How to overcome challenges faced by women in leadership

Ahead of International Women’s Day, businesses are being advised to consider four key approaches to support women in leadership roles within their organisations.

FDM Group, a global business and tech consultancy, has shared valuable tips to help businesses address and solve some of the key challenges faced by women in leadership in 2024 and beyond.

Women continue to face unique challenges and hidden gender barriers in the workplace, particularly in comparison to their male counterparts and, as a result, they remain underrepresented in senior positions.

Detrimental to both women and business, this scenario adversely affects not only gender dynamics but also overall business and economic success.

It's essential that businesses properly address the obstacles that female leaders may face at work. If these aren't properly tackled, a company might miss out on the full benefits of a diverse leadership team.

Here are four key challenges faced by women in leadership in 2024, and advice to businesses on how to overcome them:

Stereotypes and societal expectations

Societal norms and expectations often confine women to predefined roles, making it challenging to break through traditional moulds. Overcoming deeply ingrained stereotypes is essential for empowering women to pursue and thrive in leadership roles.

In particular, the stigma surrounding work-life balance disproportionately affects women, making it challenging for them to balance family responsibilities with leadership aspirations. This stigma has a large role to play in the motherhood penalty, a phenomenon that is widening the gender pay gap and preventing women across sectors from assuming more demanding, leadership roles.

In order to overcome these challenges, organisations must implement inclusive policies, such as flexible working arrangements, childcare options, or appropriate parental leave policies.

Unconscious biases

Unconscious gender biases seep into decision-making processes, subtly favouring traditional leadership traits often associated with men. Along a similar vein, women experience double standards whereby those in leadership positions face heightened scrutiny, with their actions subjected to different expectations than their male counterparts. Identifying and challenging these double standards is essential for creating a level playing field.

Addressing and dismantling these unconscious biases is key to fostering a fair and inclusive leadership landscape. Training and awareness programmes are pivotal to combating unconscious biases and challenging gender stereotypes, especially at the senior and executive levels. And to tackle the problem at the root, recruitment processes will also need to be examined with a fine-tooth comb, to ensure practices are fair.

Limited access to high-impact opportunities

A lack of access to high-profile projects or other opportunities can hinder women’s visibility and their chances of ascending to leadership positions. When women are excluded from critical projects or miss out on high-impact opportunities, their contributions may go unnoticed, limiting their professional growth.

Establishing equitable opportunities is critical for cultivating a diverse leadership pipeline. This can be achieved through equal project assignments based on skills and performance, rather than gender or favouritism. Additionally, mentorships can be beneficial as mentors can advocate for women to be included in these projects and gain the visibility necessary for career advancement.

Underrepresentation and lack of mentorships

Without visible figures who have successfully navigated the path to leadership, women may struggle to envision their own trajectories. Sponsors and influential advocates within an organisation can be instrumental in championing women for key opportunities and contributing to their professional growth. The absence of these supportive figures can hinder women's progress, perpetuating gender imbalances in leadership.

Establishing mentorship programmes is a strategic move that organisations can make to address this issue and improve female representation. Mentorship provides a structured framework for experienced professionals, regardless of gender, to guide and support their less-experienced counterparts. For women, having a mentor who understands the unique challenges they may face in their career journey is invaluable. Mentorship fosters a culture of knowledge sharing, skill development, and confidence-building, paving the way for women to navigate the intricacies of leadership with greater assurance.