How Companies Can Help Women Overcome Barriers to Advancements

Companies play a crucial role in the formation of their female employees into women leaders. Thus, it is important to overcome barriers that hinder their growth. Here’s how.

According to the 2022 Women in the Workplace report by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, only one in four C-suite leaders—defined by Investopedia as the “upper echelons of a corporation’s senior executives and managers”—is a woman. This goes to show that to this day, women remain underrepresented in higher leadership positions in companies.

While there are different factors that contribute to this workplace gap, including structural and cultural barriers, these setbacks make it difficult for women to advance and grow. But in a progressive workplace where employees value growth and learning, companies must now incorporate measures that allow for that.

In this article, we look into the different challenges that women have to deal with, as well as how companies can help them overcome such barriers in order to advance in their careers. 

Barriers to Women’s Advancement in the Workplace

Structural and cultural barriers have become issues that women have to deal with in their quest for success and advancement at work. Here are some examples:

1. Gender Equality Issues

There is a lack of gender equality between female and male employees in different aspects. In fact, according to the study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership, women feel that “they often didn’t receive the same advancement and leadership opportunities as male peers.” 

“They felt they had to work harder to be afforded the same opportunities as men, and often had to overcome assumptions about their capabilities and actions due to their gender,” the study adds. 

What this highlights is the importance of gender parity in the workplace. Gender parity is important, as it gives women equal opportunities to advance in their careers, as well as equal pay and opportunities in decision-making. 

2. Gender Bias and Stereotypes

Aside from facing gender differences in the workforce, sexism, gender bias, and stereotypes that are harmful to women have long been issues that continue to be barriers to women’s advancement today.

This includes the behaviors that are interpreted differently, based on gender. “Employers tend to interpret men’s assertive behavior in the workplace as strong, commanding, and direct, but when women display the same assertiveness, their employers often see them as aggressive, pushy, and shrill,” St. Catherine University’s article on overcoming barriers to female leadership notes. 

The resulting mental and emotional effects that these have on women are, at times, enough to hold them back from making any progress. Women are then forced to align themselves with gender stereotypes in order to avoid facing any backlash for not fitting into the mold. 

However, there is also a danger to this, as women who limit themselves to the stereotypes in order to avoid backlash also face the possibility of being seen as weaker and not as motivated to progress in the workplace.

3. Lack of Access to Sponsorship 

Gender bias in the workplace is not only seen in how women in the company are perceived. It can also be seen in the mentoring support that women get versus what men get. In fact, LinkedIn notes that women are “typically encouraged to change and adapt in order to progress.” Men, on the other hand, receive support in taking charge of their careers. 

When it comes to receiving sponsorships in order to advance in their careers, men are also found to have a 50% chance of having a sponsor, while “women are not always equally considered during the closed-door promotion and succession discussions” when they don’t have a sponsor to advocate for their promotion to higher positions, which overall, can hinder their career growth.

How Companies Can Help Women Leaders Overcome These Barriers

Companies play a pivotal role when it comes to helping women leaders advance in the workplace. This can be done by changing the company culture to make it more inclusive for women, as well as implementing concrete programs that encourage the progress of women. 

1. Flexible Work Arrangements

One example of how companies can help women leaders overcome barriers is by providing flexible work arrangements. This is not limited to where the work is done, but also how and when it is done, according to LinkedIn. And when clear rules are established, it can be especially helpful for women leaders who are juggling both their careers and motherhood.

It should be noted, however, that companies should extend this benefit both to men and women. “Encouraging flexibility as a normal way of working for both men and women helps to de-stigmatize flexible working and stop it being seen as a ‘women’s issue’ and a potential career derailer,” LinkedIn explains. 

What’s more, it’s important for companies to set clear boundaries along with flexible work arrangements in order to avoid the notion that employees are available to work 24/7. 

2. Training and Development Opportunities

Gender equality is the name of the game if companies want their women leaders to feel motivated, respected, and heard in the workplace. Given this, companies should introduce leadership training and developmental programs for all employees. 

Companies can also opt to offer training and programs whose themes and approaches are more in-line with women’s behaviors and needs. This can create a feeling among women leaders that they are in a safe place to explore their identity, leadership style, and how they can contribute to the company. 

3. Mentorship and Sponsorship 

Given the previously mentioned barriers pertaining to the lack of access to sponsorship for women, companies should give importance to the mentorship and sponsorships that they may need. These are seen as a way to “empower professional women to grow, excel, and gain the visibility needed to move into the most senior-level leadership positions,” according to St. Catherine University. 

How so? Mentorship allows women leaders to pick up learnings, tips, and tricks from mentors that build their confidence. Sponsorship likewise will enable women leaders to build more confidence when they receive the support and endorsement of those in influential positions within the company who believe they are deserving of higher positions and high-stakes assignments.