The 5 Challenges of Professional Women

Once I left corporate I launched my own consultancy. I got my first client right away. However, I started fertility treatments that kicked my ass. I had not had this level of hormones in my body before, and soon realized that my bandwidth was significantly limited by my body’s new visiting chemicals. So, I needed to take inventory of my life and reassess my plans. I went to a lecture about women pivoting their careers, and learned that most successful people “took a beat.” meaning they took some time out of the workforce all together to really gather themselves and put thought into their next venture. “Ok” I thought, I will do that- I’m fucking tired!  

So I decided to make use of the time I felt hit by a truck due to hormonal treatments by reading research starting with McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, and discovered that the data was outrageous. Literally for every 3 female Directors 2 of them left their corporate environment during covid, and only 1 was promoted to VP. “Holy shit” that’s insanity – why are we still talking about gender inequality! And it begging the question – well what the hell are those VP females doing to get promoted in this climate?! It was referred to as the most difficult time in business to be a female leader – especially women with kids. The pandemic presented a serious issue – if the mid level leadership female pipeline is broken then how will more women make it to the C-level in corporate? Or upper executive levels? In my research I discovered how beneficial it is for society to have women be economically empowered and have a voice with the most powerful revenue producing companies. 

So I immediately made a plan to figure out what these VP women are doing. I called many of my millennial girlfriends to find out what they did to get to the next level. I set up a spreadsheet of common challenges Mckinsey / Lean In where reporting existed, a few I experienced myself and themes began to emerge… 

The 5 reported challenges of professional women (according to McKinsey and my own research): Research tells us that these are the common challenges or barriers that women are facing. My research centers on a framework I developed out of the trends I uncovered when interviewing 100 millennial women who moved up into higher leadership positions during the hardest time in history to do so for women. 

Here are the 5 challenges reported that I’ve distilled down in my strategic research: 

1. Gaining access to roles with sole responsibility of running a business unit or division
2. Addressing microaggressions

3. The wage gap and negotiation

4. Flexibility in work location and / or hours

5. Recognition and feeling truly valued at work

Research tells us that these are the most impactful areas to address if companies want to refill their pipeline of female leadership talent. I think we can all agree that these are big issues we must solve as a society to gain female leadership equity. As we have seen during the pandemic, companies can pivot quite quickly and develop innovation muscles never existing before to quickly adapt to a changing environment to keep revenue coming in. I have never seen a company adjust so quickly as to hear stories of environments loading desktops into personal cars, and figuring out the rest later. When so much revenue and people’s lives are at stake we have proven our society can shift quickly with no warning. Women’s economic empowerment is also contributing to life or death situations in many cases. Certainly quality of life, and ability for many women to leave threatening situations. We have had plenty of “warning” with the empowerment of women movement starting out in the early 20th century with women teaching after the war (look this up with dates). We have had a century to warm up to this idea, and there is significant revenue at stake. Countries like Germany and others look them up are well beyond America in terms of % of women in the workforce and they are better off financially for it. 

As we have seen in the pandemic, companies will adapt when the market conditions threaten revenue. It is not the gaining of additional revenue that drives urgency to the degree that threatening existing revenue does – perhaps this has to do with promises and publicly traded companies issuing guidance to wall street that they have to maintain and come through with. We could spin our wheels on why, but my point of view is that this is a problem that will be solved through both sides choosing to adapt and using market conditions as a tool.

My framework is derived from interviews with over 100 women on how they have best practices they have stumbled upon that have been working for them in order to play the corporate game and move up. Some women realized that these methods were not working and instead of keeping trying to force a square peg into a round hole and pray for some positive recognition they chose alternative ways to promote themselves and grow their economic status, leadership skills and confidence. 

The POWER Framework – A snapshot

I call this the power framework because this is what gender equity at its heart is all about – the balance of power. It has to do with getting comfortable with the less familiar. On both ends. I’m talking about corporate leadership and environments adjusting their definitions of leadership to be more inclusive of qualities that women possess, as well as women adjusting ourselves to become more familiar with strategies that are proving to work 

  1. P&L- Women generally aren’t gaining access to roles that have responsibility for revenue and costs of a unit or part of the organization. Decision making roles that have a financial impact.
  2. Overcoming Obliviousness – Microaggressions are one of the top reported challenges that women are struggling to handle in the workplace. This begs the question – how are successful women choosing to handle microaggressions?
  3. Wages – The wage gap is still alive and well. Women make 87% what men do in 2023.  I am researching best practices from my research on negotiation tactics that have worked well, as well as out of the box approaches to solve this issue. 
  4. E-work- Otherwise called ‘flexible work location and hours.’  How women are finding ways to deal with in office working, and best practices in how we can send a clear message to corporations on this issue. This particular pillar is the defining factor of our generation and will determine women’s progress in corporate. How these policies are defined show a company’s views on female equity in my opinion. 
  5. Recognition – Women are struggling to be truly heard and recognized for their contributions. My research centers around the best practices of women who are gaining the recognition they need to be promoted and feel seen. 

Of course these are not all of the challenges that we face in the work world, but they are the top 5 main challenges reported post pandemic. I think they’re absolutely relevant to my experience as a millennial female leader. Of course I have worked for some amazing employers but by taking a step back, I am able to clearly see that yes, a business has needs – but the way a company structures their jobs can be antagonistic to females or anyone with an outside commitment in life. Seeing how quickly the world evolved during a pandemic to retain revenue flow, there are enough smart people in this world if there’s a desire to think outside the box and enable jobs to be structured differently to empower all genders to offer their leadership skills.


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