women in leadership

The Importance of Women in Leadership & How to Empower Them

Gender bias, stereotypes and expected social norms are amongst the many barriers to the number of women in leadership roles. These somewhat archaic policies, practices, and perceptions continue to undermine a parity of women in leadership, female career progression and create obstacles in the workplace.

Predictions by the World Economic Forum indicates that it will take 70 to 107 years to close the gender gaps in Asia. However, there is irrefutable proof from studies that women in leadership benefit business and improve financial performance, indicating that women in leadership are critical for organisational success and companies that intentionally prioritise and plan for women’s leadership development gain significant advantages.

Research shows that diverse teams drive better business performance, and companies with more diversity become more innovative, resilient, and better able to respond to complex challenges.

Although each organisation has its own unique challenges, knowledge can be gained from various experiences and perspectives and organisations that fully see, appreciate, and engage all their talent, gain insight, perspective and knowledge that would otherwise be missed.

Gender Disparity in STEM Related Industries

There is an inherent vacuum created by gender disparity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related industries. Studies show that women in healthcare represent 65% of the workforce but despite their buying power and workforce influence, the number of women in top leadership positions is discouragingly low.

Furthermore, pharma sector women constitute only 25% of leadership teams and there is only one female CEO among the top 10 pharmaceuticals (by revenue).

Gender diversity remains one of the biggest challenges in employment leadership today. In 2019, out of 500 CEOs, in Fortune 500 companies, only 33 were female constituting 6.6% and further research by the Glenbrook group indicates that gender discrimination fosters higher turnover rates for women as approximately 50% of women in leadership roles from outside leave in the first year.

An online pharmacy research in 2018, investigated the gender makeup of leadership teams, in both the executive committees and the board of directors, from the 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies by revenue in the world.

In executive committees, only 34 of the 133 positions were held by females while in the boards of directors there were only 34 women compared to 82 male directors. However, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer had at least 40% of women in executive committees while GlazoSmithKline and Sanofi had at least 40% females on their boards of directors.

In reality, gender inequality is a major issue that affects not only the lives of individual men and women but stunts economic growth and innovation, along with hindering social development, and studies have shown that gender equality provides numerous economic benefits to corporates.

One such report by PIIE showed that increasing women in corporate leadership teams to 30% correlated to 1% increase in net margin, which translated to a 15% increase in profitability. Furthermore, Credit Suisse reported that companies with women in leadership positions generated 19% higher return on equity (ROE) and 9% higher dividend payments.

Reasons For Gender Disparity

The gender gap in business is well documented, as various studies show that women outnumber men in college, have reasonable education, talent, and as hard working as their male counterparts; yet they represent just 6.6% of chief executives in global fortune 500 companies.

Although there appears to be no tangible barrier in the pharmaceutical sector for workplace entry towards women, obstacles seem to arise in career advancement in different ways like pay gap, unconscious bias, micro-aggressions, or childbearing. Thus, as women move up the ranks, resistance, discrimination, and isolation also increase.

Maternity as one reason why women either drop or hit a plateau in their careers, is evidenced in a 2019 UK-based study which found that 90% of new fathers were in full-time work three years after their child was born, but less than 30% of new mothers were employed and after five years of being parents, 26% of men had been promoted compared to just 13% of women.

Furthermore, childcare responsibilities exacerbated by the Covid 19 pandemic further fuelled the rate of females dropping out of work and it was reported that up to 2 million women considered leaving their industry in 2020.

Research conducted in the Asia Pacific regions indicates that two types of factors combine to create roadblocks for women leaders: pull factors and push factors. Pull factors are internally driven limitations women place on themselves, pulling them away from leadership roles or actions while Push factors are externally driven limitations place on women by others in their network, their organisation, and the society or culture.

It has been suggested that gender disparity women in leadership roles for commercial pharma can partially be attributed to women getting the ‘wrong’ degrees. Such suggestions claim that, although the number of women studying sciences outweighs men, more men study degrees such as business and economics that are arguably more suitable for the corporate pharmaceutical world.

In addition, research outlined on Pharmaceutical Online states that as seniority of the degree increases, the number of men achieving these qualifications greatly exceeds the women doing so.

It is also suggested that companies’ recruitment and retention process may partially be to blame for the lack of female representation at leadership level as revealed by a commissioned report from Massachusetts Biotechnology Council which highlighted that 61% of women thought their previous companies’ recruitment process was gender biased.

Diversity and inclusion are key components to a strong organisation. The lack of diversity can cause a variety of problems in the workplace, such as:

  1. Low morale among employees who feel like they are not being treated equally.
  2. Lower employee engagement.
  3. Risk of lawsuits for discrimination.
  4. A lack of creativity and innovation due to the homogeneity of the workforce.
  5. Difficulty attracting talent from different backgrounds.

Efforts To Improve Diversity in Leadership

There have been some remedial actions geared towards gender disparity at the biggest pharmaceutical companies. In 2020, 70% of biotechnology companies listed diversity and inclusion as a priority, which was a significant increase from the previous year and between 1993 and 2015, the number of women in life science increased by almost 175%.

Specifically, organisations such as Lilly, have made a concerted effort by creating intervention schemes and changing their company culture, which lead to a rise of women leaders from 38% to 41% in 2018, and 61% of promotions in 2017 where female, while increasing the amount of women directly reporting to their chief executive from 31% to 43%.

Furthermore, several initiatives like the ‘BIO Boardlist’, attempt to encourage diversity by creating a catalogue of potential candidates for board membership and in the UK Academia, an on-going initiative towards gender equality is the Athena Swan Charter which recognises the commitment made by higher education institutions to advancing and promoting women’s careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine.

Aligning awareness and education with targeted action by women, men, and organisations can change established patterns that get in the way of women achieving their career and leadership goals. This can be achieved by coaching and supporting women to minimise the pull factors; engaging male and female leaders to tackle push factors; and refining organisational systems to provide more opportunities and enhance progression.

Benefits Of Gender Inclusion

Statistics show that nearly two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are women and about two-thirds of the caregivers to patients with the condition are also women. Overall, 77% of the NHS workforce are female and women tend to make most of the healthcare decisions for their families. Thus, it seems counterproductive to exclude women from decision-making roles in biopharma companies.

Studies show that female leaders benefit business by increasing the talent pool and financial performance. Evidence from research shows that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on boards financially outperform those with the fewest female board members. Strong women leaders bring in a higher return on equity, organisations with larger shares of women directors had higher capital buffers, a lower proportion of nonperforming loans, and greater resistance to stress.

Higher diversity levels in organisations correspond to higher innovation revenues and organisations with more female employees are a better place to work and higher job satisfaction for both men and women is recorded at women-led companies relative to male-led companies.

Women leaders can also assist innovation culture because female gender qualities tend towards more nurturing, relationship-oriented and participatory style of leadership than men who are more directive in leadership.

This claim is supported by a McKinsey & Company research which identified nine key leadership behaviours that have positive effects on organisational performance and identified that women use five of the traits more than men viz; “People development”, “Expectation and rewards”, “Role model”, “Inspiration”, and “Participative decision making”. On the other hand, men used two traits more often (“Control and corrective action” and Individualistic decision making”) while the remaining two traits (“Intellectual stimulation” and “Efficient communication”), had no significant differences between genders in application.

Ways to Recruit, Retain, and Advance Women in Leadership

The first step to recruiting and retaining women is to create a culture of inclusion. The reason why they are not being recruited or retained is because they feel like they do not belong in the company. It’s important to make them feel welcomed and valued by creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels free to express themselves without fear of being judged.

The next step is to give them opportunities for advancement that are equal or greater than their male counterparts. When women get promoted at the same rate as men, it builds trust within their teams and creates a more inclusive work environment where everyone feels like they can succeed at any level.

Ways to develop & encourage Women in Leadership

Women in leadership positions often experience a lack of confidence. This is common because they are often the only woman in their immediate orbit, and they are often surrounded by men.

Specialist women in leadership coaching is essential to the development of women in leadership. Women in Leadership should always be looking to improve their skills, build resilience and be properly prepared for the stresses and pressure leadership brings.

Sarah Jones Leadership Coaching and Women in Leadership

As a former member of the women in leadership fraternity  I have personally overcome many challenges women face as they progress their careers on the path to becoming women in leadership. With over 25 years working in leadership positions within global organisations, I am ideally placed to coach and prepare women for leadership roles.

If you are a woman, who is an aspiring leader of the future, an experienced woman in leadership, or an organisation looking to prepare your female employees for roles in leadership, then please contact me and I will help you achieve your goals.

How have I helped female leaders before?

Whether in their current, new, or first leadership role, I’ve helped women to find their voice & influence at a senior level, build confidence & resilience, embrace assertiveness as an asset to their role, and build alliances, overcoming any organisational & structural barriers.

Using proven tools & techniques, we will understand & analyse your behaviours at work, and define areas that we can improve upon. I have access to data that outlines the key global leadership traits that count today if you want to be successful and we will develop a plan to build key skills & techniques.

As a woman in leadership, whether new or experienced, you may realise that you need to adapt your mindset and style. Here are just some of the areas I cover – It’s called the ABC’s of women in leadership – Assertiveness, Boldness, Confidence: Owning your leadership journey & embracing your style, and what you offer.

  • Assertiveness training & skills
  • Boldness training & skills
  • Confidence training & skills
  • Finding your voice, and speaking up
  • A dive into ‘alpha female’ & related concerns
  • Building alliances & influence across the organisation
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Analysis of your leadership traits according to global benchmarks
  • Conflict resolution
  • Finding balance & dealing with competing emotions
  • Image, voice, words & body language

Many women have often told me that they find balancing competing emotions around wanting a career & balancing that with family life & parenting, emotionally & practically challenging – don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

Together, we will create & work through a personalised action plan to achieve both your personal & professional goals. To start this process I offer a no-obligation, complimentary and confidential consultation.

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Branding oneself as a leader, sarah jones leadership coaching, Assertive Communication