Breaking the glass ceiling: paving the way for women in senior leadership

Although efforts to promote diversity and gender equality in the workplace have come a long way, there’s an undeniable truth that continues to cast a shadow over the corporate world: women remain significantly underrepresented in senior leadership roles.

While we often champion the strides made toward workplace equality, the statistics paint a sobering picture, revealing the urgent need to bridge the gender leadership gap. The data from Deloitte’s Women@Work: A Global Outlook report remind us that achieving gender balance in leadership teams is not just a matter of fairness but also a requirement for organizations seeking to thrive in a competitive landscape.

The Gender Leadership Gap

Despite making up nearly half of the global workforce, women hold just 29% of senior leadership positions. This glaring disparity underscores the importance of initiatives aimed at empowering women to assume senior leadership roles.

A closer look at the numbers

  • Women represent 47% of the global workforce.
  • Only 29% of senior leadership positions are held by women.
  • The gender leadership gap is even more obvious in technology, where women hold just 19% of executive roles.
  • In the Fortune 500 companies, women account for a mere 8.1% of CEO positions.

This stark contrast between workforce makeup and leadership representation calls for a thorough assessment of the challenges women face as they try to climb the corporate ladder. To address these inequalities effectively, it’s crucial to understand the underlying factors contributing to this persistent gender leadership gap.

Factors at play

Several factors contribute to the gender leadership gap, making it a complex issue that requires a multifaceted solution. These factors include:

Lack of equal opportunities

Despite advancements in workplace diversity initiatives, women still encounter barriers that hinder their access to leadership roles. The research from Deloitte shows that women are less likely to be considered for promotions, often due to biases and stereotypes such as the Maternal Bias, where women are often perceived as primary caregivers and are expected to prioritize family over work commitments, and the Likability Penalty, where women may face backlash for exhibiting leadership qualities that are often celebrated in men.

Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap is a pervasive issue that significantly contributes to the gender leadership gap. Despite the progress made in recent years, the gender pay gap persists, with women earning less than men on average, impacting women’s financial security and career prospects. This disparity leads to limited investments in professional growth and challenges in pursuing leadership roles. Stereotypes, negotiation hurdles, and biases contribute to this gap. Women of color experience even wider inequalities.

Menstrual health and menopause

Menstrual health and menopause challenges disproportionately impact women in the workplace. According to Deloitte’s report, approximately a quarter of working women who responded to the research experience difficulties related to menstrual health or menopause during working hours. These health issues can lead to increased stress, absence from work, and decreased job performance, ultimately hindering women’s progression opportunities toward leadership roles.

Work-life balance

Balancing work and personal life remains a significant issue for women, particularly due to increased caregiving responsibilities. The limited availability of flexible and remote work options often forces women to make career choices that accommodate these responsibilities, affecting their financial security and career growth.

Strategies for empowering women in leadership

Addressing the gender leadership gap requires combined efforts from organizations, policymakers, and individuals alike. Here are some strategies to empower women in senior leadership:

Bias-free hiring

Eliminating biases in the hiring process is crucial for empowering women in leadership. Implementing and reinforcing unconscious bias training for recruitment teams and hiring managers helps create a level playing field for all candidates.

Pay equity

Closing the gender pay gap is pivotal through pay equity assessments, transparency, and legislative efforts to enhance women’s financial stability and unlock career advancement opportunities.


Women are commonly overly mentored, and under sponsored. Sponsorship programs can provide crucial support for women on their leadership journeys. Pairing emerging female leaders with experienced sponsors who can connect them to tangible opportunities, can help accelerate their career growth.

Inclusive work cultures

Fostering inclusive workplaces where intersectionality is celebrated is essential. Encouraging open dialogue about gender issues and promoting family-friendly policies can make a significant difference. Combatting biases against flexible work arrangements, specifically, and prioritizing work-life balance initiatives are crucial steps for organizations to help women excel in leadership roles while maintaining their personal lives.

Support menopause and menstrual health

Addressing menstrual health and menopause support is a crucial step in empowering women to excel in leadership roles. By acknowledging and accommodating these health concerns, organizations can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women. This support includes policies that allow flexibility during challenging times, fostering open conversations to reduce stigma, and ensuring that women feel comfortable discussing these topics in the workplace.


Promoting gender equality in senior leadership is a global imperative that transcends borders and cultural differences. Organizations worldwide that want to thrive in a competitive landscape must commit to creating workplaces where everyone, regardless of gender, has a fair shot at reaching the highest levels of leadership. Women in leadership roles can offer many unique perspectives, such as enhancing a company’s ability to connect with diverse customer bases, respond to evolving market trends, and increase an organization’s environmental performance. By implementing these strategies and fostering a culture of inclusivity, organizations can make strides toward a future where senior leadership reflects the true diversity of our global workforce.

You can find out how we can work together to turn these statistics into stories of progress for your company here.