Wise Words for Increasing the Number of Women Leaders in the Workplace

Mary Westermann ’18 – Women in Leadership

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) released a report earlier this year titled “Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership.” In the introduction, it says “time will not solve the gender leadership gap; action will.” The report highlights statistics in different industries, which show the small proportion of women in leadership roles.   The end of the report lists initiatives and steps women can take in order to decrease the gap. While the report does not necessarily include a whole new view on the issue, it is well organized and very well done with important information for anyone to know. But, if I had not gone to the Huffington Post website and clicked on the article “Take This Test to See How Biased You Are Against Having a Woman as President,” I would have never seen the report.   The only other article easily accessible highlighting the report was on Bustle, a women’s online magazine. The Newseum in Washington D.C., had a panel discussion with women leaders, which was hosted by the AAUW and you can watch the video here. However, I only found the video after looking through a couple of pages on a major search engine.

Why wasn’t the report on major newspapers’ websites? We have discussed in our Women in Leadership program how the word, “feminism”, leads to differing reactions as many are not sure of what it means and women’s issues seem to be in the news a lot. However, a report such as this should be talked about and read by many. The report contains wise words for aspiring and current women leaders, but also for anyone in the workplace.

The report discusses leadership, biases, and strategies. In the first few pages, leadership is defined and the report says “the power of a leader emanates from the willingness of a group of people to follow” (p. 5). If someone is not guiding people to a common goal, they cannot be considered a leader. One of the problems with women trying to become leaders is that they do not have the foundation of followers. For more women to gain leadership roles, society has to be more open to supporting women holding those positions and help them attain them. However, women can also take action to put themselves in a better spot to become a leader.

The first step for individuals in the report to close the gender leadership gap is to “become a student of leadership.” Women are in control and can take steps to help themselves progress in their field. The blurb says, “we recommend that women immerse themselves in the leadership literature most relevant to their own career paths.” Many studies have been done on leadership and so it is fairly easy to find articles on what you are specifically interested in. Reflecting on the past few months, the Women in Leadership program mentors we have met have stressed taking action and standing up for your beliefs. While Gettysburg stresses leadership, the Women in Leadership program emphasizes this notion even more.

The report also mentions steps employers can take and one of those is “offer flexible schedules.” Some organizations are switching over to a heavier telecommunicating office atmosphere. While this is not realistic for all types of businesses, having flexibility will make a difference for many women, as well as men, who are involved with having a family or community or volunteer organizations.

Action is the most important takeaway to remember because if everyone sits back and conforms to the current situation, it will stay that way for years to come. The Women in Leadership program helps teach you to challenge your beliefs and what think critically about which current issue you would fight for. To learn more about the current problem of disparity in leadership across gender, read the AAUW report and reflect on how the situation is in your current workplace.