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Monday, 15 July 2019 10:55

We’ve Still Got a Ways to Go: The Long Road Ahead to Closing the Gender Leadership Gap

Written by Lexi Redmond

Gender Leadership Gap

Women have made remarkable progress highlighting safety concerns in the workplace with the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp Movements; still, there are several issues concerning women in the workplace that have yet to be addressed. Despite demonstrating the necessary qualities and adding tremendous benefits (e.g., financial gains) (Adams, 2016; Chisholm-Burns, Spivey, Hagemann, & Josephson, 2017; Ellemers, Rink, Derks, Ryan, 2012; Smith, 2014), women in America are collectively overlooked for promotions in organizations (Chisholm- Burns et al., 2017). Although some strides have been made in the effort to close the gender leadership gap, women continue to be underrepresented in high-level positions for companies across the United States (McKinsey, 2018).

American women are one of the most highly educated groups in the world. They possess more undergraduate degrees than American men (McKinsey, 2018). However, research shows that men are hired into management roles and promoted much more than women – meaning women are stunted at the very beginning of their careers, and it only gets worse from that point (McKinsey, 2018).

Currently, women make up about 34% of senior-level leaders, and this percentage continues to decrease the further up the corporate leadership ladder they go (McKinsey, 2018). The numbers are even worse for women of color. Women of color are just 8% of seniorlevel leaders — basically all but nonexistent (McKinsey, 2018). These numbers are even more disgraceful given the fact that they include entire groups of women, such as Asian American, Latina, Black, American Indian, Pacific Islander, etc.

In a study that included over 64,000 employed women in America, women described having problems with discrimination, organizational support, access to leaders, and adequate representation (McKinsey, 2018). They also felt like the work environment is less fair for them than for men, and they maintained that sexual harassment is still a huge issue that needs to be continually dealt with (McKinsey, 2018).

Many factors need to be addressed when considering how to increase the number of women in leadership and close the gap. While every challenge cannot be tackled in this article, here are three recommendations for where to start:

• Encourage employees to create a more inclusive environment. Studies have shown that sexism, racism and stereotyping are prevalent in the workplace, and these stereotypes can hurt women, making it harder for them to develop as leaders (Cook & Glass, 2015). Creating an environment of inclusivity would go a long way in helping to promote and retain more women leaders. This type of environment can be achieved through the commitment of organizational managers in establishing rules and refining norms that counteract stereotyping in the workplace so that women employees do not feel burdened or hindered by them.

• Educate all employees on intersectionality. Intersectionality is a theory that was originated to explain how people can have more than one social identity that they find to be important (Rosette, Koval, Ma, & Livingston, 2016). For example, women of color are both women and people of color, and each of these identities comes with its own history and consequences (both positive and negative). Employers must be educated on the unique obstacles facing women of color to help them attain leadership positions. Through this education, employers can be exposed to different perspectives that challenge conventional wisdom about what it takes to excel in the workplace – highlighting the hardships and difficulties minority employees encounter both on the job and in day-to-day life.

• Empower women in the workplace. Low representation and minimal access to leadership remains to be a big stumbling block on the road for women who want to be leaders (Leicht, de Moura, & Crisp, 2014). There must be better leadership development programs and mentorship in place for women in the workplace so that they can develop their leadership potential as well as have more opportunities to become leaders.

These tips are a great beginning to decreasing the gap of women in leadership, but by no means are they an exhaustive list. Organizations should strive to generate a strategic, concrete plan that addresses the issue of the low number of women in leadership because they will be better off for it.


Adams, R. B. (2016). Women on boards: The superheroes of tomorrow? The Leadership Quarterly, 27(3), 371-386. doi:10.1016/j. leaqua.2015.11.001

Chisholm-Burns, M. A., Spivey, C. A., Hagemann, T., & Josephson, M. A. (2017). Women in leadership and the bewildering glass ceiling. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 74(5), 312-324. doi:10.2146/ajhp160930

Cook, A., & Glass, C. (2015). Diversity begets diversity? the effects of board composition on the appointment and success of women CEOs. Social Science Research, 53, 137-147. doi:10.1016/j. ssresearch.2015.05.009

Ellemers, N., Rink, F., Derks, B., & Ryan, M. K. (2012). Women in high places: When and why promoting women into top positions can harm them individually or as a group (and how to prevent this). Research in Organizational Behavior, 32, 163-187. doi:10.1016/j. riob.2012.10.003

Leicht, C., de Moura, G.R., & Crisp, R. J. (2014). Contesting gender stereotypes stimulates generalized fairness in the selection of leaders. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(5), 1025-1039. doi:10.1016/j. leaqua.2014.05.001

McKinsey & Company (2018) Women in the workplace. https://

Rosette, A. S., Koval, C. Z., Ma, A., & Livingston, R. (2016). Race matters for women leaders: Intersectional effects on agentic deficiencies and penalties. The Leadership Quarterly, 27(3), 429-445. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2016.01.008

Smith, A. E. (2014). Getting to the helm: Women in leadership in federal regulation. Public Organization Review, 14(4), 477-496. doi:10.1007/s11115-013-0240-0

Lexi Redmond

Lexi Redmond is an Industrial/ Organizational Psychology graduate student at Florida Institute of Technology. She received her B.S. degree in Psychology with a minor in Business Administration from Palm Beach Atlantic University where she was honored to be named the Department of Psychology’s 2018 Outstanding Graduate. Lexi had the privilege of being a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow for her work in race relations and racial reconciliation on PBA’s campus. Her current research interests include racial and ethnic diversity and its impact on team processes and leadership.