Gender stereotypes are responsible for a large majority of workplace bias. These biases can become internalised, having a damaging effect on individuals’ self-esteem. This article explores the perceived barriers to women’s progression and the support that employers can provide to move forwards.

How do women view the path to leadership?

In 2015, KPMG conducted a ‘Women’s Leadership Study’ [1] to understand how women can be best supported and encouraged in leadership roles. Surveying over 3000 US women, including working professionals and college-level students, it was discovered that women’s aspirations to lead are often under-nurtured.

When asked about envisioning leadership roles in their futures over half of working women admitted that they felt cautious about taking steps towards leadership positions.  Furthermore, a significant majority of women disclosed that they had difficulty ever envisioning leadership in their career.

A key contributing factor was lack of confidence, with 67% of women admitting that they wanted to strengthen this aspect of themselves. Additionally, lack of confidence was found to harm women’s likelihood of seeking further resources needed to progress.

For example, an overwhelming 82% of working women believed that leadership training, sponsorships and mentorship guidance would largely benefit them in advancing their careers. However, 9 in 10 of those women reported not feeling confident enough to ask for them, with similar hesitation towards asking for promotions or going for jobs beyond their experience.

These findings illustrate a key point, that women do have an interest in progressing to leadership roles and are eager to expand their knowledge for more senior roles. However, building women’s confidence and improving their accessibility to developmental resources remain essential in making these ambitions a reality.

What can employers do to support female employees?

1) Provide mentoring

Setting up a mentoring programme can be an effective way of motivating young and aspiring employees. With research showing that women prefer learning from other successful women, time and knowledge provided by internal role models are the best resources a company can use. If there are a lack of female mentors within an organisation, this highlights a further need for diverse leadership.

2) Provide access to training and development

KPMG’s study shows that women yearn for the opportunity to develop their skills. Over 50% wished that this was made available to them at the start of their careers. Thus, companies would do well to introduce more female-focused training opportunities that are supportive of this growth. Encouraging women to access these opportunities might help them pursue a role they might first have seen to be out of their reach.

3) Don’t wait to create new opportunities

Progression is often reliant on the availability of an existing role and the need to fill it. However, businesses have the ability to create new opportunities for aspiring leaders. For example, board diversity has been an area of focus for many companies lately. Rather than waiting for a man to step down and make way, consider the ways that you can accommodate female employees and encourage them in the long run. This goes for filling senior-level roles too.


[1] KPMG. 2015. KPMG Women’s Leadership Study: Moving Women Forward Into Leadership Roles. [Accessed 19/04/21]

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Gender stereotypes are responsible for a large majority of workplace bias. This article explores the perceived barriers to women's progression and the support that employers can provide.

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