While more women than ever now participate in the paid workforce,1 it still can be hard to find women in top leadership positions.
Only 26 CEOs (5.8%) at S&P 500 companies were women, according to 2017 data.2 In 2016, 20.2% of Fortune 500 board seats were filled by women.3 Across Asian companies, women held just 8.7% of board seats.4
To understand why so few women are in top leadership positions, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, we set out to understand what factors help women achieve leadership positions, what factors prevent it, and how organizations could add more women to their leadership ranks.
We learned that there is no single reason or simple solution. Increasing the number of women in leadership positions will require aspiring women leaders to develop themselves professionally and, in some cases, adopt new behaviors. But the organizational context that women work within is also important.
We raise 5 key questions that women should reflect on as they consider their ambitions. We summarize 5 key lessons that came up repeatedly in our conversations with women leaders who had worked their way into leadership positions.
We also discuss some of the changes organizations can make to increase the number of women leaders. These include policies and changes in organizational culture.
How the Study Was Done
We conducted this research in 2 phases. First, we surveyed 204 women leaders from Singapore, Australia, India, and Korea. We gave them a list of reasons that might contribute to the lack of women in leadership positions and asked them to select up to 5 items they most agreed with and 5 they most disagreed with.
In Phase 2, we conducted 27 face-to-face interviews with women leaders working in Singapore. They told us their personal leadership stories, shared their perspective on women leaders’ career enablers and blockers, and also completed the Phase 1 survey.
5 Reflection Questions for Women
What are the main reasons for underrepresentation of women leaders? There is no simple answer. We identified 5 factors, but are also aware that for every point, there exists a counter argument. Hence, we raise 5 questions for aspiring women to reflect, as candid self-assessment can help map out a path to leadership.