Dr Michelle Harrison : Why Progress For Women Leaders Has Stalled

December 7, 2022

Successful women often disregard gender roles, which makes people uncomfortable. For female leaders, managing this is critical. Having people support you determines how well you can build relationships and influence people—in other words, how well you can lead. Leading through backlash can be an incredibly difficult thing to do, as it takes a toll on women’s self-esteem and relationships. Backlash results in people disliking successful women and preferring male leaders. As society doesn’t associate women with power, employees don’t either, which is why it’s acceptable to push back on women leaders and question their legitimacy.

On today’s podcast we are joined again by Dr Michelle Harrison Global CEO of Kantar Public, who is going to be discussing the recently published findings of the fifth and extended edition of The Reykjavík Index for Leadership, which highlights entrenched prejudice towards women leaders.  Launched in 2018, The Reykjavík Index for Leadership measures and tracks progress in society’s perceptions of women and men’s suitability to lead across 23 economic sectors. Together with Women Political Leaders, Michelle and her company conducted this groundbreaking research, and together we will unpack why societal attitudes have stalled when it comes to women in leadership positions.

If we take the five year view, there’s been no improvement, but there was a period when things looked like they were, and then there’s been a quite a sharp reversal.  Let’s think about those two particular measures. We ask people, and it’s a percentage, do they feel very comfortable with the idea of a female CEO of a large corporation. And we also asked the same question about a Head of State. The data on female CEOs for the G7 group go back five years and it was 46% of the population who felt very comfortable. So the majority of people, in the G7 group of countries are not feeling entirely comfortable with the idea of a woman being in charge of a country or a large organization.

To create workplaces that work for everyone we need to understand how they are broken. Here Michele shares specific actions we can take to tackle gender inequality:

Action One: Keep striving for change: we do need to just keep going. We have to create workplaces where people are rewarded fairly and with as much inclusivity as possible, this will benefit us all.

Action Two: Stop trying to fix women, we don’t need to fix women. The issues are about the way organizations, companies, and societies work. All of our work about inclusivity and diversity is for everyone and moving sharply away from the idea that we’re trying to help women deal with these issues.

Action Three: Keep calling people out.  We all need to take a stronger view about all of the actions, behaviors and microaggressions that women and other groups experience every day in the workplace. We need to put the onus on correcting the people who do these things and not on the people who previously we might have been training to better manage being on the receiving end of that.

Dr Michelle Harrison

Kantar Public