The Time is Now for Women to Lead

Successful Business Woman

Now, more than ever, leadership takes all kinds. We need all kinds of leaders in all kinds of roles.

We are in the 21st century, and women still lag behind men in high-level decision-making roles. Why is this?

Data Check

Women continue to be in the minority when it comes to advancing to high-level leadership positions.While women continue to be the majority of graduates from undergraduate and graduate business programs according to new data from the U.S. Department of Education, the number of women who have risen to the highest levels in corporate America continues to lag behind their male counterparts.

According to Fortune Magazine, 15 FORTUNE 500 companies are run by women, and a total of 28 FORTUNE 1000 companies have women in the top job.

So What’s the Issue?

The ongoing challenge is attempting to find out the reason for this discrepancy. Women are obviously graduating with the credentials to be considered for high-level leadership, but they are not being provided an opportunity to progress.

While women remain the majority in mid-level management, a slowly disappearing position in corporate America, they are not being groomed to lead. Various studies and theories have been presented on this subject, but none have provided a basis for the continued oversight.

Sample Insights

Having interviewed a few of the women now in high-level positions in the private and government sectors, the reasons they provided for this disparity varied.  One high-level female leader asserted her belief that women are not as aggressive in pursuing their goals as their male counterparts.

Another female leader in the banking industry shared that her experiences with other women executives indicated a lack of women executives in mentor roles for their younger counterparts. This belief supports a perception by younger women in corporate America that it is their female bosses who are preventing them from attaining higher-level positions.

Are Perceptions Reality?

The perception that women lack the necessary skills and characteristics to make good leaders continues to permeate corporate America.

The reality is when women are provided with opportunity and support, women can realize extraordinary accomplishments in organizations.

While the tacit rules and agreements that govern workplace culture, structure, and gender dynamics are subjective, the elements of organizational culture are nonetheless extremely powerful. The elements are capable of limiting advancement opportunities for women and undermining the female experience in the workplace.

Time Flies. Barriers Don’t

Back in 2006, in a Wall Street Journal article titled, “The Fork in the Road: Can Women and Wall Street Live Together?” Alice Wang, a managing director at JPMorgan stated, “The real difference between today and 5 or 10 years ago is that now everyone recognizes there is a true business case for having a diverse workforce. You don’t have to justify that diversity is good.”

Five years later in 2011, women continue to struggle to break through the invisible barriers that continue to restrict their professional growth to the highest levels of leadership.

Closing the Gap

The time is now for businesses to close the gender gap in the underrepresentation of women that continues to exist in higher paying positions.

A good place to start is implementing leadership development programs that include women candidates.

Without effective internal succession processes for tracking qualified candidates, succession programs can be a wasted effort.


Leaders of one organization who have successfully implemented succession planning and leadership development programs while attempting to address the issue of gender bias is WellPoint, Inc. The succession-planning and career development efforts by WellPoint’s leaders in the advancement of women in corporations have earned high marks from women advocates and organizations such as N.A.F.E. (National Association for Female Executives).

The National Association for Female Executives ranked WellPoint in the top 60 for organizations with executive women in 2011.  Angela F. Braly is the Chair, President, and Chief Executive Officer at WellPoint. She is an example of a successful woman leader in an organization that values diversity in its leadership structure.

So what is your organization doing to broaden its leadership ranks to all who can deliver results? Is your team looking at diverse ways to build organizational results with everyone in mind to help lead? What can you do to change your perceptions and help others reach higher levels of success in their careers?

Dr. Aldith A. Bell is the Director of Consulting at Integrité Transaction Tax Services
She teaches graduate & undergraduate-level business, management, & leadership 
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog | (678) 835-7194

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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Scott Crandall on June 20, 2011 at 9:02 am

    It’s time for “everyone” to lead — regardless of gender, race, ethicity or any other qualifier you want to name.

    Leaders rise to the top, and leaders make sure that other leaders advance through the ranks. It’s time to stop looking at groups when it’s individuals who lead.

    If your organization isn’t making good use of all who can contribute, then I submit yours is an organization which is being merely managed, not led. The insufficient “representation” of any demographic is a by-product of poor leadership, and little else.

    Getting more managers into the ranks of a poorly-led organization will do little — IMHO — to improve that organization until it is led, not managed. Now is the time for everyone to lead — whosoever will.

    • Dr. Aldith A. Bell on June 20, 2011 at 10:02 am

      Scott, thank you for your response to my article. You bring up some valid points, and while your post indirectly implies that if you contribute, you can lead, I respectfully disagree. Not everyone is a leader. It is not about being a contributor, therefore you are a leader. What my article is presenting is that women are not being allowed the opportunity to be high-level decision-makers, although they are in the majority of middle-manager roles in corporate America, a position that is most often the springboard to high-level positions. The question then becomes, if they are good enough to make it to that level, why are they not being provided the opportunity to rise to the next level? I will agree with you that decisions should be less about gender, race etc. but the reality is that these biases still exists. I did a study on this subject matter, and throughout my research, I found few companies with succession-programs that included women candidates. The point of the article is to argue that women SHOULD be provided the same opportunity as their male counterparts if they have proven themselves to be effective leaders.