Developing Inspirational Female Leaders
Developing Inspirational Female Leaders

Which historic leaders have most inspired you? 

If you were to write a list, would there be more male names than female? Generally speaking, it’s much easier to recall men of historical significance than women. Compare how well-known Emmeline Pankhurst and Rosa Parks are with Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela for some examples of the global reach of historic male leaders.  

There’s no doubt that there have been many memorable female leaders, but wouldn’t it be good to have a balanced list so that inspirational role models are represented by the diversity of our population?  

Gender Equality isn’t a reality yet  

We’re getting much better at recognising women of historical significance, but there’s still a long way to go in terms of recognising women of talent and leadership significance today. There are still many barriers to women achieving senior positions. Research from Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in Management (August 11, 2020) shows that globally, the proportion of women in senior management positions is just 29%.  Although this is the highest number ever recorded, it’s nowhere near equal.

Mercer analysed over 1,100 organisations across the world in 2020 and found the following pipeline for women in leadership:

  • Executives: 23%
  • Senior managers: 29%
  • Managers: 37%
  • Professionals: 42%
  • Support staff: 47%

Although diverse workforces have been proven to be more successful, productive and creative, gender equality is still far from being a reality in UK organisations. Many organisations are still experiencing gender pay issues, disparity in promotion processes and a lack of female representation on UK boards. Women often report that their voices are not being heard. And despite changes in flexible working becoming more acceptable, balancing a successful career and family life remains a significant challenge. All these factors continue to mean many talented women continue to drop out of their career.   

What can organisations do to re-balance? 

There are many practical and measurable activities that organisations can do to change the status-quo and ensure that gender equality becomes more of a reality:  

  • Reviewing reward and promotion processes
  • Conducting engagement surveys for feedback (and being open to the feedback received)
  • Initiating focus groups to understand barriers to progression
  • Running a mentoring scheme
  • Ensuring talent spotting is gender balanced and bias-free
  • Adopting and encouraging flexible working practices for everyone
  • Showcasing great female role models
  • Offering coaching for women who are returning from maternity leave  

Investing in leadership development is another solution for organisations and is critical in strengthening gender balanced leadership teams of the future. Women need to have the same opportunities to develop their influencing skills, learn how to think strategically, lead change, and motivate teams to success.  

It’s about working together  

Bringing people together at all levels of the organisation can help enormously in identifying barriers and finding solutions to women’s progression. This can help create engagement and energy for change and can trigger real shifts in an organisation’s culture. Leadership teams can play their part by creating, embracing and pushing for opportunities for women to be recognised for their talent and given a chance to shine. 

Together, we can hold ourselves accountable for gender change and ensure that future leadership teams feature a balance of men and women. Hopefully, when the next generation asks which leaders have inspired them, there’ll be no shortage of inspirational women to add to the list.