October 20, 2015

Women, Leadership, and Career Advancement

Two students

How do women advance in their careers? Advancing your career may feel challenging on its own, but it can become increasingly difficult to excel in your career with a busy personal and family life. This article gives a few practical implications to helping women in this modern era advance in their careers, and advice on achieving some sort of balance between work and family.

Empowering Yourself

In a research study conducted in 2001 by Gomez et. al., it was shown that women who became successful in the workplace had worked on their self-confidence. When you do not feel like your voice is being heard, remember that your opinions count. Reframing struggles and challenges in the workplace as growth opportunities can also help your mindset. Obstacles will always occur, but how one perceives the situation can be the difference between seeing a challenge as an opportunity for growth versus a tormenting hurdle.

Leader Development Opportunities

Leader development opportunities can also help with one’s leadership skills and career advancement. Leader development opportunities include formal training, receiving 360-degree feedback, coaching, mentoring, and self-learning. Learning when to negotiate and self-promote may also help with empowering yourself and advancing your career in the workplace. Even though you may have a mentor, having a sponsor vouch for your career will take you one step closer to reaching for the promotion you deserve (Carter & Silva, 2010). The use and expanding of social support networks also has been shown to help women develop professionally and advance their opportunities for career growth.

Focusing on a Participative, Relational Leadership Style

Research by Eagly & Carli (2006) has shown that women generally have a more democratic, participative, and collaborator style of leading. A study by Stern (2008) revealed that high-achieving women tend to adopt this kind of relational leadership style. The women in the study also possessed a strong sense of conviction and self-worth. Femininity and leadership are no longer considered separate constructs and do not need to be! Being serious about your work while being considerate and respectful of your staff and colleagues can help condone this effective type of relational leadership to others. Encouraging colleagues to do their best and share their ideas evoke a participative environment. Your greater willingness to share information with others can also drive better performance results through the company. 

Integrating Work-Family Balance

Halpern & Cheung (2008) found certain effective strategies in balancing work and personal lives from women leaders. Findings from the study included multitasking, being clear about your goals to your company and in your household, and recognizing that you do not have to ‘do it all’. By multitasking, you can create links between family and work. For example, you can try to work from home when possible or be present for family events. By being succinct about your goals to yourself and others, you can make day-to-day decisions that are based on both your family and work needs. Relieving yourself from the pressure society may place on you to excel in your career while also being a super mom may also be beneficial. Recognizing to let go of certain tasks that are not a priority and outsourcing work in a busy office may help with integrating balance between work and family. Acquiring additional household help was also found to be helpful for the busy working mothers.


The tips and suggestions above are accumulated through research findings and lessons learned from women who have found success in their careers. Focusing on advancing your career through development opportunities, adopting a participative leadership style, and integrating techniques to help balance your work and family life may all help with advancing your career. Knowing when to reach for that promotion and acquiring sponsorship and networking opportunities can set the stage for further professional and career development. Integrating family and office roles as being compatible with one another will help with one’s mindset in achieving balance between family and work.

Emily Chan is a Ph.D. student in Organizational Behavior at Claremont Graduate University. Her research interests include women and leadership, leader development opportunities, and interventions in overcoming workplace bias.

Carli, L. L., & Eagly, A. H. (2011). Gender and leadership. The Sage handbook of leadership, 103-117.

Cheung, F. M., & Halpern, D. F. (2010). Women at the top: powerful leaders define success as work+ family in a culture of gender. American Psychologist,65(3), 182.

Gomez-Mejia, L. R., Nunez-Nickel, M., & Gutierrez, I. (2001). The role of family ties in agency contracts. Academy of management Journal, 44(1), 81-95.

Ibarra, H., Carter, N. M., & Silva, C. (2010). Why men still get more promotions than women. Harvard Business Review, 88(9), 80-85.

Stern, T. (2008). Self-esteem and high-achieving women. In M. A. Paludi (Ed.), The psychology of women at work: Challenges and solutions for our female workforce. Vol. 3. Self, family and social affects (pp. 25–53). Westport, CT: Praeger.