How Organizations Can Improve Gender Equity in Leadership

Two Black women leaders wearing business attire are seated at a white conference table in front of a large glass window. The women are smiling at each other and holding pens to use in the spiral-bound notebooks atop their conference table. Another office building is visible through the window. The photo is meant to show women in leadership and encourage organizations to take steps to improve gender equity in the workplace.

March brings one of my favorite international holidays, International Women’s Day. March 8 is dedicated to celebrating the incredible accomplishments of women. While International Women’s Day reminds us of all the amazing things women can achieve, we should still remember we have a long way to go to achieve equality in the workforce.

To date, only 8.2% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and women comprise only 7.3% of the Fortune 1000 CEOs.1 Disappointing as these statistics may be, we can and should work actively to make a change. To understand how we can improve the situation, we should first look at some of the factors that cause women to have less opportunity for leadership.

Why Aren’t More Women in Leadership?

According to the paper, “Do Women Want to Lead? Gender Differences in Motivation and Values,” complex factors contribute to the lack of women in leadership roles.2 Extensive research has been done on the topic, however, and the lack of women leaders can be boiled down to three main reasons.

The first is discrimination. Women who apply for leadership roles are rejected more often than men. This causes women to apply for fewer leadership roles, reinforcing the idea that women do not want to be in positions of leadership.

The second is gender stereotypes. Women who are more assertive, display more agency, and are more directive tend to be viewed as aggressive and in a more negative light when compared to male counterparts. Women are often encouraged to “lean in” (in reference to the Sheryl Sandberg book). But when women do show more self-confidence — such as in negotiating, for example — they are often penalized.3

Third, women often fail to succeed because of the work environment. Working long hours and networking after hours are more difficult for many women. Work-life balance is an increasingly popular concept, but women with families and children still find it more difficult than men to strike a fair balance. Research from the U.S. Federal Reserve Board found that the pandemic disrupted childcare and the ability to perform in-person work for 70% of American families, and 25% of mothers reported having to quit work or work less due to these disruptions.4

According to a report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, “Women in the Workplace 2021,” senior executive women are now more significantly burnt out than their male counterparts.5 On a positive note, the report notes that women are doing more than men at their level for improving diversity, equity, and inclusion, and for providing support to teams. Unfortunately, their work is going unrecognized and unrewarded by their companies.

Closing the Gender Gap

By taking proactive steps to recognize and support women in leadership positions, organizations can start changing the environment to build a pathway to success for future women leaders. Addressing burnout, providing recognition and rewards for women leaders, and fostering inclusion and belonging are all necessary measures for organizations to take.5

A diverse pipeline for executive talent is also critical to putting more women in leadership roles.1 Hogan has often preached using personality assessments to build these pipelines. Research shows that personality assessment scores do not differ in any meaningful way across demographics, making them useful for organizations seeking to make more equitable talent decisions. Not to mention, Hogan was founded with the goal of producing discrimination-free assessments that would predict occupational performance as well as or better than traditional methods (such as IQ testing or interviews).  

Call to Action

Back in 2008, I worked on a high-potential mentoring project for a major oil company based in the Middle East whose headquarters only employed men for leadership roles. The CEO of this Fortune 500 company spoke frankly to the room of 20-plus high potentials, all men. He told them that the biggest weakness their company faced was the lack of diversity. He said that by eliminating 50% of the potential workforce (women), they were automatically less competitive and setting themselves up for failure.

I would propose that we are all not using the full potential of our workforce, as evidenced by women comprising only 7.3% of the Fortune 1000 CEOs even though research tells us that women are just as capable as (if not more than) men in leadership positions. By not supporting, promoting, and affording leadership opportunities to women, our organizations are not reaching peak performance potential.

At Hogan, we encourage companies to raise the bar for everyone. Using objective personality data to select and develop the best possible talent will not only help companies improve performance, but it will also have the additional benefit of supporting their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. By including everyone, we all win.

This blog post was authored by Hogan Director of Asia-Pacific Business Development Krista Pederson.


  1. Women CEOs in America: Changing the Face of Business Leadership. (2021). Women Business Collaborative.