International Women’s Day: Why Aren’t More Women In Leadership Roles?

It’s International Women’s Day today — one of our favorite days of the year — because we love celebrating women here at Baby2Body. As you probably know!

It was around this day last year that lockdowns began to spread across the world and COVID-19 became a very prominent part of our lives. Every day since we’ve witnessed the incredible resilience and perseverance of women all over the world, and especially of the women in this community; you navigated pregnancy in a pandemic, you might have given birth alone, you supported your children through lockdowns, you worked on the front lines, and fought through so much more.

In fact, when faced with a virus we knew little about, the healthcare workforce that stepped up to protect us were largely made up of women. According to the WHO, over 70% of the healthcare workforce are women and in some disciplines such as nursing over 80% are women. However, despite those staggering numbers, women  only hold 25% of the leadership positions in healthcare. Unfortunately, in just about every other job sector, there’s an even larger underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. Don’t you think it’s time to challenge that?

We do, too. And wouldn’t you know it, the theme for International Women’s Day this year is ‘Choose To Challenge’, encouraging us all to speak out against gender bias and inequality. The lack of ladies in leadership roles needs to change, and today we want to talk about why women make great leaders, how we can all be more confident in our abilities, and how we can choose to challenge this outdated status quo.

Why you need women on your team

Often regarded for being emotionally intelligent and nurturing, women have a number of other strong qualities that make them valuable team members and effective leaders. Actually, a large body of research shows if there is a gender to favor when it comes to leadership talent, it might actually be women! Studies have found women tend to have transformational leadership qualities like being people-oriented, vision-driven, and inspiring.

Women also tend to assess risk differently than men and research shows they often respond differently. There’s a famous study from 1994 that coined the term, “the white male effect” when it found that white men view the risks of health and environmental hazards lower than women and people of color do. Scientists in another study monitored male and female cortisol levels while they experienced physical stress and then asked them questions about various scenarios. When under stress, men were more likely to make riskier decisions with unknown drawbacks, while women were more likely to make decisions based on evidence.

In cases like this pandemic, female-led countries may come out quicker and healthier than others — New Zealand, Iceland, and Germany (all women-led) made the bold choice to shut down quickly. When it comes to making decisions at high-stress times, women continually prove to work well under pressure.

Why you want mothers on your team 

There are so many stigmas around working mothers that continue to erode their confidence and hold them back from achieving their full potential. Researchers have found that female employees are largely seen as less competent by their colleagues when they identified as being a mother. But perception is very different from practice, as in reality motherhood appears to be a benefit to a woman’s working habits.

Over 10,000 academics were studied over their careers and researchers found that mothers actually appeared to be more productive in their jobs than their childless peers. This could be because there’s more responsibilities outside of work that teaches greater efficiency, but it’s also suggested that motherhood teaches invaluable multitasking skills that filter into workplace habits. Supporting that, a study published in American Sociological Review found that working mothers tend to spend an additional 10 hours (per week) multitasking at home, as compared to their working partners.

Staying confident as a woman in the workplace

Even when men and women perform equally in quality and quantity, research shows men regularly overestimate their skills and performance, while women regularly underestimate themselves in both categories. When we’re answering the question “why aren’t more women in leadership roles?” a large part of the answer comes down to the level of confidence women have in themselves and, perhaps more so, how comfortable they are asserting and expressing confidence in their abilities. 

In the UK, the Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed managers about the level of self-confidence in their jobs and found half of women had self-doubt about their performance and careers, while less than a third of men felt that way. This confidence gap (or more appropriately, chasm) appears to play a significant role in keeping women out of leadership roles, and getting men into them.

There are two main elements that play into confidence: self-efficacy and self-esteem. Self-efficacy is how much you believe in your abilities to accomplish something. Self-esteem is how worthy or valuable you perceive yourself to be. Together these shape how you see yourself, your abilities, and of course how you communicate them externally. Self-confidence comes in many different shapes and sizes, but there are small things you can do every day to support your own confidence in yourself that you so deeply deserve:

  1. Praise your accomplishments. When we receive praise our brain releases endorphins that drive feel good moods. This boosted mental state helps reinforce your feelings of self-worth, so… why not praise yourself more often? Make it a habit to acknowledge at least one accomplishment on a daily basis. Even on the hardest days we succeed at something, and that shouldn’t go unnoticed or diminished. When we do praise those wins, research shows that it leads to a more positive work life.
  2. Know your strengths. If you’ve never taken a strengths test, we recommend you do so. If you already feel confident in your strengths, write them down where you can see them on a regular basis. Research shows when employees know their strengths and use them regularly their performance increases and they become more engaged. There are a few assessments you can find online, here and here, which will help you identify things you’re naturally good at — and once you know your skills, you can use them to your advantage and perhaps more importantly, showcase them.
  3. Accept your weaknesses. Just because you are not amazing at doing “this thing” does not diminish how amazing you are at doing “that thing”. Do not let your weaknesses devalue your strengths. Every person in your workplace has unique strengths and weaknesses, and that goes for individuals in leadership roles as well. Accepting your weaknesses will allow you to identify areas of improvement and tap into resources that will help you grow, supporting your own sense of self-efficacy. But remember this: you can’t do it all and you should not do it all. Be great at what you are great at, and watch your confidence bloom.
  4. Get your sweat on! If you’ve spent any time with us at Baby2Body you’ll know the benefits of exercise go far beyond building muscle, and one of those key benefits includes self-esteem building. Research shows even 30 minutes of moderate physical activity releases endorphins that boost well-being and lower cortisol levels, helping strengthen feelings of self-efficacy and confidence overall. You know we’ll always add in an excuse to exercise!

We won’t be able to change our workplace confidence overnight, and we won’t be able to change the number of women in leadership roles with the flip of a switch. But what we can do is choose to challenge the status quo, and over time we will collectively create a more equal world with less gender bias. We don’t think the answer is to be more like men. We think the answer is to be more unabashedly ourselves; to step fully into exactly who we are, as women. Glennon Doyle says it best, as she tends to do, so we’ll leave you with her quote on this International Women’s Day:

When women lose themselves, the world loses its way. We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done.

Glennon Doyle, Untamed

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below and learn what has either held you back from leadership roles or propelled you into them. Happy International Women’s Day to all the women and girls out there; you’re stronger than you know.


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