Leadership on Point

Professional Advancement in the Corporate World: The First Steps to Fostering Female Leadership

Women Executives in Corporate America, Female Leadership

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Coaching Urged for Women: Inadequate Career Development Holds Back Female Executives, McKinsey Says”, addressed a significant yet often overlooked dilemma in today’s corporate world: how do corporations cultivate and sustain gender diversity among managers and eliminate barriers for female advancement in the workforce?

In order to exemplify a reputable and respectable manager, one must execute basic leadership functions. The three C’s – command, control, and coordinate – have become standard management oriented skills, and are often executed by the male-dominant corporate world.  How can women advance in the workforce if the three core managerial skills are man-made, developed by men decades ago?  These standards are ingrained in our minds; we assume that the CEO of a Fortune 500 company is authoritative and direct, and typically a male figure.  We presume that women do not have the time or energy to act as senior-level managers because of their role as mothers and caretakers.  The women who do, in fact, rise to the top and assume senior management positions often execute more behavioral/supportive leadership skills; we often describe these leaders as those who motivate, inspire, and articulate a vision.  Women who have taken on more senior and managerial roles often work in women-oriented careers such as health and education, rather than business and technology.

If corporations want women to reach their full potential, then the organization must acknowledge and respect that leaders come in all forms, invest in professional development courses that foster facilitative and collaborative leadership, and encourage skills that combine both authoritative and behavioral characteristics.  The way to do this is two-fold: the first involves the engrained belief system of the company, the latter entails increased opportunities for women.

Starting with the second point, companies must be actively working to create more opportunities for advancement for women currently in middle-management positions.  This,according to the study (and agreed upon by us), can be achieved through rotational programs, executive coaching and leadership development training.  Of course, these efforts will be fruitless if the organization is unable to change its perceptions of women as leaders.  Current leaders must make it a priority to recognize if – consciously or not – their organizations have implemented barriers to prevent the advancement of their female staff.  If these hurdles do in fact exist, it becomes the duty of current leadership to ensure that the future leadership of that organization is equal in opportunity and centered around ability and skillfulness rather than gender.




Written by Jessica Levin, Research Assistant in Health and Epidemiology, Abt Associates, Cambridge, MA and RLA Associate, Meghan Vincent.