rejection and failure. The culture that they have been immersed in does not reward women for taking risks, even while they are on the job – it instead requires them to constantly be perfect at every step and can often prevent them from reaching out for opportunities they believe they are unprepared for. 


These are just a few of the barriers that women often face in the workplace – many others include battling discrimination everyday through microaggressions that question female competence, as well as the culture of sexual harassment. Overall, it seems like the culture of society that disadvantages women seems to seep into the workplace. Companies must seek to eradicate this culture. Not only is achieving workplace equity important, it turns out that companies with a greater proportion of women in executive positions have higher returns on their equity and are overall considered to be more innovative and respected. That much more of an incentive to reform the workplace!