Women vs. the Workplace: The Biggest Challenges of the Female Manager

The fight for women’s rights saw a light at the end of the tunnel back in 1964 with the passing of the Civil Rights Act, which barred employers from discriminating against workers based on their gender, sex, religion, and origin. And, in the 1980s, the workforce wasn’t just a “boy’s club” anymore. Women in the workforce exploded during this period, with the rate of working women aged 25-55 increasing from 15 to 71 percent throughout the decade. Even women in executive roles increased from 20 to 36 percent in the early 1980s. 

Yet, despite this advancement, the female manager is still facing challenges, perhaps more than ever. With the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, two out of three workers left their jobs to raise their children according to a report by MetLife. With the need for women to be in two places at once, many have since turned their sights to remote employment, with 78% of women surveyed looking for a flexible job, while another 73% want opportunities for advancement. Knowing these trends can help female managers recruit and retain female employees both now and in the future.

Challenges Women Face in the Workplace (And How Female Managers Can Turn the Tide)

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The COVID-19 pandemic significantly showed the need for flexibility in the workplace, however, that statistic isn’t solely geared toward women. In fact, 69% of men surveyed by FlexJobs consider remote schedules as a key factor when looking for new employment opportunities, as well. Of the two out of three women who transitioned into a caretaker role during the pandemic, the desire to return to the workforce is prominent, however, with there not being an end in sight to the pandemic, it may spell trouble for women looking to return once things return to normal. 

The imitation of returning to the workforce after taking on a caretaker role is, unfortunately, nothing new as any gap in employment has historically been looked at negatively by recruiters and hiring managers. Even worse, many female workers re-entering the workforce feel insecure about their abilities to handle the job responsibilities listed, even though such positioning is often unwarranted. 

However, knowing this is half the battle. As a female manager, you can combat this by emphasizing your applicant’s soft skills, rather than their technical and educational ones. For example, someone who left their job to help their child with remote learning may have soft skills such as time management, organization, and attention to detail, as these traits were necessary to promote a successful learning environment. Unsurprisingly, these traits also come in handy in the workplace. Making the transition from hard skills to soft ones can offer you insight into how a potential employee works; In fact, emphasizing productivity vs. hours worked had significant benefits in terms of employee retention rates in the long run. 

But this isn’t solely about female applicants and new employees; it’s about the challenges facing female managers, as well. While the history of women in the workplace dates back much further than the boom of the 1980s, there are still many struggles women face, especially in leadership and executive roles. Globally, women only make up 24% of the world’s senior leadership positions. In the United States, that number is only 21 percent. Female managers face several challenges in the workplace, most primarily their lack of confidence, advocating on their own behalf, being treated equally, and appealing to and generating revenue from a millennial market. 

Lack of Confidence

As noted earlier, many women returning to the workforce suffer from a lack of confidence due to the gap in their employment. However, this issue plagues female managers, too, who may feel intimidated pursuing a promotion if they had to take time off to care for their families during the pandemic. Women have also long suffered from a bias that comes with speaking out when compared to their male counterparts, often being labeled as “mean,” “bossy,” or having felt threatened by the person they let go or disciplined. These labels cause female executives to have lower levels of confidence and self-esteem because their skills and leadership styles aren’t respected. Eventually, it causes female leaders to wonder “what’s the point?” 

Executives, regardless of gender, need to change the conversation and make sure harmful language isn't used when a female manager makes a business decision. Furthermore, executives need to ensure that women aren’t disproportionally penalized for mistakes that apply to every staff member. Company executives should also connect female managers with programs and other networks that can help them hone their skills and obtain additional training that will be directly proportionate to their career trajectory. Enabling female managers with the tools they need to succeed and not undermine them in front of other employees can increase their confidence. 

Advocating On Your Own Behalf

As a female manager, you need to become comfortable advocating on your behalf because no one else is going to do it for you. Women are natural-born leaders. In fact, studies show that women across the world are responsible for 70 percent of their household finances. Since women usually wear different hats throughout their life (i.e. spouses, mothers, caretakers, nurses, counselors, and teachers), they possess certain life skills and perspectives that their male counterparts don’t. Female leaders need to trust their unique perspective and executives that work with them need to think outside the box and recognize the need for change when it’s presented. 

As a female manager, you can practice self-advocacy by challenging the negative thoughts that make you question your decisions and doubt yourself. Furthermore, you should push through the urge to wait to speak up if something is amiss or if you have an idea. Business leaders routinely interject conversations, so don’t be afraid to speak up and add your voice, especially in regards to staff treatment, policy procedures, and marketing trends that can generate revenue. 

Being Treated Equally

Being treated equally has always had its fair share of challenges in the workplace. However, female managers can take steps to combat this when it comes to cultivating a gender-equitable culture at work. All executives should listen to the language they use during the hiring process. If a female applicant speaks directly and after the interview was referred to as “bossy,” ask yourself if the same language would be used when analyzing a male candidate who said something similar. 

Likewise, executives who routinely work with female managers should take the time to give them credit for successful outcomes and recognize them as being an effective leader when they utilize self-awareness and implement fairness, creativity and enthusiasm in their role. Women tend to be undervalued more than men and are often asked to do secretarial work even if they are in a management role. Furthermore, they may not feel comfortable saying “no” or speaking up when asked to do these tasks for the fear of implications. By assigning the correct work to the correct employee and giving credit for success when due are two ways executives can empower female managers and cultivate a culture of equality for everyone. 

Speaking Up and Appealing to a Millennial Market

Generating revenue is crucial for any business and not knowing who to appeal to or the reason why can be detrimental to your company’s bottom line. As of 2022, millennials will make up the largest consumer group in the United States. Millennials, those between the ages of 22 and 40 years old, value quality over quantity. This population is more likely to support a brand if said brand aligns with their values. More than anything, this generation places a huge emphasis on authenticity over anything else. Adapting your marketing strategy to millennials means generating content that not only speaks to these issues but realizing that they play an important role in the workplace. 

Not only do millennials make up the primary consumer group, but they also comprise the majority of today’s workforce. As such, they emphasize tasks they can find value in, such as those that offer flexibility toward their needs (i.e. flexibility to work from home when necessary and not be penalized for it) and those that offer opportunities for advancement. Doing research and asking yourself, “what benefits do millennials want” in turn, helps your business, as you will not only retain staff longer but know how to market to your targeted demographics to keep a steady stream of revenue. Marketing strategies for building business value can’t be overlooked in today’s market, especially as consumers’ buying habits and employees’ needs have evolved as a result of the pandemic. Such changes have evolved to include the ease of online shopping since many people had to turn to online retailers during the lockdown, as well as the ability to measure productivity by the number of tasks they completed as opposed to their hours worked.

Furthermore, when it comes to speaking up for and appealing to a millennial market, female managers need to emphasize transparency in the workplace, including what employees can do to be considered for promotions and provide the tools and resources they need to get there. 

Empowering Female Managers Today Generates The Powerful Leaders of Tomorrow

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The challenges women face in the workplace are not uncommon, but fortunately, there are steps executives can take to correct them. By empowering the female managers of today and cultivating an environment that gives them a voice to speak up about marketing trends, revenue ideas, and company culture, you help create the leaders of tomorrow. 

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Marla DiCarlo is an accomplished business consultant with more than 28 years of professional accounting experience. As co-owner and CEO of Raincatcher, she helps business owners get their business ready to sell so they find the best buyer and get paid the maximum value for their business. Marla has a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and is a member of several professional organizations.

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