Women still facing struggle for leadership development opportunities

The gender battle in the boardroom has always been a topic of heated discussion, and new studies and insights suggest we are no closer to resolving the issue.

Recruitment firm Hays recently published the results of a new survey in anticipation of International Women's Day, which found that well over a third (40 per cent) of the 348 people surveyed believe there are limited opportunities for women to step into frontline leadership roles. Additionally, more than half (53 per cent) of respondents said there is an imbalance of genders at the senior executive level at their organisation.

According to Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director of Hays in Australia and New Zealand, companies in Australia put in significant “time and effort” to strive for a balanced leadership workforce, but are finding that actually reaching these goals is easier said than done.

“Most accounting firms for instance have reported that they have failed to hit self-imposed gender diversity targets,” he said.

“This is despite Australia's population consisting of slightly more women than men and more dual-income families than ever. However, women continue to move from full-time to part-time employment in large numbers to accommodate the needs of their families, and this goes a long way to explain why women continue to be under-represented at the senior management level.”

Strong consensus across the board

Hays isn't the only recruitment company to highlight this issue – a similar survey by Randstad yielded the same findings, further demonstrating this is a problem that must be tackled sooner rather than later.

Randstad's 'Women in Leadership: Still a tough battle' presented the results from its survey, which found that around nine in 10 Australians believe in “diverse and balanced male/female leadership teams”. A total of 40 per cent of respondents said there is a lack of women in leadership positions at their organisations, while more than a quarter (26 per cent) believe women are not encouraged to pursue leadership roles.

There is certainly an overwhelming sense of agreement that more consideration must be given to the recruitment and selection of female leaders – but the gender discrepancies aren't limited to the top of the organisational hierarchy. So, what are some of the main factors holding back women in the workplace?

The problem runs deeper

Many theories have been put forward surrounding the continued lack of women in leadership roles, and one suggested by the Hays survey is that females are being marginalised at every level of the organisation, making it harder for them to aspire to leadership in the first place.

Little more than half of the respondents to the survey – which included both men and women – reported satisfaction with the “career path available to women”. Almost a quarter expressed dissatisfaction with the career opportunities open to women, while the rest said they aren't even aware of what types of career path are available to women.

Granting females the same career opportunities as their male counterparts, whatever level they are at in the organisation, could therefore be the first step toward ensuring a more diverse balance of leadership.

Are women paying the price?

Another major factor could be that pay inequalities between males and females are still prevalent in Australia, suggesting that the efforts and competencies of females are still not being fully recognised and rewarded.

According to the latest factors from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average earnings of full-time working women are around 17 per cent lower than for full-time males. Helen Conway, director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), said the continued marginalisation of women is both “concerning and frustrating”, with men being paid more on average in “every single industry”.

In the continued effort to boost the Australian economy, it is important that your organisation acknowledges the high potential leadership capabilities of women – as well as men – and strives to implement a balance of genders in its top leadership positions.