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At Oxford HR, we are proud to champion women in leadership and strive to embody feminist leadership principles throughout our work. In celebration of International Women’s Day 2024, our team share the common challenges women face in their career progression and the steps organisations can take to avoid them, creating a more inclusive and engaged workforce that values the strengths women in leadership can bring.

1. Gender bias

Gender bias can present itself in many ways, including stereotypes about women’s abilities, expectations about their roles and unconscious biases that can affect hiring and promotion. In some cases, bias may even be overt and intentional.

In order to avoid gender bias within teams, organisations can look to undertake Equity, Diversity and Inclusion training, which highlight pertinent areas such as microaggressions and unconscious bias. Investing in this type of development can help to create a culture that values inclusion, and where all employees feel respected and supported. You can find out more about Oxford HR’s EDI services here.

2. Lack of guidance

In 2015, the New York Times published findings that there were more male CEOs named John than there were female CEOs in their entirety. Only last year, in 2023, did this statistic reverse itself (Bloomberg, 2023). It’s no wonder, then, that women in leadership positions can struggle with a lack of guidance or appropriate mentorship. Being able to find opportunities for growth and navigating the complexities of advancement can slow down career progression.

Investing in a mentorship programme or encouraging peer mentorship can help women gain confidence, aid professional development and offer guidance in complex or challenging times. Training existing leaders, even men, in how to advocate for women, can make a huge difference to the inclusivity of an organisation and even its productivity; with 70% of companies reporting an increase in productivity due to mentoring. (Forbes, 2023)

3. Work-life balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial for all employees, however, three out of five women say that their caring responsibilities have prevented them from applying for a new role, compared to one in five men (The Guardian, 2022). Hybrid working policies shepherded into the mainstream due to the pandemic have certainly helped employees maintain more of a work-life balance, but new research is suggesting that flexible working extends beyond ‘where’ someone works, and that, especially for women, ‘when’ work is carried out can have a profound impact. Women @ Work found that 14% of their female respondents left their previous job due to ‘lack of flexibility as to when I work’, second only to not being paid enough.

Organisations can support the women in their workforce by offering truly flexible working arrangements, including flexible hours, remote working and part-time options. Offering leadership roles as a job share can increase flexibility, allows the sharing of responsibilities, reductions in workload and enables individuals to have more time for non-work commitments.

4. Pay equity

One of the most well-known challenges faced by women in the workplace is that of the gender pay gap. In no country across the world has the pay gap closed, with the current rate being 68.4% closed (World Economic Forum, 2023), and with the overall rate of change having slowed significantly.

Organisations can implement policies that ensure equal pay and conduct regular pay equity audits to address any discrepancies in salary and publish regular and up to date salary scales from across the company. Salary transparency during the recruitment process can help ensure that women are paid fairly and allows them to better advocate for themselves. It can also help reduce both gender and racial wage gaps through shedding light on potential discrepancies.

5. Lack of representation in leadership

A result of systematic and societal barriers that have historically limited women’s access to leadership roles, many senior management teams are still male dominated. Despite the proportion of women in leadership roles growing to 32% in 2022 (Forbes, 2022), progress remains slow. Countless studies have shown that diverse organisations are more innovative, in addition to the benefits that ‘soft skills’ and emotional intelligence can bring to a workforce. Furthermore, many social and environmental impact organisations have some level of focus on gender equity within their programming. Having women represented at senior levels can help improve an organisation’s impact in these thematic areas.

To empower women and achieve greater representation in leadership roles, organisations must make room for all voices to be heard and recognise the unique input women can bring to the table. A focus on embedding feminist leadership principles can also allow women to lead authentically, utilising their natural strengths instead of looking at leadership through a male-only lens. At Oxford HR, we recommend using a bias-decoder on job descriptions and person specifications to ensure women feel they are able and encouraged to apply for leadership roles.

6. Lack of supportive policies and practices

Organisations lacking policies and practices that support their female employees may struggle to retain talented women. The company as a whole may benefit from introducing family friendly policies, flexible working policies, and best practice regarding training and development. Doing so reaps benefits such as better productivity, reduced absences, and higher staff satisfaction; recent McKinsey research suggests that both men and women see flexibility as a ‘top 3’ employer benefit (McKinsey, 2023). Women must feel their sense of purpose in the workplace, and having inclusive policies can help women feel valued.

This International Women’s Day let’s put into practice tools that support women in our organisation’s and support those within our networks. #InspireInclusion


Ruth Davis
Ruth Davis
Digital Communications and New Business Manager at Oxford HR

Ruth joined Oxford HR in 2018 after graduating from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is particularly passionate about social impact and how purpose-led businesses can communicate their impact. Working within the communications team at Oxford HR, Ruth works on supporting regional hubs with their marketing needs in addition to content creation and partnerships. She also leads on measuring Oxford HR’s impact as a business and is part of the BCorp working group.

Ruth holds a Certificate in Professional Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, a Certificate in Project Fundamentals and is learning French. She is currently studying MSc Sustainable Development at the University of Sussex/Institute of Development Studies.