It’s 2023. Why do women leaders need support?

In my consulting practice, I especially love resourcing and coaching women leaders. But it’s 2023. Why do women leaders need support?

Women are still underrepresented in almost all work sectors. Women make less money for similar roles, carry more non-advanceable duties, and are promoted much slower than men. Women are more stressed and approach burnout at greater rates than men. Women are subject to debilitating microaggressions at a much more frequent rate than their male counterparts. Women continue showing up at work while carrying the majority load at home. Women want to make a difference in their world despite all these inequities. Doesn’t this matter? If it does, what are we doing about it in our organizations?  

Women hold amazing gifts that the world needs. But the challenges women face in gaining and succeeding in middle and senior leadership roles take their toll on women’s belief systems and their emotional and physical health. Women need help to fully live into their transforming influence at work and in personal relationships. And if you cringed just now by reading ‘women’ and ‘needing help’ in the same sentence, please hear me out. Yes, it’s 2023, but one goal I’d challenge you to consider this year is to grow your awareness and action plan for your place of work to be more representative and supportive of all genders.

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Regardless of the roadblocks women navigate as leaders, I find that women and men mostly keep this aspect of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) at arm’s length for themselves privately and as an issue at work. We, as women, don’t want to sound like we’re complaining. We don’t want to be whiners. Maybe other women can’t get to the corner office, but I’m different, we say. I can succeed because of my gifts and skill or grit. Or perhaps our organization has women in the most senior roles, so we perceive this as a solved problem. We don’t talk about women in leadership because it’s 2023. Don’t we sound backward if we begin shining light on gender data of our hiring, promotions, representation, evidence of microaggressions, and employee feedback on safety and belonging?

Dawn Jan Blog - Image 2Who are the leaders in your organization? What do your leaders look like, sound like, and act like? Over and over, research shows that although we celebrate executive women leaders around us, a leader is imagined as the stereotypical male. Routinely, my social media posts on the state of today’s women in leadership garner the least views and comments. This is not a happenstance. Gender opportunity with appropriate support is an old conversation, not viewed as a glamorous cause. Do you stop and read posts on gender realities in the workplace? But IT IS a real conversation we dare not tire of learning about and working on.

There was a time when I purposefully did not want to work with women. Be it speaking gigs or workshop assignments, it felt ‘less than’ if it was a women’s-only conference instead of a room full of all genders. Why was that? Even back then, I knew it was because the power was in the men’s hands, and I knew I belonged in that room. I was sort of invited and then sort of not. I realize from my faith background I had been in circles of belief where the woman was viewed as the helper to the man, and the helper meant to support, not lead, beyond the nurtureDawn Jan Blog - Image 3 and care of children and the home. Where I worked during some of those years, a man had always held the most senior executive role. I now know I had the gifts to lean into those roles, but it was harder to act on my abilities because the culture didn’t see me - a woman- as a top senior executive. Neither my supportive colleagues nor I knew how to identify gender micro-aggressions at that time or what being a supportive ally would have looked like to launch other women colleagues or me into the senior executive role. And if one’s culture isn’t open to the senior executive role being filled by a woman, well, there’s that...

I believed that if I wasn’t pursued as the senior leader, I didn’t have the abilities, right? Over time I realized the layers that had been peeling off myself to fit as a square peg in a round hole could no longer continue as I resourced and helped the senior male executive succeed in the organization. Although deeply planted within the Christian faith, my belief system no longer puts me in an automated seat because of my gender. Instead, I was to develop and fully use my leadership gifts to help strengthen others - both women and men - to succeed in their leadership roles.

I’ve learned much these last decades and understand the cultural limitations of various organizations that determine who is invited in as the senior executive leader. My knowledge and understanding have deepened, and I am a voice of the real facts of what leadership is like for most women in corporate America. I know the tools and Dawn Jan Blog - Image 1have the coaching skills to be supportive of both women executive leaders and emerging women business leaders. I now love to be in rooms of women, shine a light on today’s challenges, and offer resources and tools to help women be fortified and supported to share their transforming influence. North American culture in 2023 remains slanted against women in leadership, whether you are one of less than 30% of the women who currently hold a senior CEO position. The world needs women in senior leadership as it needs men and persons with various minority identifications. You do not need to nor should you remain in a role losing layers of yourself because your community doesn’t see you fitting into a particular role.

In my next blog, I look forward to highlighting specific findings of the 2022 McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace report. Please remember we each need to do our work to learn and reflect on our operating system's lens regarding leadership and gender in the workplace. Please evaluate your openness to including gender realities in your organization’s DEIB work.

  • Do you need research to be convinced of the difference women in senior leadership roles make for success and employee retention in your organization?
  • Do you need deep cultural assessments to truly understand how women experience psychological safety in your organization?
  • Do you have hiring practices and employee reviews developed free from embedded gender biases?
  • Do you know what your broken rung strategy is? To assure women are advanced at least at the same rate as men at the first opportunity?  
  • Do you know the facts of how much more difficult it is to be a woman of color and particularly a black woman, to obtain and succeed in leadership roles?  
  • Do you have a sponsor and allyship program where men learn how and are held accountable to equip and sponsor women into the most senior positions?  
  • Do you understand the importance of flexible and remote work for women and simultaneously the pitfalls for women in such?  
  • Do you understand that the “Great American Breakup” is primarily women leaving their jobs and know why this is happening, especially for younger women?  

There is much to learn and do for women’s transforming influence to be freely shared in the workplace. Do you see why I now love to work with women leaders? I hope you do, too.  


Transforming Influence

We are all capable of becoming agents of positive transformation in our lives and the lives of those around us. We can authentically be ourselves and harness the courage to help others realize their true potential. We all have the power of influence.

By understanding this, we can identify obstacles and unleash the power within ourselves to accomplish our dreams. And that is my passion - to empower others to experience this transformation. 


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Resources for Understanding Women in Leadership:

How to Address Gender Inequity in Your Organization

This is a webinar embedded in an article featuring Michelle Alexander, director of inclusion at Netflix and author of The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Are Holding Women Back at Work.

Reimagining Biblical Womanhood

This is a webinar and transcript sponsored by Christianity Today featuring authors and ministry leaders Kat Armas, Beth Allison Barr, Amanda Benckhuysen, Nicole Martin, and Joyce Koo Dalrymple. These women leaders explain why and how they lean into their leadership roles while not being relegated to a secondary seat because of their Christian faith. 

Where there’s a will, there’s a wave: why sponsoring women is a game changer for the gender gap

This article explains the reason behind sponsorship needs in an inequitable culture where informal networking and influence causes leaders to replace themselves with those most similar to themselves (usually white and male).

Research: Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills

A reminder to celebrate what women bring naturally to senior positions in leadership and why your organization will be stronger when they are present at the top.

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Dawn Yoder Graber
Post by Dawn Yoder Graber
January 12, 2023
Coach to Rising Women Executives & Energizing Educator for your Team’s Targeted Learning Opportunities.