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In 2019, 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women; as of 2021, that number has grown a whopping 2.6% to 8.2%. Women make up 27% of the 117th Congress, which is up 50% from the last decade. The S&P has improved the most, with women moving from 25% to 30% of positions on BoDs.

From an earnings standpoint, in 2020, women who earned a master’s degree had an average salary of $72,568 in the United States, while men earned an average of $117,617 with the same level of education. Women, who have PhDs earn 3% less than men, who have only a Master’s degree.  On average, men earn 47% more than women with the same qualifications.

An often-quoted study, which was conducted by Korn Ferry, confirmed what many have suspected, namely that women are more effective at most of the soft skills (emotional and social intelligence: empathy, self-awareness, positive outlook, coaching, mentoring, influence, inspirational leadership, conflict management, organizational awareness, adaptability, teamwork, and achievement orientation).

An interesting result of the research is that when it comes to emotional self-control, men and women are equal. If a man loses it though, he’s considered passionate and resolute, while if a woman loses it, she’s regarded as emotional, and everyone freezes up. We tend to trust people, who have more emotional self-control, and it seems that we will trust a man more than a woman when the individual is emotional.

That being said, women have to manage the fine line of using soft skills and relationship management, while also being strong and decisive. Many times, women are punished for being too strong as it conflicts with social norms concerning women’s roles. The media is very impactful on the perception of the strength and competency of women leaders. Imagine asking a man, who is leading a country with a very large economy, “who does the laundry in your house?” This question was asked of Angela Merkel, who led Germany for decades. Her response: “I thought you were going to ask me an interesting question about the economy.”

What it boils down to is the fact that many women do not want to deal with the difficulties of leading, because they face being undermined on so many levels. We all have challenges that we face, and we all know that obstacles are a part of working in any organization. For example, imagine you are a woman, and you have a complex project to manage. You thought you had everyone’s buy-in, yet a key stakeholder suddenly backs out. You find out that your peer, a man, had approached this stakeholder and others informally, therefore, building a lot of trust and valuable relationships,  proposed his own idea, which undermined your project. You do not feel comfortable with informal influence, because it feels hard for you to fit in, you don’t play golf, or you feel pressured to get home to your family. Ultimately, your project never got off the ground!

In addition, the pandemic has been harder on women than men. In June of 2020, the Pew Research Center reported that 11.5 million women lost their jobs due to Covid versus 9 million men. Women reported having more on-the-job burnout, and working mothers were more stressed out. As prior research has shown, women shoulder the unpaid care and household responsibilities much more than men.

Thus, there are fewer women leaders in the pipeline, and many women simply do not want to deal with all the baggage of being a female leader. Yet, study after study confirms that women being present at senior levels and on the BoD increases a company’s profitability. Look at all of the enticements and opportunities for women to excel, yet many choose to stay in the middle.