Significant challenges remain in accomplishing gender equality at work as women’s path to the C-Suite takes longer and is stymied by societal expectations, unconscious bias, and legacy gender roles, a new survey has found.
According to the YPO Global Chief Executive Gender Equality Survey, conducted in partnership with the Financial Times and the United Nations’ HeForShe initiative, taking care of the family and their careers during COVID-19 has placed a lot of stress on both genders. But the greatest burden was on women, who are typically the major caregivers of their households.
The pandemic has also exacerbated biases that women have faced in the workplace for years, further underscoring the need for flexible work options and the recruitment of more female talent.
The survey, titled ‘A global imperative: gender equality in the C-suite’, polled more than 2,000 YPO-member chief executives aged 24 to 92 from 106 countries, 23% of whom were women.
Women’s path to the C-Suite takes two years longer
Regardless of the pandemic, the YPO survey shows that women’s path to the C-Suite takes, one average, two years longer. Men who responded became chief executives at an average age of 33.6, while women respondents took on the role at an average age of 35.4.
And not surprisingly, one of the biggest obstacles women face in achieving gender parity, according to female respondents, is childcare and household responsibilities due to traditional gender roles.
Across all respondents, the three biggest obstacles they faced in their journey to becoming a chief executive were “no prior professional network” (41%), “fear of failure” (40%) and “work/life balance” (40%). Almost half of female respondents (47%) noted that “cultural expectations related to gender” were an obstacle, as compared to less than 2% of males who responded to the survey.
Key drivers in the journey to leadership
The top three drivers from all respondents regarding what helped most in their leadership journeys are “work ethic” (45%), “relationship building” (32%), and “passion” (30%). But when looking only at women chief executives, the “desire for challenging goals” ranked second (30%) followed by “relationship building” (29%).
About half of male respondents (51%) knew early in their careers they wanted to be chief executives, while only one-third of female respondents knew. 29% of male respondents said they became chief executives as part of their family business succession plan. This compares to just 23% of women.
The survey also shows that 73% of women respondents versus 42% of male respondents took leave or sacrificed career advancement because of family needs.
The biggest challenges global leaders face
The biggest challenges all global leaders currently face are “navigating and communicating constant change” (50%), “staying ahead of the competition” (47%) and “competing priorities” (43%).
“Balancing work/life responsibilities” was another major challenge for both male (42%) and female (45%) respondents.
Women-led businesses are more diverse
Among the findings of the survey is the positive effect on the rest of the workforce when women are in the C-suite, helping champion a more inclusive corporate culture.
Women-led businesses report more female diversity on their boards, in senior management and in their organizations. The percentage of female directors on boards is double (32%) in female-led businesses as compared to male-led businesses (16%).
Female chief executives reported that 43% of their senior management is female versus 26% at male-run businesses. At the organization level, 48% of the workforce is female at women-led companies; 37% of the workforce is female at male-run companies.
This suggests that female board members are champions for gender diversity and serve as role models within their organizations.
How can business leaders improve gender equality?
But the findings also reveal that business leaders can do more.
Business leaders can improve gender equality in the workplace by introducing training on identifying bias, providing mentorship programmes to guide women into leadership roles, supporting equal pay, prioritising the hiring of women and supporting flexible work arrangements, and communicating gender policy to the organisation, the study said.
Takeaway: The effort for a more equal workplace requires a genuine long-term commitment, recognizing women for their abilities and skills rather than treating them as showcases for diversity and inclusion.