Race to the top: Women face limited window of opportunity to reach leadership roles

 May 09, 2022

Did you know that men massively outnumber women in leadership roles, and that women’s best chances of making it to a leadership role are condensed to the first 10 years of their career?  

Data from LinkedIn shows that women are 24% more likely to apply to remote roles, underscoring the importance of flexibility in making workplaces equitable. To address this issue, LinkedIn launched a series of initiatives to support flexible working, plus they added a career break option for LinkedIn members on their profiles.

Women’s best chances of securing a leadership position at work are currently condensed into a 10 year window at the beginning of their career, finds analysis of the global labour market from LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network. LinkedIn analysed women’s paths into leadership positions to understand how women’s career trajectories differ from those of men. 


Vanishing window for leadership opportunities

The data underscores that there is still a huge gap in terms of women in leadership, with women facing a worrying window of opportunity: if they don't reach a leadership role within the first 10 years of their career they are much less likely than men to make it later in their career.

During the first decade of their career, for every woman that makes it into leadership, 1.8 men make it (ratio of male-to-female leaders in leadership positions is a global average, based on over data from 150 countries). This gap between women and men increases with work experience and for every woman that makes it to the top after 20 or more years, 2.2 men reach the top. Notably, the only countries that bucked these trends were Sweden, Denmark and Finland. 

 Linkedin women leadership
Chart 1. Ratio of male-to-female leaders, by years to first leadership position

Karin Kimbrough, Chief Economist at LinkedIn, said: “LinkedIn’s data tells a clear picture: the world of work isn’t working for women as well as it does for men. There’s still a huge dearth of women in leadership and women are up against a limited window of opportunity to reach leadership roles. It’s no coincidence that doors start to shut for women around the time they start families, and the fact that this is clear in almost every country and industry around the world shows the scale of the challenge. In order to change this, we need more flexibility at work for everyone and that also means addressing the biases and stigma around flexibility.”

Gender imbalance in leadership pervasive across most industries and countries 

LinkedIn’s data underscores the global problem of gender imbalance in leadership roles, with women accounting for less than a third of leadership roles in most countries. This falls as low as 14% and 22% in India and Germany respectively, but reaches a high of 46% in Finland. Education (46%) and Healthcare (42%) sectors showed much better gender balance in leadership, but even those sectors failed to achieve gender equity. 
 Linkedin women leadership
Chart 2. Share of women in leadership roles by country
 Linkedin women leadership
Chart 3. Global average: women in leadership by industry

Data underscores importance of flexibility 

Global data from LinkedIn also points to the importance of flexibility in making workplaces more equitable and breaking biases. In 2021, women were 24% more likely to apply to remote job opportunities on LinkedIn compared to men. In a global survey, 55% of women said they had either left their job (25%) or considered leaving their job (31%) due to lack of flexible working.

Glenda Slingsby, Partnerships Director for International Women's Day, said: "Worldwide, it will be those employers holding realistic and progressive views about career breaks and flexibility that will become the true magnets for diverse talent. There's an urgent need to break the bias around career flexibility, diversify leadership within organisations, and better support the leadership aspirations of women in their early careers."

Breaking the bias on flexibility

To support more consistent and equitable flexible working for all, LinkedIn is launching a series of initiatives to help break biases around career flexibility. The company recently introduced a career break option, giving members a new way to reflect breaks from work on their LinkedIn Profile and normalise flexible careers. LinkedIn is also encouraging members to share what flexible working really means to them and how it has supported their career using the hashtag #FlexibleIs.
LinkedIn is also offering free courses to help support flexibility and inclusivity in the workplace, with LinkedIn Learning courses available on Negotiating Work Flexibility, Preparing Your Family Leave and Return and Inclusive Female Leadership

Methodology: LinkedIn Economic Graph researchers analysed women’s paths into leadership positions to understand how women’s career trajectories differ from those of men. A leadership role is a Director or C-suite level position. The share of females holding leadership positions reflects the number of females holding current leadership roles divided by the number of males and females in leadership positions. The time to leadership represents the average number of years between the career start date and the date of the first leadership position listed on a member profile. The career start date is the earliest of i) the first individual contributor position on a member profile and ii) the latest education graduation date listed on a member profile. The latest education date takes into account members who may return later in their career to complete further education. If not explicitly self-identified, the analysis infers the gender of members by classifying first names as either male or female or by pronouns used on LinkedIn profiles. Members whose gender could not be inferred as either male or female were excluded from this analysis.
Global research conducted by Censuswide, surveying 22,995 respondents in the UK, USA, Ireland, France, Germany, Brazil, KSA, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada, India, Spain, UAE and Mexico was also referenced. Research was conducted between 21st January 2022 - 8th February 2022. 


PARTNER CONTENT: Developed in collaboration to support IWD's Women and Work Mission.


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