Professional Partner Content

Gender Bias: A Problem From Day One

Despite their best efforts, most companies struggle to promote women into high-visibility leadership roles. This means gender bias in leadership has become a real issue. DDI’s Leadership Transitions Report 2021 gathered data to provide evidence-based answers for why leadership transitions fail and identify factors disproportionately hurting women’s transitions. The report shows women at every level receive less support in their transition to leadership and report higher stress levels during their transitions. In addition, a larger percentage of men indicated being given clear expectations for success in their roles than women. The bottom line? Women aren’t given the same development opportunities that men are given. This hurts women’s ability to advance, and if they do make it to leadership, it means they aren’t set up to succeed. Another sobering statistic? The Diversity & Inclusion Report found 45 percent of women executives feel they would need to switch companies to advance, compared to 32 percent of men. With a mere 21 percent of women making it to the senior executive level, the data suggest a much narrower path to the top for women. In a highly competitive labor market, companies can’t afford to ignore these differences. In the war for talent, the winners are figuring out how to maximize the potential of their entire workforce. They address gender equity as a strategic talent priority, not just a diversity initiative, especially as the business benefits of having gender and ethnic diversity are well known. As DDI’s research found, companies with above-average gender and racial or ethnic diversity are 8 times more likely to be in the top 10 percent of organizations for financial performance. One reason efforts to get more women into leadership roles fail is that they focus on the outcome—gender parity—instead of the root causes—systemic inequity. These inequities don’t disappear the day a woman is promoted into her next leadership job. They just become harder to spot.

Gender Bias in Leadership Starts Immediately

DDI’s research uncovered a number of ways women aren’t set up for success as well as men from day one in a leadership position. Men were 19 percent more likely to have been formally assessed as a part of their transition. Assessment enables smoother transitions. How? The leader, their immediate supervisor, and HR are given visibility into the development needed to succeed in the new role. This provides a level of support and insight crucial during what can be one of the most challenging and stressful moments in a leader’s career. Men were also 22 percent more likely to be assigned a formal mentor than women leaders. Mentorship opportunities are highly susceptible to affinity bias (the unconscious tendency to prefer interacting with people like us). Additionally, in the #metoo era, 60 percent of male managers say they’re uncomfortable participating in workplace activities with women. This includes mentoring and other socializing that provides access to information, opportunities, and relationships that enable career success.This puts already underrepresented women in leadership at a disadvantage for finding a formal mentor. Informal mentorship opportunities can be even more prone to this bias. Because they evolve more organically, the chances of buddying up with someone who is like us is even higher. Women were also at a disadvantage in their access to formal leadership development experiences. Men were 13 percent more likely to have received leadership skills training than women. So what can be done to recognize gender bias in leadership? Check out DDI’s blog.

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