The gap between men and women in the corporate world is nothing new. In many industries, men still earn more money, occupy more leadership positions and advance more quickly than women do. While the growing number of female executives, especially in Fortune 500 companies, is a promising sign, the gender gap is still affecting women's careers in a significant way.
A new report by the American Management Association suggests that this disparity doesn't simply exist because men have "always been" the dominant force in the workplace. Female CEOs may actually be held to a higher standard than male leaders, which causes them to be passed over and left behind when advancement opportunities arise.
Despite the fact that female leaders are, on average, better educated and more qualified than their male counterparts, they still aren't earning as much or advancing as quickly as men. According to the report, women are 33 percent more likely to earn a college degree than men, with 36 percent of women (versus 28 percent of men) in leadership positions holding STEM degrees. In addition, the study found that female executives attended colleges and graduate schools that were ranked higher on average than the schools attended by men. And yet, just 4.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and only 1.1 percent of women earn $150,000 or more per year, compared with 4 percent of men. [Tips Female Leaders Can Take into the Boardroom]
"These statistics seem to show that women are held to different, if not more demanding, standards than men," Jeremey Donovan, chief marketing officer for AMA and author of the report, said in a statement. "What we learned suggests this applies to women at all levels. There's discrimination, conscious or unconscious. Corporate culture is still male-dominated, a phenomenon women are surely aware of, even if men may not be."
To help organizations of all sizes level the playing field between men and women in their C-suites, Donovan offered a few suggestions for developing strong female leaders.
Evaluate your policies to ensure that gender discrimination, whether intentional or not, isn't occurring in your organization. This includes compensation guidelines, hiring practices, career development programs, etc.
Provide networking opportunities to the women in your company through internal affinity groups, lunch-and-learns and company events.
Assign a mentor to your female employees with leadership potential. As AMA's research shows, women who make it to the top are often hired internally. A relationship with a mentor can help women navigate the politics of an organization and expose them to new opportunities. You can also offer them private coaching to provide the benefit of outside advice.
Get women involved in projects designed to groom future leaders, and be sure to establish clear guidelines. Women need experience with high-profile and complex projects to build confidence and credibility, and gain visibility within the organization.
Offer flexible-work arrangements. While men are increasingly sharing the role of primary caregiver with women, many women still feel pressured to successfully juggle motherhood with their careers. Flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, compressed schedules and other flexible work options can really make a difference to working mothers. Donovan noted that some companies even offer women a slightly different leadership track, allowing them to take a less- demanding job during childrearing years with the option to revert to a more demanding role later.
To download the report with the full list of tips for women's leadership development, visit AMA's website.