- Many women want to pursue senior management positions
- Plenty of women are the right fit for leadership roles
- Organizations need to recognize and cultivate leadership potential
According to the International Labour Organization, 43% of all managers in the U.S. are women. This number is encouraging but leaves significant room for growth.
Many women hold middle-management positions. Research from Grant Thornton, an independent audit, tax and advisory firm, found that in 2016, women account for only 23% of U.S. senior business roles -- a two-percentage-point increase from 2015.
Leaders might assume that women, especially mothers, are not willing to take on "all-encompassing" senior management roles. They might believe that women don't want to pursue leadership positions.
However, in Gallup's latest report, Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived, data show that women are interested in advancing to the top. Forty-five percent of working women say they would like to become CEO or have a position in senior management or leadership. A slightly higher number of working men (54%) say the same. And when asked how serious they are about obtaining such a role, women are just as likely as men to say they are "extremely" or "very" serious: 69% versus 68%, respectively.
These findings are notable for businesses. Organizations need to support women who have the necessary qualifications to fill senior-level roles. Nearly half of working women say they want to achieve these higher-level roles, and the vast majority are highly determined to get there. Furthermore, being a working mother does not prevent a woman from wanting to reach the C-suite.
As Gallup data have revealed, 40% of working mothers say they prefer to work outside the home rather than stay at home and take care of the house and family. Leaders and managers should not assume that they know what their female employees' career goals are. They should get to know each one as an individual and ask her about her preferences and comfort level related to hours, travel and relocation.
Many Women Are the "Right Fit" for Leadership Roles
Gallup also asked women who say they want to obtain a senior-level role if certain conditions would discourage them from pursuing that career goal. In nearly every case, women with and without children appear willing to meet the typical expectations of senior management and leadership roles. Putting in long hours, a competitive workplace culture and extensive travel do not discourage these women for the most part.
|No, Would Not Discourage You||Yes, Would Discourage You|
|Working 50 hours a week||79||20|
|A competitive workplace culture||76||23|
|Working 60 hours a week||28||72|
|Among working women who say they would like to become CEO or have a senior management or senior leadership position|
But some women do have limits when it comes to the demands of a senior-level role. Few women say working 50 hours a week would discourage them from seeking a high-level position. But their mindset changes dramatically as the number of hours goes up. Nearly three-fourths of women say working 60 hours a week would discourage them from pursuing a high-level job. It could be that many women who want to take on a senior-level role already work close to 50 hours a week, but increasing to 60 hours a week is too much.
Men and women are largely aligned in terms of what will and will not discourage them in the pursuit of a high-level position. Few men who want to obtain a senior-level role say working 50 hours a week, a competitive workplace culture or extensive travel would discourage them. But, like their female counterparts, men balk at putting in 60 hours a week. Perhaps surprisingly, men show more resistance than women do to this level of time commitment -- 78% of men say working 60 hours a week would discourage them from seeking a high-level position, compared with 72% of women who say the same.
|Yes, Would Discourage You (Male Employees)||Yes, Would Discourage You (Female Employees)|
|Working 50 hours a week||20||20|
|A competitive workplace culture||20||23|
|Working 60 hours a week||78||72|
|Among working women and men who say they would like to become CEO or have a senior management or senior leadership position|
Recognize Potential and Cultivate It
Gallup research on millennials and women shows that employees in these demographics are more likely to put their personal life ahead of work -- or at least to want a job that allows them to better integrate both. To meet the demands of their workforce, organizations might need to rethink the criteria they use to determine who is ready for a leadership role.
We do not deny that many executive positions require significant time at the job. Meetings, travel, client dinners and constantly trying to keep up with the latest trends require senior managers to maintain a packed schedule. Leaders are like athletes in some regards; they have to constantly train to stay in the game. Most women who want this type of responsibility are not going to be deterred by the time commitment and expectations. The majority of women who want to be leaders are willing to put in 50 hours a week and to travel.
Leaders and managers should understand the strengths of their female employees and listen for who wants advancement opportunities. But leaders and managers must empower these employees to follow their own path to senior management, even if that includes setting their own schedules and working from home.
Learn more about how to create a culture of flexibility that attracts and retains all employees. Download Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived.