From the very first promotion to management-level positions, more men get promoted than women. After that first promotion, the divide widens, with companies hiring more men from outside the company, and promoting more men internally. By the time companies survey their top-level C-suites, they see that women occupy just 1% of those coveted corner offices.
While some people, such as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, tend to suggest that women hold themselves back in the workplace, and that the solution is simply for them to “lean in,” research shows that many women face obstacles in the workplace that men simply do not. To increase the number of women promoted and succeeding, the modern business world will need to tangle with these issues.
Struggle To Find Role Models
Role models and mentors are so important in the business world that Virgin’s Richard Branson refers to them as “an invaluable asset in business.” According to a survey conducted by Inc, forty-eight percent of female business founders say that a lack of mentors or advisers holds them back.
Without these crucial inspirational figures, women in the business world may be more likely to give up in challenging situations, or make mistakes that keep them from being able to push back against the status quo.
What can businesses do? Many companies have incorporated active mentorship programs within their companies. While these programs are important for all employees, businesses should make an extra effort to involve women and people of color in the mentorship effort.
Both as mentors and mentees, these historically marginalized groups will benefit from the advice of those who have struggled through these challenges before.
Limited Funding Access
According to a study conducted by Babson College, there is a significant gender gap in the world of venture capital funding. VC firms tend to invest in businesses that mirror their demographics; a Stanford grad wants to invest in Stanford businesses, for example.
The Babson study showed that VC firms with a woman executive were significantly more likely to invest in businesses that are founded by women. In 2014, however, only 6% of VC firms were headed by women.
Women also struggle to get funding from traditional lenders, such as banks. Since 2007, one study found that small business loans given to women-headed firms dropped 70 percent. Women may need to turn to alternative funding sources, such as online lenders or credit cards, to finance their businesses, which will cut into profits and reduce their ability to flex with economic changes over time.
What can businesses do? If a company invests in other businesses, it should make a concerted effort to seek out and fund businesses created by diverse creators: disabled people, women, people of color, and especially those entrepreneurs who fit into one or more of these categories. Increasing available funding to the historically disenfranchised will increase the number of strong businesses operating and strengthen the economy.
Held To Higher Standards
A survey by Pew Research found that more than half of women and a third of men believe that women are held to higher standards than men when they seek both business promotions and political office.
For example, the 2016 Women in the Workplace report shows that while women ask for promotions just as often as men (dispelling a longstanding belief that women just need to ask for more advancement), those women who ask are 30% more likely to be called bossy or too aggressive.
If women are punished for attempting to move up the corporate ladder, it seems obvious that they aren’t going to be able to make the same progress as their male counterparts.
What can businesses do? There are many different ways that businesses can reduce hostility towards women in the workplace. They can ensure that women are part of hiring and management teams, push for women to be included at all levels of decision making, and push for equality in review guidelines and other factors.
Decreased Overall Interest
Because of the perception that women have a harder time in the business world, women often have less interest overall in becoming executives. In some ways, this may become the most difficult gap to overcome as businesses seek to increase the number of women in corner offices. If women are simply not identifying high powered business careers as feasible for them, they won’t seek these positions.
What can businesses do? Hiring and promoting women is important, but outreach efforts to local young women and teenagers to show them that business is an intriguing career path will also be necessary. Investing in mentorship programs that target women and people of color may also assist businesses in boosting their interest in business careers over time.