Closing The Leadership Gender Gap

Julie Shenkman
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The American Association of University Women released a study regarding what practical steps employers can take to close the leadership gender gap and put more women into upper-level leadership positions. The study also examines why women seem to avoid taking on leadership roles. Human resources, along with executives, can take concerted action to help businesses achieve better representation of women in the upper echelons of companies.

The AAUW report cites bias towards women in leadership positions as the main reason why women do not rise to higher levels in the corporate world. Eliminating any biases is the first step to real change, and human resources can assess if gender biases affect hiring practices, training opportunities and promotions. After that, HR can implement three strategies to help close the leadership gender gap. Eliminating the gap not only increases diversity, but it also fosters more creativity, innovation and productivity.

1. Create Flexible Workplaces

Men and women both desire a better work-life balance, and that means employers should offer some kind of flexible work schedules for everyone. Traditional jobs are no longer nine-to-five nor do companies necessarily need employees to come into the office. Telework and flexible hours tend to improve employee morale, the quality of work and persistence of workers to achieve success. Giving more women the tools they need to achieve personal and professional happiness is the first major step to retaining valuable employees on the way to closing the leadership gender gap.

2. Institute Diversity Training

Everyone who comes on board should go through some type of diversity training. Once a company implements the right evidence-based diversity training, the program becomes second nature to employees, from the CEO down to the newest hires. Diversity training helps eliminate the leadership gender gap by fostering an understanding of diversity in the workplace and increasing employee morale after attending training workshops.

3. Implement Sponsorship Programs

Every business can implement some kind of sponsorship program beyond just simple mentoring. Mentorship involves professionals acting as role models by providing career advice. However, sponsorship offers a much more practical way to remove the leadership gender gap. Sponsors use their network, contacts, influence and personal leverage to further the careers of female employees. Sometimes, women just need access to the right resources to flourish.

One way to start this process is to perform annual audits to identify areas of improvement. HR can find positions that need pay raises based on industry standards, discover employees who show an aptitude for leadership and determine what workers, including women, could benefit from leadership training. Offering learning opportunities for everyone who wants to advance can foster a real sense of diversity in the workplace because this training inspires anyone to achieve something greater.

Closing the leadership gender gap is an investment companies cannot afford to miss. Returns on investment far outweigh any up-front costs when HR considers the boost in productivity, morale and profits that comes from more leadership posts for women.

Photo courtesy of Michael Vadon at


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