Why are there so few women in leadership?

We all know that female leadership positions are a concern within the Namibian business community. However, at PwC we have established a Women’s Initiative to adapt our people management styles in order to cater to the needs of our female employees.

We engaged in a global survey in 2007 to establish the challenges facing women in leadership positions including the means to get there.

External research from around the globe demonstrates the challenges women face in progressing their careers and assists in answering the ‘if not, why not’?  There are many reasons for the ‘leaking pipeline’ and lack of women in leadership positions including:

Cultural reasons:

  • Exclusion from informal male-oriented networks
  • Lack of female role models
  • Lack of mentoring opportunities
  • Work/life challenges and perceived lack of flexibility
  • Gender stereotyping - for example:
    • When women leaders act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes (focus on building relationships, express concern for other people’s perspectives) they can be viewed as less competent leaders
    • When women act in ways that are inconsistent with such stereotypes (act assertively, focus on the task at hand, display ambition), their behaviour can be judged as too tough and unfeminine.
  • Lack of transparency in role appointments
  • Lack of opportunities (known/communicated)
  • Lack of clear career path
  • Perceived lack of skills/experience

Personal reasons:

  • Less likely to self promote and to take risks
  • Career interruptions due to family responsibilities
  • Lack of understanding the politics
  • Feeling isolated/not supported
  • Lack of confidence/self-belief

Current research provides some insight into these often quoted reasons:

  • Women believe they are subjected to higher standards than men and have to work harder to have others accept the same level of competence as their male peers (The Double-Bind Dilemma for Woman in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t, Catalyst, 2007)
  • The ‘glass cliff’ – as a result of the challenges of getting to the top (including greater stress, tougher jobs) when women get there they report high levels of burnout  (The Glass Cliff: The Stress of Working on the Edge, 2006)
  • Female executives tend to focus more on positioning themselves in external networks, whereas male leaders put the major thrust of their efforts into building and nurturing networks within the company. (Inspiring Women: Corporate Best Practice in Europe, The Lehman Brothers Centre for Women in Business,  2007)
  • External exposure is less important than internal visibility within the organisation (The Anatomy of the Glass Ceiling: A Survey on Women in Corporate Management in Six Countries, Accenture, 2006)
  • Some women have reported they feel they have to outperform men to get the same rewards (The Glass Cliff: The Stress of Working on the Edge, 2006)

Tips for women in leadership

  • Get help and give it, too
  • Be proactive
  • Opportunity knocks –take it
  • Make the right career investments
  • Build self confidence
  • Balance work and family
  • Know your personal values and aspirations
  • Take the journey

We encourage all our PwC leaders and the business community to commit to increasing our female leadership as an important element of our sustained success as a market leading business.