breaking barriers: advancing women leaders in today's business world

Breaking Barriers: Advancing Women Leaders in Today's Business World
January 16, 2024

In today's professional landscape, women continue to face significant barriers to leadership roles across industries. Despite progress towards gender equality, systemic biases and stereotypes persist, hindering women's advancement and limiting their opportunities for success. Leadership is usually marked by various obstacles, transcending the confines of any single industry. From the corporate boardroom to the halls of academia, women encounter similar struggles – the pervasive double standard, the struggle for recognition and appreciation, and the expectation to conform to certain stereotypes and expectations.  

Some of the most common challenges women leaders face in the professional workspace are: 

  • Gender Bias and Discrimination: Women often face bias and discrimination in hiring, promotions, and pay, based on their gender.

  • Wage Gap: Women typically earn less than men for the same work or at similar positions, contributing to financial disparities. The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report indicates that at the current rate of progress, it will take 135.6 years to close the global gender gap in economic participation and opportunity.

  • Glass Ceiling: Many women encounter barriers that prevent them from reaching top leadership positions within organizations, with only 7.4% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies being held by women. 

  • Work-Life Balance: Balancing professional responsibilities with personal and family obligations can be particularly challenging for women, especially in cultures where caregiving is still primarily viewed as a woman's responsibility.

  • Lack of Representation: Women are often underrepresented in certain industries or fields, which can lead to feelings of isolation and difficulty in finding mentors or role models.

  • Microaggressions: Women face subtle forms of discrimination or microaggressions in the workplace, such as being interrupted frequently in meetings or having their ideas dismissed. 64% of women of color experience microaggressions at work - as noted by the Center for Talent Innovation. 

  • Maternal Bias: Women who become mothers may face discrimination or biases in the workplace, such as being passed over for promotions or being seen as less committed to their careers. The Harvard Business Review revealed that mothers are penalized for taking maternity leave, with 15% of employers indicating that they would be less likely to promote a woman who had taken maternity leave.

  • Limited Access to Networking Opportunities: Women may have fewer opportunities to network with influential colleagues or access professional development opportunities, which can hinder career growth. A survey by LinkedIn found that 46% of women believe that their gender has had a negative impact on their ability to network professionally.

  • Stereotypes and Expectations: Gender stereotypes can shape expectations about women's abilities and leadership styles, leading to misconceptions and challenges in professional settings. The Journal of Applied Psychology found that gender stereotypes influence performance evaluations, with women being more likely to receive feedback about their communication style rather than their technical skills.

  • Double Standards: Women may be judged by different standards than their male counterparts, facing criticism for being too assertive or too passive. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that women are often penalized for assertive behavior in the workplace, being labeled as "bossy" or "aggressive."

  • Glass Cliff: Women are sometimes appointed to leadership positions during times of crisis or when organizations are facing challenges, placing them on the "glass cliff," where failure is more likely and their leadership abilities may be unfairly judged based on circumstances beyond their control.

In order to address these issues that women face in the professional field the following actions may be taken as an individual, organization or as a policy maker: 


  • Self-Advocacy: Women can advocate for themselves by confidently articulating their skills, accomplishments, and career aspirations. This includes negotiating for fair compensation and seeking out opportunities for advancement.

  • Continuous Learning and Skill Development: Stay updated on industry trends, acquire new skills, and seek professional development opportunities to enhance competitiveness in the job market.

  • Build Support Networks: Cultivate relationships with mentors, sponsors, and peers who can provide guidance, support, and advocacy throughout your career.

  • Combat Imposter Syndrome: Recognize and challenge feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy. Seek out affirmation from colleagues and mentors and celebrate your achievements.


  • Implement Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives: Develop and enforce policies that promote gender equality, diversity, and inclusion within the workplace.

  • Equal Pay Practices: Regularly review compensation structures to ensure pay equity across gender lines for equal work and qualifications.

  • Leadership Development Programs: Provide training and mentorship programs specifically tailored to support the advancement of women into leadership positions.

  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Offer flexible work schedules, remote work options, and parental leave policies to accommodate the diverse needs of employees, particularly women balancing work and caregiving responsibilities.


  • Enforce Equal Employment Opportunity Laws: Strengthen enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws and regulations.

  • Mandatory Reporting: Mandate transparency in pay data and workforce demographics to identify and address gender disparities in employment practices.

  • Invest in Education and Training Programs: Support initiatives that provide women with access to education, vocational training, and skills development opportunities to enhance their employability and career prospects.

  • Support Work-Life Balance Policies: Advocate for policies such as paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and flexible work arrangements to support women's participation in the workforce.

  • Promote Women's Leadership: Encourage the representation of women in leadership roles across sectors through initiatives such as quotas, targets, and incentives for gender-balanced leadership teams.

By taking these proactive steps at the individual, organizational, and policy levels, we can work towards creating more equitable and inclusive professional spaces for women. It's time to break down barriers and build a future where gender equality is not just a goal but a reality in all professional spaces.

Join our community
Exploring Ideas, Empowering Minds: Your Quarterly Digest for Inspiration and Insights