Breaking Barriers: The Uphill Battle for Women Leaders in Advancement

by | Sep 6, 2023 | Women Entrepreneurship


The journey to leadership is often marked by challenges and hurdles, but for women leaders striving to advance, the road can be even more arduous. The question that arises is: why do women encounter stronger headwinds than their male counterparts when they aim for higher leadership positions? Let’s delve into the underlying factors and shed light on this complex issue. 

The Confidence Conundrum

One of the key factors contributing to the gender gap in leadership advancement is the confidence gap. Research indicates that women tend to underestimate their abilities and are less likely to put themselves forward for opportunities unless they feel fully qualified. This hesitancy can lead to women missing out on chances for advancement that their male counterparts might seize without hesitation. As famous author and educator Maya Angelou once said, “I got my own back.”

The Likeability Dilemma

Women leaders often navigate a tricky balance between being assertive and maintaining likability. Traits that are valued in male leaders, such as decisiveness and assertiveness, can sometimes be perceived as overly aggressive or unlikeable when exhibited by women. This puts women in a challenging position, where they’re expected to be strong leaders while also fitting into traditional gender norms. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg noted, “Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”

Case Studies: Unmasking the Challenge

  1. Angela Merkel – Former Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel’s journey to becoming the first female Chancellor of Germany was marked by determination and resilience. She had to navigate through gender biases and scepticism about her leadership abilities. Merkel’s rise highlighted the persistent headwinds women leaders often face in male-dominated fields.
  1. Mary Barra – CEO of General Motors Mary Barra’s ascent to the CEO role at General Motors exemplifies the challenge of the confidence gap. Despite her stellar career and qualifications, she initially hesitated to pursue leadership roles until she was encouraged to do so. Her story underscores the importance of overcoming self-doubt.

Paving the Way for Equality: Strategies for Change

Confidence Building:

Encourage women leaders to recognize their capabilities and step out of their comfort zones. Providing mentorship, coaching, and opportunities for skill development can boost their self-assurance.

Challenging Gender Stereotypes:

Promote awareness about the biases that affect perceptions of women leaders. Encourage discussions that challenge traditional notions of leadership and emphasise the value of diverse leadership styles.

Advocacy and Sponsorship:

Establish networks that advocate for women’s advancement. Sponsors within organisations can play a vital role in identifying high-potential women and advocating for their career progression.

Cultivating a Supportive Environment:

Fostering workplaces that celebrate diversity and inclusivity is crucial. Supportive environments enable women to focus on their leadership skills rather than navigating biases.

In conclusion, the stronger headwinds that women leaders face when striving to advance are rooted in a combination of societal expectations, biases, and self-perception. Breaking these barriers requires a collective effort to challenge norms, build confidence, and create supportive ecosystems. As Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, wisely said, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” It’s time to dismantle these barriers and pave the way for a more equitable leadership landscape.