Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.  [William Shakespeare]

The quotation above is from King Henry IV Part 2. At the time, Shakespeare was referencing the challenges of life as a monarch. While no one may be handing out crowns to women in leadership, it cannot be gainsaid that women in positions of authority face grave challenges. The body of  research supporting that statement recently increased with the publication of a study involving 600 men and women. The Fast Company article citing the study ran under the headline New report finds that 60% of women in leadership feel more lonely as their careers progress.

I count myself as fortunate that this article was drawn to my attention in a community of successful women where support abounds and there is a true sense of sisterhood. However, for many women around the globe, there is no such space or place where they can consistently and confidently turn to find relief from the challenges associated with navigating a hostile – whether explicit or more subtle – work environment.

In today’s blog, I’ve chosen to highlight just a few of the challenges described in the above-referenced article. I encourage my readers – both male and female – to read on and to reflect on the environments in which you operate. As you do so, consider for a moment – or more – what is the reality currently being experienced by the women in that environment? How is it affecting their mental and physical health and their general sense of well-being?

The Majority of Women Reported Feeling Lonely, Unsupported and Isolated

In addition to being uneasy, women in senior leadership positions are feeling lonely. Fifty-five percent of senior level women in the study being reviewed reported feeling lonely in their jobs at least once in the past month. Even more felt unsupported with that figure coming in at 69%. The study also explored how these measures trended over time. The results here present even more cause for concern in that 60% of the women reported that their feelings of loneliness and isolation increased as their career progressed.

These statistics become more worrisome when we take into consideration the toll that loneliness and isolation have on our health and wellbeing. The gravity of the situation captured in the following statement from the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

“Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, of depression, of anxiety, of premature death, of sleep disturbances, of dementia, of impaired wound healing, and the list goes on. When studies have actually looked at the mortality impact associated with loneliness, what they have found is that that mortality impact is similar to the mortality impact seen with smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

With the adverse impact of loneliness being so tangible and so grave, why then are we not doing more to rectify the problem? Perhaps the answer to that question is similar to the one for why we haven’t yet found a way to screen for breast cancer that doesn’t involve women embracing a huge metal machine while squishing our breasts between two heavy plates and simultaneously yanking said breasts away from our chests😵‍💫 Just saying…🤷🏽‍♀️

Did Someone Say Equity?

The term “equity” refers to fairness and justice and is distinguished from equality: Whereas equality means providing the same to all, equity means recognizing that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and make adjustments to imbalances. The process is ongoing, requiring us to identify and overcome intentional and unintentional barriers arising from bias or systemic structures.  [https://www.naceweb.org/about-us/equity-definition/]

Despite just having celebrated International Women’s Day under the theme Embrace Equity, the reality is that there is a dearth of equity when it comes to women in leadership roles in business. In addition to the previously referenced article, we can find evidence to support this statement in the 2022 Women in the Workplace Report.  Here are just a few of the findings from that report:

  • Women are more likely to experience belittling microaggressions, such as having their judgment questioned or being mistaken for someone more junior.
  • Women are doing more to support employee well-being and foster inclusion, but this critical work is spreading them thin and going mostly unrewarded.
  • Latinas and Black women are less likely than women of other races and ethnicities to report their manager supports their career development. They also experience less psychological safety.

It’s Broke – Let’s Fix It!

Given the irrefutable evidence that we have a problem, let’s now turn our attention to how it can be fixed.

The Centre for Creative Leadership has published seven action steps that can be adopted by organisations to promote gender equity. Here is a high-level summary for your consideration.

  1. Gain commitment from board members and senior executives.

  2. Rethink systems – best-practice organizations have an all-encompassing, systematic agenda to tackle gender equity in the workplace rather than expecting one individual or an under-resourced department to be responsible for effecting change.
  3. Establish and execute flexible work arrangements. BTW this is compatible with the findings of the 2022 Women in the Workplace Report that found that the option to work remotely is especially important to women.
  4. Provide learning and development opportunities.
  5. Help managers develop talent through coaching and mentoring.
  6. Endorse employee resource groups – through its research, CCL has found that women have benefited from women’s groups that allowed a safe space to discuss challenges, seek solutions, and access networking opportunities that they might not have otherwise encountered.
  7. When pursuing equity, think beyond gender diversity. The ultimate goal for your organization should be to create a culture where all voices are heard and all talent feels respected. 

CCL’s checklist also includes recommendations for actions to be taken by men and others which we as women can adopt in the quest to achieve equity.  To download the comprehensive checklist CLICK HERE and then get ready to start building your guiding coalition to effect positive change. In doing so, you could well be on your way to contributing to the eradication of the health crisis associated with the high prevalence of loneliness and isolation among women in leadership.

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