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DCE Magazine

Women in Leadership: The Balancing Act

Women encounter more obstacles than men in the workplace. Organizations can help remove these barriers and support women throughout their career. Recapped in this article are recommendations from UCI’s panel of experts.

Fall 2021

Judith Lukomski Judith Lukomski
Mahtab Jafari Mahtab Jafari
Nicole Washington Nicole Washington
Telaireus “T.K.” Herrin Telaireus “T.K.” Herrin

There is a significant gender gap in leadership. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 51.8% of management occupations are held by women as of 20191. Yet, most senior management roles and board seats are still held by men2. In 2020, The Fortune 500 list highlighted the gap between CEO’s: 37 women compared to 463 men3. Access to the leadership ladder is important for women to succeed and is often blocked with outdated expectations and limiting policies.

The pandemic has been particularly taxing on women professionals, notably mothers, leading to increased stress. Juggling a job from home while dealing with children and household duties is challenging as women traditionally bear the brunt of these duties, even when a father, domestic partner or other resource is available to assist.

It has been reported nearly 3 million women in the United States have dropped out of the labor force in the last year. In many instances, jobs have disappeared, there has been long-standing pay inequities and undervalued work. Organizations have a responsibility to self-evaluate, take responsibility, and address the issues at hand.

Following are five key considerations for creating a more equitable organization, gleaned from a recent UCI webinar, Leadership Strategies: Women in Leadership — The Balancing Act, featuring four professionals from the corporate and academic world.

Address the Gender Pay Gap

Check the numbers, and if pay inequity exists in your organization, recognize it and take concrete steps to correct the imbalance. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, women on average with full-time jobs earn just 82% of what their male counterparts take home. When reviewed with a lens to intersectionality the gap widens significantly.

It’s essential that we recognize pay disparities for women across the board within the organization, said Telaireus “T.K.” Herrin, VP of Inclusion and Diversity Programs at Medtronic. “It’s a process of self-examination to keep it at the forefront, make sure we’re providing equal pay for equal work. And I’m happy to say that in my own organization, Medtronic, there’s an intentional effort to do this.”

Still, the gender gap persists because many organizations fail to address or even acknowledge it. “There needs to be a call to action for those who find themselves in positions to influence decisions and processes for women, and make sure that’s not the issue in your workplace.”

Make Caregiving a Priority

Organizations need to recognize that women are typically the primary care givers; often taking on the bulk of responsibilities — three times more when it comes to household work and double the duties for childcare, said Mahtab Jafari, director of the UCI Center for Healthspan Sciences.

The pandemic exacerbated what is already a difficult juggling act, prompting many women to “step back” from their careers due to childcare and caretaking issues, said Judith Lukomski, CEO of Transitions Today Inc. Organizations need to acknowledge this inequity and take steps to address it, such as examining expanded flex hours, she added.

Having help with parenting duties can ease the burden substantially and lead to more career success. Moms who share a 50/50 parenting schedule are 54% more likely to earn more money than those without this balance, webinar moderator Nicole Washington pointed out.

Beyond childcare, “More than 1 in 6 Americans working full-time or part-time report assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled family member, relative, or friend. Caregivers working at least 15 hours per week indicated that this assistance significantly affected their work life.” (Source: Gallup-Healthways. (2011) Well-Being Index.)

Institute Wellness Programs

Promoting a healthier organization improves productivity and reduces employee stress. Self-care is especially important. The good news is there are simple ways to boost wellness that can be easily implemented, such as embracing meditation and mindfulness techniques, Lukomski said.

“Heightened stress really impacts productivity and effectiveness, even longevity,” she said. “That’s why more organizations are looking at wellness as an integral part of their business, introducing simple but effective techniques into the workplace like starting every meeting with a collective breath to help focus and calm the mind.”

Making the workday less hectic by avoiding back-to-back meetings, scheduling time to think through projects, and establishing walking meetings are additional ways to reduce the epidemic of stress that has been consuming American workers and students since even before the pandemic.

Promote Inclusion and Belonging

There are many advantages to having a diverse staff: a rich variety of viewpoints and experiences to draw from, as well as leadership that mirrors the myriad communities and cultures it seeks to represent and attract. Yet, the most compelling reason to ensure inclusive policies is that it’s simply the right thing to do.

“We need to set the right intention to increase diversity,” Jafari said. “I’ve been recruiting women and minorities for my lab, and I make an effort to mentor them. As a result, the majority of the students eventually end up going to really great medical schools, pharmacy schools, PhD programs, or even join the workforce directly.”

Diversity and gender balance also attracts consumers who base their purchasing choices on social consciousness, Lukomski added. “I love this change in consumerism. People are becoming very conscious of what organizations are doing and what they choose to support, because dollars talk.”

Speak Up

Every member of an organization needs to advocate for positive change, to point out any conditions or inappropriate behavior that contribute to in an unfair or discriminatory culture. It’s everyone’s responsibility to join the effort to create a healthy and inclusive workplace and promote supportive policies, Herrin said.

“At the end of the day, we’re all in this together,” he said. “We need to recognize that there are people who, from an equity standpoint, are starting in their jobs and careers from different places. We’re all involved in making changes, and if I have a platform, I’m going to use it. If I see something that isn’t right, I’m going to speak up.”

When you are in a position to help inform and create change, just do it. Proposing leadership programs and volunteering to mentor newer or less empowered coworkers are excellent ways to promote a more equitable workplace, Lukomski added. It is only by working together that lasting change happens.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 11: Employed Persons by Detailed Occupation, Sex, Race, and Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity,” Current Population Survey (2020).
2 Spencer Stuart’s analysis of race/ethnicity among board representation examined the top 200 organizations of the S&P 500. Spencer Stuart, 2019 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index, (unpublished data) (2019).
3 Catalyst, Historical List of Women CEOs of the Fortune Lists: 1972-2020 (May 2020).