Can I meet the woman in charge?

Barbie upside down in a pink car symbolising gender disparity and lack of female leaders

While the feminism in Gerwig’s Barbie is hotly contested, the film showcases something the whole of business must be accountable for: where are the women in leadership?

Since director Greta Gerwig’s satirical movie about Mattel’s iconic doll was released on July 21 of 2023, everyone has had an opinion. Advertised as a film for those that love Barbie and those that hate Barbie, debates have raged across channels and nations about the film and the ideas it presents.

In a climactic scene, spoiler alert, Barbie who has made her way to “the real world” asks the board of Mattel, before she gets back in her metaphorical and literal box, “Can I just meet the woman in charge? Your CEO?”

Of course, she can’t. Because despite women being “the freakin foundation of this very long, phallic building”, the board is exclusively male, and the founder and inventor of Barbie, Ruth Handler, is now just a ghost haunting the 7th floor.

Whatever your take is on the film – this scene represents something important businesses must continue to address.

Though more women are entering the global workforce, they still make up less than a third of leadership positions globally.

The benefits of a diverse workforce are clear, from increased productivity to widening the talent pool. More variety means more innovation and diverse perspectives to improve products and services. But there is still a clear lack of representation in leadership.

Salt has seen first-hand that for many businesses diversifying their workforces is a top priority – and is a focus for their company culture initiatives.

Across the board, however, the data presented by LinkedIn’s Economic Graph shows that the results from efforts to reach gender parity just aren’t impressive enough. Gender biases are still impacting women and preventing them from reaching senior leadership roles.

It’s important to note that gender identity isn’t binary, and the data collated by LinkedIn we summarise in this blog post infers gender based on the pronouns users have set or is inferred from their first name, which means this is not fully representative of all genders (and indeed all disparities) within the workforce, and focuses solely on gender and not other important barriers facing groups (race, religion, age, disability). Members whose gender could not be inferred by LinkedIn as either men or women were excluded from this analysis. 

Female representation drops from entry to senior levels in US and Canada

In the United States and Canada, home of the mighty Mattel, only 37% of leadership roles and 35% of senior positions are held by women despite women comprising 47% and 46% of the workforce respectively across industries.

Though at entry-level women are achieving parity with men or even holding the majority of roles in certain sectors, their representation in leadership positions is significantly lower, showing there is a significant drop off in their movement up the ladder:

  • In the United States and Canada, women make up about half of all workers in the Accommodation industry and in Administrative and Support Services, but only 40% of senior positions.
  • Women make up the majority of the workforce in Hospitals and Health Care (approximately 70% of workers) and Education (approximately 60% of workers), but less than half of senior positions are held by women.

The gender gap is especially clear in the Technology, Information and Media industry:

  • In the United States, women make up approximately 39% of the workforce but only 32% of leadership positions
  • In Canada, 37% of technology workers are women, but only 31% hold leadership positions.

This is an industry that has markedly fewer women entering in the first place and too few of those who do are being promoted to senior positions. The industry lacks representation of women at every level of seniority, with the gap progressively widening the higher up the career ladder you go. Women hold only 30% of VP positions and just 20% of CXO positions.

This industry is one that will continue to grow in importance, as more organisations digitalise, and already offers workers higher salaries and more secure career advancement than many other industries. If the gender gap is not addressed, it will exacerbate gender disparities overall as it continues to develop at break-neck speed.

For example, in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) sector, which is fast-growing, women represented only 33% of AI workers in Canada in 2022 and 32% in the United States. Representation has increased in the last five years (up from around 26%), but the status is still well below parity.

Read more from Senior Staff Economist at LinkedIn Matthew Braid

Only 29% of leadership roles are held by a woman in EMEA and LATAM markets

Women hold less than a third of leadership roles across EMEA and LATAM markets. On average only 29% of leadership roles are held by a woman in countries including France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil and Mexico, but they make up 41% of the workforce.

  • France (34%) and Sweden (37%) have the highest representation of female leaders.
  • The United Arab Emirates (20%), Germany (23%), and the Netherlands (26%) all have below-average representation.

There has been gradual improvement since 2016, on average a 5.7% increase, in part due to the market condition the pandemic caused.

But this translates to less than a 1% increase per year in leadership hires in EMEA and LATAM.

The disparity in male and female leadership is most obvious at the top of the ladder: women make up on average just 24% of C-suite roles in EMEA and LATAM despite 42% of entry-level positions being held by women in these countries.

Even in industries with higher female leadership representation, the percentage of women in the workforce at entry-level still showcases a dramatic drop off in those promoted to senior positions:

  • Female representation in the Hospitals and Health Care sector at the C-Suite level is high in Ireland (40%), the Netherlands (43%), Sweden (42%), and the United Kingdom (42%), but women make up 74% of entry-level positions.
  • Female representation in the Education industry at the C-Suite level is 35%, almost half the numbers at entry-level of 60%.

It’s not just in the C-suite – women are underrepresented across the board in senior positions (i.e., Director positions and above), when compared to their corresponding share of the workforce.

In the Technology, Information and Media sector, the gender gap is again significant.

  • Only 25% of senior leader roles are held by women, compared to their 35% representation in the total workforce in EMEA and LATAM.
  • This underrepresentation extends to all levels, with only 37% in entry roles and just 17% in C-suite positions.

In the AI field, the fastest-growing field in tech, this gap is again notable and disturbing. In 2022, women made up an average of 29% of the AI workforce in EMEA and LATAM, below the overall average of 35% for the sector.

Read a more detailed summary of these insights from Senior Data Scientist at LinkedIn Rosie Hood

In APAC less than half of leadership positions are held by women

In the Asia Pacific (APAC) markets, which include Singapore, Australia and India, female representation in leadership varies across industries and sectors, but there’s consistently less than 50% of leadership positions being held by women.

Singapore has one of the highest female representations in leadership (42%), followed by Australia (33%) and India (18%). 

Some sectors have higher representations of women in leadership, but when compared with the number of women in entry-level roles, it’s clear that significantly fewer women are being promoted up the ladder to leadership positions:

  • Women make up 68% of the workforce in the Hospital and Healthcare industry in Australia, but only 52% of leadership roles are held by women. This is only three-quarters of the representation overall for that industry.
  • In India, the highest representation of women is in the Education sector, with 29% representation in leadership, compared to 39% overall.

The Technology, Information, and Media industry shows gaps in all countries in APAC analysed by LinkedIn. In Singapore for example, 44% of the tech workforce is female, but only 35% of Director-level positions and above are held by women. 

The biggest drop off in female representation is between ‘Senior’ positions to ‘Manager’ positions.

  • In Singapore, representation drops from 51% at senior contributor level to 46% at manager level.
  • In Australia, it drops from 48% to 40%.
  • In India, from 30% to 19%.

Again, the AI industry is fast developing and will likely exacerbate gender disparity in the APAC market if the current gender gap is not addressed.

  • In 2022, women made up less than half of AI talent in Singapore (36%), Australia (31%), and India (29%).
  • There are twice as many men in AI than there are women.

See this summary of the research by LinkedIn Data Scientist Sylvia Lara for more details

Had Kenenough? Here’s how to decrease the gender gap in leadership positions

While the Barbies of Barbieland were able to use their wiles with ease to turn unwitting Kens against each other, resulting in an all-out beach-off that distracts them from obtaining leadership of the government, the solution in the real world is more complex.

Employers are often motivated to diversify their leadership, and it is a business benefit not just to their product or service but also to their talent acquisition as candidates with more choosing power than ever before decide where they want to work next. The issue is that their efforts are not seeing an impact.

Perhaps this is because in the real world, gender disparities in the labour market cannot be eliminated through a single policy or product. Real change requires consistent attention to a wide range of strategies to mitigate discrimination and reduce the gender gap.

Interrupting biases

It’s important to address biases around all groups in the workplace, and women are subject to specific scrutiny, stereotypes and discrimination, to varying degrees dependent on other characteristics (race, sexuality, age, disability) and location. Targeted mentoring programs and bias awareness training for hirers and managers can help build a more robust female talent pipeline.

We explore those biases in more detail in other pieces: how they impact women specifically, as well as how to interrupt hiring biases more generally triggered throughout the recruitment process.

Valuing skills over previous titles.

A skills-first approach to hiring could improve diversity and connect employers to a largely untapped pool of women with relevant skills. LinkedIn data shows that if companies prioritised skills over previous job titles, their talent pool would grow 24% more for women compared to men.

Remote roles and flexible working

Interrupting biases and focusing on skills in your talent search is key, but internally, initiatives such as remote work can also encourage higher female representation and attract more female talent.

  • In January 2023, in India, women were 19% more likely to apply to a remote job than men.
  • In January 2023, women in the US were 5% more likely than men to apply for remote jobs (55% versus 50%), and in Canada, the gap is 2% points (33% versus 31%).
  • In Australia, women used to be more likely than men to apply to a remote job – with a peak 9% difference in Oct 2021.
  • In 2022, women applied to 11% more remote roles than men in Germany, 4% in Ireland, 9% in the United Arab Emirates, and 19% in Mexico.

Flexible work arrangements are a highly sought-after benefit for many employees in the modern marketplace – but particularly for women. One reason is that women disproportionately are carrying out more domestic and caring responsibilities. Aside from well-being and health, flexible work options can actually mean women can keep working where historically they may have had to leave the workforce as a result of needs at home.

Gaps in representation have far-reaching consequences. The gender gap impacts not only women but society as a whole. While some progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go in achieving gender equality in the workforce. The need for policies and practices that tackle discrimination and encourage diversity is clearly showcased by these LinkedIn findings, and steps to improve workforces worldwide can include:

  • broadening the pool of talent by hiring based on skills rather than job titles.
  • offering flexible arrangements to accommodate all workers’ needs.
  • creating pathways for women to progress into leadership roles.

By consistently addressing disparities in the job market, we can all contribute to a fairer future for everyone. A future where if Barbie gets career aspirations after she visits her gynecologist, she can work her way into a boardroom without a box.

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