2024 women in leadership: Challenges are fueled by a resurgence of traditional values, a widening leadership gap, and the need for DEI initiatives

by | Apr 3, 2024 | Public Relations

Despite intermittent progress, challenges for women for ascending to leadership positions in business continue to manifest. New research from SMB-focused hiring firm Wizehire sheds light on the changing perception of women in leadership and the barriers they face, including the “motherhood penalty” and a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, particularly in small businesses.

The firm’s first Women in Leadership Report, a comprehensive study exploring the evolving dynamics of women in the workplace, surveying a sample size of 2,506 individuals representative of U.S. adults, also reveals a new obstacle on the list—younger generations are now embracing more traditional gender roles outside the home, and this goes for both and women surveyed in the 18-to-34 year old age range. To say the least, this revelation comes as a complete blindside from the sector known for their progressive views.

women in leadership

Women are experiencing a plateau mid-career

The report also found that 51 percent of women shared they had never been promoted to management, while the same is true for 41 percent of men. Moreover, promotions are infrequent, with 28 percent of workers reporting their last promotion was over five years ago. Twenty-seven percent of those aged 35-54 were last promoted to management over five years ago, with 25 percent of women in the age range feeling the sting the most. This suggests women are experiencing a plateau in their careers during the mid-career stage (35-45 years old), impacting their path to more senior roles.

Younger Americans have less progressive views on a female U.S. president

The survey found that 40 percent of U.S. adults are “very likely” to know someone who would vote for a qualified female presidential candidate, indicating a shift away from the belief that men are inherently better qualified to lead.

The highest agreement (45 percent) came from those aged 55 and older. Conversely, only 32 percent of 18-to 34-year-olds expressed strong agreement, suggesting younger Americans hold less progressive views on the topic than their parents.

women in leadership

Are women subject to a motherhood penalty?

The report highlights that balancing work and family responsibilities is the biggest obstacle for women in leadership, with 33 percent of Americans believing so. Of the total respondents, 43 percent were married women. Hostile work environments were a distant second, split evenly between men and women.

Conversely, 28 percent of men and women agree work shouldn’t influence a woman’s decision to start a family. Most respondents were women over 55 (32 percent), possibly indicating hindsight.

Regression in attitudes toward gender roles

Opinions differ on the significance of traditional gender roles in attaining success outside the home, but the scales are not equal.

An overwhelming 47 percent of Americans say these roles are “very important” or “somewhat important.” Digging into the numbers further, most of those responding in this manner are 18-34 years of age (53 percent total): men (59 percent) and women (48 percent). Only 24 percent of Americans responded “not very important” or “not at all important.”

How did older Americans respond to the question? Forty percent of women and 50 percent of men 55 and over agreed it is “very important” or “somewhat important.” The numbers indicate that while roles outside of the home are evolving, there is a regression in attitudes regarding younger adults.

women in leadership

DEI initiatives or mentorship programs

A quarter of Americans (27 percent) reported that their workplaces lack diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and programs. Women reported this lack of DEI initiatives more frequently (30 percent) than men (25 percent).

Conversely, 22 percent reported that their workplaces offer DEI training. The numbers were even lower for diverse hiring practices (16 percent) and inclusive social events (16 percent).

Impacting these responses may be that nearly 50 percent of private sector employees work for small businesses where DEI initiatives are unavailable. Micro-businesses with fewer than 25 employees may lack the resources for such programs and training.

women in leadership

Creating more equitable workplaces

Despite the progress made for women in leadership, the glass ceiling is sometimes nearly intact. The survey comes at a time when younger adults are increasingly biased against women in leadership and when diverse and gender-inclusive workplaces are at risk since many companies are downsizing their DEI teams. Yet companies still have the power to make positive changes.

“Businesses hold the power to create more equitable workspaces where everyone has the opportunity to excel, boosting both business and well-being,” said Carmen Bryant, VP of marketing at Wizehire.

Download the full report here.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 2,506 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between February 15 to 19, 2024. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighed and represent all US adults (aged 18+). In addition to the survey, the report utilizes data from diverse authority sources to analyze the representation of women in leadership roles.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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