WIZE SURVEY

Women in Leadership Report 2024

Wizehire’s survey reveals challenges fueled by a resurgence of traditional values among young adults.

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In the United States, equality thrives in non-leadership roles, yet Wizehire’s survey underscores ongoing hurdles for women reaching top business positions.

Traditional values, particularly among young adults, may hinder the pipeline to female leadership. This insight is despite the declining belief in men’s inherent leadership superiority, notably in roles like the United States presidency.

However, the path toward women in leadership roles remains evident. Companies hold the power to cultivate gender-inclusive, diverse workplaces, enabling all individuals to excel.

Takeaways:
  • Growing support with persistent gaps: The report highlights progress toward gender equality in leadership but traditional values, especially among young adults, pose challenges to female advancement.
  • Merit-based support vs. skepticism: There’s broad support for female leadership with qualifications and experience prioritized over gender, though skepticism and adherence to traditional gender roles persist.
  • Barriers and opportunities for female leadership: Key obstacles for women in leadership include the “motherhood penalty” and a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, especially in small businesses.
  • Discrimination and the path to inclusion: The report advocates for inclusive workplace practices, such as gender-neutral language and flexible work arrangements, to foster a supportive space for all employees.

“Companies have the power to create healthy workspaces where everyone has the opportunity to excel, boosting both business and well-being.”

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Courtney Woods

Wizehire Coach Team Lead

Go beyond the job boards

Wizehire’s people-first approach and personalized hiring solutions help small and growing businesses find the right people with confidence.

Chapter 1

Top

Table of contents:

CHAPTER 1

Women Rising

Younger Americans' views on electing a female president are less progressive than their parents, but there's a flip side.

CHAPTER 2

The Leadership Gap

Findings imply that many women are experiencing a plateau in their careers during the mid-career stage (35-45 years old).

CHAPTER 3

Regression in Attitudes Toward Gender Roles

The scales aren't equal regarding the significance of traditional gender roles in attaining success outside the home.

CHAPTER 4

Are Women Subject to a Motherhood Penalty?

The scales aren't equal regarding the significance of traditional gender roles in attaining success outside the home.

CHAPTER 5

Other Key Findings

Age discrimination is the most frequently witnessed type of bias in the workplace followed by racial discrimination.

CHAPTER 6

Wize Words

For women, sometimes the glass ceiling feels nearly intact, but companies have the power to make positive changes for all.

Chapter 1

Women Rising

The top leadership position in America is the president of the United States. So we asked Americans how likely the people in their lives would vote for a qualified female presidential candidate.

An impressive 40% of US adults expressed “very likely,” followed by 27% stating “somewhat likely,” suggesting a diminishing belief in the assumption that men are inherently better qualified to lead the USA.

Notably, 41% of men and 38% of women responded “very likely,” with 45% being 55 and older. The smallest segment agreeing with the sentiment is 18 to 34-year-olds at 32%, indicating that younger Americans’ views on the topic are less progressive than their parents.

Chances of those around you voting for a qualified female president

Base: N=2,506 US adults (1,220 male; 1,286 female) aged 18+

Several themes emerge when we analyze the dataset of respondents' open-ended answers regarding their reasoning behind voting (or not voting) for a qualified female presidential candidate. It reveals a complex spectrum of opinions, ranging from enthusiastic support based on principles of qualification to reservations rooted in traditional views on gender roles.

Many emphasized qualifications, experience, and capabilities as paramount over gender. They advocate for voting based on merit, suggesting that if a female candidate is qualified, her gender should not be a barrier.

“A qualified person is a qualified person regardless of gender.”

Still, a fraction of respondents expressed skepticism or outright opposition to the idea of a female president, citing traditional gender roles, societal readiness, or their personal beliefs.

“I think it would be hard for a woman to manage something as big as running the country with other factors in her life. Men and women were built for different things.”

Chapter 2

The Leadership Gap

According to the survey, most men and women in America (26%) do not hold leadership roles. The results are not surprising, given the scarcity of executive jobs. However, women still need to catch up to men in executive roles and critical positions that potentially lead to the C-suite, including middle and junior supervisory and management positions. Men have a narrow lead in these roles.

26%

of Americans do not hold leadership roles.

What best describes your management level at work?

Base: N=2,506 US adults (1,220 male; 1,286 female) aged 18+

Who Is Getting Promoted to Management?

Looking for further explanation regarding the leadership gap, 51% of women shared they had never been promoted to management, while the same is true for 41% of men. The survey also found that promotions are uncommon, with 28% of Americans reporting their last promotion to a management position was over five years ago. This number is slightly higher for men at 31%, while for women it's at 25%.

When looking at the respondents' ages, 44% of those Americans not promoted to a management role in the past five years were 55 and above—the lower number of promotions reported over the last five years could be due to retirement. Interestingly, however, 27% of those aged 35-54 were also last promoted to management over five years ago, with 25% of American women in the age range feeling the sting the most. 

Several hypotheses exist for this trend, some unrelated to individual job performance, such as the macro environment. However, these findings imply that numerous women are experiencing a plateau in their careers during the mid-career stage (35-45 years old), impacting their path to more senior roles.

When was the last time you were promoted to a role with management responsibilities?

Total Male Female
Within the last year 6% 7% 5%
1-2 years ago 8% 8% 8%
2-3 years ago 7% 8% 6%
3-4 years ago 5% 6% 5%
5+ years ago 28% 31% 25%
N/A - I have never been promoted to a management role 46% 41% 51%
Base: N=2,506 US adults (1,220 male; 1,286 female) aged 18+

Perceptions of Leadership and Gender

It is commonly perceived that men occupy more leadership roles in the workplace than women. Workers have expressed their opinions on the distribution of leadership positions among women in their workplace.

32%

say that 10% to 25% of leaders at their jobs are women.

31%

say that 26% to 50% of leaders at their jobs are women.

Thinking about your workplace, in your opinion, what percentage of leadership roles are held by women?

Total Male Female
Under 10% 19% 24% 14%
10 - 25% 32% 32% 32%
26 - 50% 31% 33% 29%
Over 51% 18% 11% 25%
Base: N=2,506 US adults (1,220 male; 1,286 female) aged 18+

Moreover, only 11% of men reported that women hold more than 51% of leadership positions compared to 25% of women.

What’s possibly fueling these responses? Numerous reports share that women have yet to crack the glass ceiling in many industries and roles, indicating that men are still more frequently perceived as leaders than women. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that around 10% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women (1).

10%

of Fortune 500 companies are led by women.

Chapter 3

Regression in Attitudes Toward Gender Roles

Opinions differ on the significance of traditional gender roles in attaining success outside the home, but the scales are not equal.

An overwhelming 47% of Americans say it’s "very important" or "somewhat important." Digging into the numbers further, most of those responding in this manner are 18-34 years of age (53% total): men (59%) and women (48%). Only 24% of Americans responded "not very important" or "not at all important."

How did older Americans respond to the question? 40% of women and 50% of men 55 and over agreed it is "very important" or "somewhat important." The numbers indicate that while roles outside of the home are evolving, there is a regression in attitudes regarding younger adults.

How important do you think traditional gender roles are for success outside the home?

Base: N=2,506 US adults (1,220 male; 1,286 female) aged 18+

We investigated the idea further. The annual global study, Reykjavik Index for Leadership (2), delves into public perceptions of female leaders, analyzing attitudes and perspectives worldwide. It reports the growing bias of young adults against female leaders, a trend in the US. and worldwide. This serves as another clear indicator of the persisting regressive views on gender roles.

47%

of Americans say that traditional gender roles are very or somewhat important for success outside of the home.

Chapter 4

Are Women Subject to a Motherhood Penalty?

Wizehire asked Americans, in their opinion, what is the most significant barrier women in leadership face.

The response points to the experience of working mothers. Many Americans (33%) believe balancing work and family responsibilities is the biggest obstacle for women in leadership. Moreover, 42% of married women selected this response.

A global report by Gallup (3) reveals more. North America and Canada have the highest percentage of female workers experiencing high-stress levels daily. This is due to their additional responsibilities at work and home, which result in more exhaustion than their male counterparts.

The findings align with an important takeaway from the pandemic: the growing acknowledgment within organizations that they can’t ignore the burden of "double shifts" experienced by working mothers balancing household duties and childcare alongside full-time careers. There's a clear call for further action, particularly in subsidizing childcare, offering flexible working arrangements, and bolstering mental health resources. 

Hostile work environments are the next barrier on the list—a distant second, with the consensus evenly split between males and females (at 13% each).

33%

of Americans believe that balancing work and family responsibilities is the biggest obstacle for women in leadership.

In your opinion, what is the most significant barrier that women in leadership face?

Total Male Female
Lack of experience due to age 4% 5% 3%
Aging-out 4% 3% 4%
Racial/ethnic discrimination 4% 3% 4%
Imposter syndrome 2% 1% 2%
Lack of flexible work 5% 4% 5%
Stigmas around maternity leave 6% 6% 6%
Balancing work and family responsibilities 33% 28% 38%
Lack of role models/mentors/sponsors 4% 4% 5%
Beauty bias 5% 5% 4%
Hostile work environments 13% 13% 13%
Don't know 21% 27% 16%
Base: N=2,506 US adults (1,220 male; 1,286 female) aged 18+

These findings raise whether this challenge prevents women from advancing in their careers. Typically, the ages of 25 to 35 define the early career stage. However, the survey found that 28% of women between 18 and 34 do not work. Perhaps this is because they are starting families.

“The motherhood penalty has driven thousands of moms to leave their jobs, reducing the number of qualified workers for companies' open roles.”

- Shivani Puri, Wizehire VP of People Operations

We then asked the best age range for a woman in the workforce to start a family. 34% of men and 31% of women 18 to 34 years say between 26 and 30 years old.

Conversely, 28% of men and women agree work shouldn't influence a woman's decision to start a family. Women over 55 were especially likely to agree with this sentiment (34%), possibly indicating hindsight.

Chapter 5

Other Key Findings

Discrimination

36% of Americans, a notable proportion, assert that they have never witnessed discrimination in a professional setting. This perspective showed some variation across demographic categories, with 38% of whites, 29% of Blacks, and 32% of Hispanics stating they had never witnessed workplace discrimination. Similarly, 35% of males and 36% of females reported never witnessing discrimination in a workplace.

However, among those who reported witnessing workplace discrimination, certain types were more prevalent than others. Age discrimination emerged as the most frequently cited form, with 23% of respondents indicating they had observed it. The percentages between men (23%) and women (24%) were nearly equal, with similar numbers across the board for different age ranges.

After ageism comes racial discrimination at 22%, gender discrimination at 20%, and sex-based discrimination at 18%. These figures shed light on the persistence of various forms of discrimination within professional settings despite a significant portion of individuals reporting no personal encounters with such behavior.

23%

of Americans assert they have witnessed age discrimination in the workplace.

Which, if any, of the following types of discrimination have you witnessed in the workplace? Please select all that apply.

Total Male Female
Racial discrimination 22% 24% 20%
Ethnic discrimination 13% 14% 12%
Gender discrimination 20% 17% 23%
Sex-based discrimination 18% 18% 19%
Age discrimination 23% 23% 24%
Disability discrimination 11% 9% 13%
Religious discrimination 10% 10% 10%
Other 2% 2% 2%
Not applicable – I have never witnessed any discrimination in the workplace 36% 35% 36%
None of these 15% 14% 16%
Base: N=2,506 US adults (1,220 male; 1,286 female) aged 18+

DEI Initiatives or Mentorship Programs

Over one in four American workers (27%) shared that their workplaces lack diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and programs. Women reported this lack of DEI initiatives more frequently (30%) than men (25%).

Conversely, 22% are participating in their workplace-offered DEI training. The numbers were even lower for diverse hiring practices (16%) and inclusive social events (16%). 

Impacting these responses may be that nearly 50% of private sector employees work for small businesses (4), where DEI initiatives may not be available. Micro-businesses, which often have fewer than 25 employees (5), may lack the resources for such programs and training.

Chapter 6

Wize Words

Despite the progress made for women in leadership, the glass ceiling is sometimes nearly intact. Wizehire's survey comes at a time when younger adults are increasingly biased against women in leadership and when diverse and gender-inclusive workplaces are at risk since many companies are downsizing their DEI teams (6). Yet companies still have the power to make positive changes.

Creating Better Workplaces

Numerous reports share that teams with diverse backgrounds and experiences show higher levels of innovation and productivity. Employing fair and impartial recruitment and advancement strategies is an avenue to success for businesses seeking to maximize team performance. Methods, including blind resume screening and inclusive interview panels, can reduce unconscious bias in hiring processes, particularly for managerial roles that lead to executive positions for underrepresented people.

To mitigate bias in internal promotions, consider that standardized evaluation processes create a one-size-fits-all approach that could overlook individual strengths and weaknesses. Equitable promotion practices that allow for a nuanced assessment of each candidate's qualifications, experiences, and potential contributions to the organization will foster a more inclusive and effective promotion process.

It is worth noting that a report from the Harvard Business Review shares that women are less likely to apply for a job if they don't meet 100% of the qualifications. Men will apply if they meet only 60% of the requirements. Limiting qualifications in job posts to the absolute must-haves may create more opportunities for women to apply to leadership positions.

Employees Need Appreciation and Recognition

Macroeconomics and the flattening of corporate organizational structures limit upward mobility, often impacting employee morale. Establishing transparent career paths and succession plans within organizations can mitigate this issue, ensuring equal access to leadership roles for all.

Moreover, people resource professionals can forge innovative methods to acknowledge and reward a well-done job.

Personalized recognition programs and peer recognition platforms are solid ideas for starters. Another effective method is to offer skill-based rewards that encourage continuous learning. It shows employees you value their career development while creating a fairer workplace. Skill-based rewards recognize people for acquiring knowledge and skills, removing recognition bias.

According to a study conducted in 2022 (7), Gen Z places great value on educational opportunities in the workplace. When asked about their preferences for their first full-time job, 67% of respondents expressed a desire to work for companies that offer opportunities to learn new skills that advance their careers.

How to Approach Gender Inequalities in the Workplace

To address this issue, conduct an internal analysis to identify any potential discrepancies in the career advancement rates of women in your organization. The process can reveal underlying biases and empower you to take corrective measures. Also, secure a commitment from senior leadership to foster gender diversity and advocate for the progression of women within the company. Holding leaders accountable for creating an inclusive workplace culture and achieving diversity objectives creates a more equitable workplace.

Better Support for Employees With Family Responsibilities

Companies can support women, as well as all employees, in rising to leadership positions by implementing policies that address various family responsibilities they may have. It can include flexible work arrangements like remote or adjusted hours to accommodate childcare or eldercare needs. 

Providing on-site childcare facilities or subsidizing childcare costs can also alleviate the burden on working parents. By acknowledging and accommodating the diverse family responsibilities of all, companies can create an inclusive work environment that fosters gender equality in leadership roles.

Combating Workplace Discrimination

In 2022, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received more than 73,000 discrimination charges, a nearly 20% uptick from the previous year (8). Cultivating a supportive and inclusive work culture where all feel valued, respected, and empowered to succeed is an area all companies can improve upon. 

Encourage open dialogue about diversity and provide resources for addressing issues related to bias and discrimination. Additionally, establishing affinity groups can further promote a sense of belonging among employees.

“Affinity groups empower your team to share their experiences and enrich the organization by bringing diverse perspectives to the forefront.”

- Shivani Puri, Wizehire VP of People Operations

Creating a Gender-Inclusive Workplace

Gender equality concerns not just women but everyone in society. Companies that employ a gender-neutral approach build a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

It involves eliminating gender-biased language and using more inclusive terminology such as "crewed" or "staffing" instead of "manned" or "manpower." Furthermore, it’s essential to provide established internal training that encourages gender diversity with inclusive hiring practices.

Another way to level the playing field is by offering flexible work arrangements for all employees to accommodate different caregiving responsibilities for children, elders, and pets, promoting a work-life balance for everyone.

Also, remember to create inclusive spaces in the office. This includes providing accessible restrooms to all genders, avoiding gender stereotypes in signage, and ensuring reasonable accommodations for nursing parents.

How Can Small Businesses With Limited Resources Establish DEI Initiatives?

Growing businesses that value innovation can gain substantial benefits from diverse teams. However, small companies without the resources for a dedicated HR team may find DEI initiatives daunting. Starting with employee surveys or open discussions can lay the foundation for more equitable workplaces without costly training programs. 

Also, consider the diversity of your suppliers and vendors. Supporting businesses owned by underrepresented groups fosters a more inclusive ecosystem.

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Methodology

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 2,506 adults, of whom 1,579 are currently working. Fieldwork was undertaken between February 15 and 19, 2024. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighed and represent all US adults (aged 18+).

This report analyzes the representation of women in leadership roles using data from diverse authority sources and Wizehire’s survey.