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The Search Continues

Take a close look at management. It is all around us. We see it in office buildings of all industries. It is also in a variety of other workplaces—grocery stores, schools, transportation hubs, health care facilities, hotels, community centers. The list goes on and on! It is not just around us; management is right before us. Those 10 letters reveal the prevalence of one gender in particular. Look closer…CLOSER. Whether “man,” “men,” or “gent,” one just needs to look to see that many companies and organizations have more women than men at their top levels.

By the Numbers

In 2019, in the United States alone, women made up nearly 50% of the workforce yet held just over one-third of all management positions. This is true in three main arenas according to a 2019 Lean In study. In politics, 33% of women served in the U.S. Supreme Court. In academia, 30% of women were reported to be college presidents and 32% as full professors. In Hollywood, approximately 33% of women held lead roles in 2016, according to AAUW, Barriers & Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership. The same AAUW report cited 25% of women in C-suite jobs in the top 1000 companies compared to 21% of all C-suite positions.

Barriers for Women 

Among the barriers preventing more women in leadership roles are:

  • Traditional leadership traits have been considered as masculine. When women show those traits, others view them less favorably.
  • Women often take fewer opportunities than men to network. This results in missed opportunities to get more information about advancement, and mentors and sponsors to help them get there.
  • Women, especially women of color, experience more bias and discrimination that prevent them from advancing to senior roles. Examples include sexual harassment and hostile work environments.
  • Workplaces often lack flexibility for women to effectively manage work-family balance.

The Shift

Since March 2020, of the businesses that remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic (within the first three months approximately 400,000 small businesses closed), there was a shift in the way they conducted operations. Likewise, manager-staff relationships have also shifted to support uncommon allowances and arrangements. Work schedules changed to suit staff needing to:

  • monitor children attending school in a virtual setting and/or
  • caring for loved ones with underlying health conditions.

Personally, I experienced a change in that team meetings held monthly or quarterly when in the office increased in frequency (e.g., bi-weekly or weekly). This gave opportunities for me and other managers to check in on staff and team members while allowing collaboration. To support virtual meetings, we researched, trained, and implemented new technology to maintain the continuity of (or restart) work functions while staff worked from home. Senior managers even decided which locations would stay open to continue to serve customers and how best to do so.

The Need for Collaboration

A study in the November 19, 2019 issue of Forbes reported that leadership traits that support these changes include but are not limited to “empathy, communication and listening…qualities that serve women well when in management positions.” As businesses plan to reopen fully, managers will need these same traits to collaborate with staff to reach the best course of action.

Some researchers indicated that women managers who collaborate with their teams would be better in leading them to return to the former state of work than male managers. From childhood, girls are taught to work together, nurture and care. Boys are often more competitive in nature. In deciding which companies or organizations will reopen at 100% capacity first, there is the view that a woman manager will likely gather the team and seek their input. On the other hand, a male manager will likely plan to arrive at the best solution within the company or organization and inform the team on how to implement it. Another decision needed is how can specific teams return to various work locations? With staffing losses, how do managers motivate staff to increase productivity? Or if productivity has already increased, how will managers maintain that level? Can women managers accomplish all of this and more?

The Answer

The question should not be can it be done but how will it be done. These best-laid plans may never come to light. The ideas will not likely make it up to the C-suite (or the executive) level. Where are the women leaders? Sadly, some women managers, since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), have chosen family over workforce with 25% likely not returning to the workforce or moving to lower-level positions due to burnout. They may even have decided not to climb to the C-suite positions. Here, to, is a decision that requires empathy to understand it. More importantly, it requires courage to accept it.


AAUW.org, 2016, Barriers & Bias: The status of women in leadership

Catalyst, 2020, Women in Management Quick Take

CEO Magazine, 2020, The true impact of COVID-19 on women in the workplace

Forbes, 2019, Why Women are Natural Born Leaders

Lean In: The state of women in corporate America

The Wall Street Journal, 2021, COVID-19’s Toll on U.S. Business? 200,000 Extra Closures in Pandemic’s First Year

Sharon James

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