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4 (disturbing) reasons why women are underrepresented at the top | AuthentiCareer

Like any self-respecting feminist, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s famous bookseller ”Lean In” a few years ago. While appreciating the woman’s journey and surprised by her ability to really open up, I was slightly unease with her testimony
In 2018, Sheryl spoke after the publication of Mac Kinsey’s study ”Women matter”, an annual snapshot of the evolution of women’s place in business. And she is not happy. Sheryl is even frustrated. Indeed, the evolution of women at the top is insignificant. Thus, the Holy Grail of the ”C Level’ position is still out of reach for most women.

What is happening in the workplace that challenges the best odds for women’s career advancement?

1. Women are more educated than men
2. There are countless women leadership programs in and out corporate companies
3. Companies speed up their diversity policy and shout out loud ”We want more women in positions of responsibility NOW!”

Yesterday, over a cup of coffee, I had a very insightful conversation on this topic with some representatives of this pool of ”high potential women”. This is what drives me to write this article which, of course, is only my perspective and the reflection of a few years working on women career advancement. The first reason may surprise you, but it is the one I find the most shared.

1- ‘‘The sacrifice is not worth it’’

‘We enter the labor market super motivated, armed with high degree diplomas and ready to give the best of ourselves. We feel equal to our male counter partners. On the other hand, for most us, life is not just about work. And that’s where the problem lies because unless: 

  • Being absolutely passionate about our expertise field
  • Adhering to the values and mission carried by our company
  • Finding the ‘magic sponsor’ who will guide and support us along the up and downs of a career’s journey (and they will happen)

delusion often peaks after a few years. If getting to the top means ”sacrificing the rest of my life”, ”becoming a b…, ”enduring humiliations while keeping a smile on my face”, clearly the sacrifice is not worth it. The values of ”social recognition” and ‘‘prestige” are not high priority female values. ‘’Utility’, ‘fulfillment’, ‘achievement’, ‘communication’, ‘creativity’, ‘collaboration’ are women’s most closely held values
Finally, giving everything for something that does not make us vibrate is quite discouraging for a lot of us.

2. Women under pressure of ‘’leaning in’’

Studies* have shown that more diversity entails more financial performance for companies.

Thus, the past few years, companies have spent a lot of money in delivering women leadership workshops. The purpose was to lecture women about what it means to act like a real leader (actually a man) and what was the price and strategies to shatter the glass ceiling (actually it is more a motherhood ceiling but anyway, it is another topic) 

The underlying message was ‘’women we are going to teach you how you can become a leader and reach C-level positions’’

But what do we really need?

We want male dominated organisations to gaining awareness of their unconscious biases against women. The issue is not about women but about a whole dysfunctional workplace. I want to see magazine covers not with the ‘’perfect’’ woman who is at the same time a CEO, a wonderful mum and has perfectly beautiful hair. I want to see male CEO who are carrying their new-born. I want them to tell me more how they manage their work-life balance. I want to know there are men out there who are both engaged in their professional life and personal life. I want to see male role models who can show the way to other men.

 Somehow, even if Sheryl Sandberg did a great job in putting the limelight on women’ s challenges  in the workplace. Her book might have been potentially counterproductive. ‘’ By arguing that women can solve the problem themselves, advocates of the “DIY” approach may imply that women should be the ones to solve it — that it is their responsibility to do so. We also hypothesized that this message could risk leading people to another, potentially dangerous conclusion: that women have caused their own under-representation. They suggest that the more we talk about women leaning in, the more likely people are to hold women responsible, both for causing inequality, and for fixing it.’’ Harvard business review. ”Lean In messages and the illusion of control.”  

Leaning In or the burden of personal responsibility

3. The delusion of meritocracy

Consciously or unconsciously, many women take it upon themselves that if they do their job well, promotion will come naturally. However, we no longer count the number of incompetent (when they are not toxic) managers, who were promoted effortless. Of course, it’s annoying.
Now, it is easier to bond with people who have shared interests. If my report is a fan of rugby and we can chitchat about the Six Nations tournament, it definitely creates a connection.
It is companies’ responsibilities to figure out how they can create sponsors’ platforms to encourage more diversity in their workplace

4. The lack of inspiring role models  

It is the one that upsets me the most and which clearly is not politically correct (I assume). Yes, I do. Personally, I was fortunate to having an inspiring female role model: a visionary, warm, empathetic and brilliant group director.

Fortunately, there are some, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard ”my worst manager was a woman‘’. ”Anyway, to succeed, she’s been through so much that she thinks there’s no reason to make it easier for me.’. It is a great pity that some women feel threatened by other female talent but it is happening. However, it is possible because surprisingly in the world of entrepreneurship, this sorority is very present.
It seems to me that a competitive corporate ecosystem is the root of this lack of sorority.


I’m not saying that women don’t need a mentor, coach or any support to succeed in the workplace or do not need to develop certain skills and know-how. Otherwise I can close my coaching business 😉. But men need it just as much!

My point is that if companies are sincere in promoting diversity in their management teams, they need to challenge the business model, rather than trying to fix women. And it will also be for the benefit of men who ultimately suffer from the injunctions of an outdated patriarchal model.

… (A friend coach told me that she no longer countmiddle aged men crying during coaching sessions)

Marie Dancer is a Women Career & Leadership coach who helps professional women to pursue their career with greater clarity, meaning and authenticity. She also work s for organisations which want to develop a trust building culture, trust being the bridge between business needs for results and human needs for connection.

My name is Marie and I support women who want to be successful in their professional career while thriving as an individual. Through coaching, they are growing by identifying their unique talent and building up their impact and influence. Women authentic leadership is about finding the right balance between empathy and self-affirmation, ambition and self-care.