Women shown to be influential leaders, but at high risk of burnout
Over the past 18 months, leaders have responded to the enormous pressures brought upon organisations and countries by the COVID-19 pandemic. Women especially have shown incredible leadership, forging paths through the crisis while supporting the people around them.
Leading through a crisis is unlike other challenges. The expectations can be unsustainable over the long term, making it an opportunity ripe for career burnout. In this article, we’ll explore the risks a crisis like the pandemic can create for women leaders, and how they can protect themselves.
How do women in leadership roles benefit organisations?
Research shows women make better leaders in times of crisis, and in fact, women are better leaders overall.
Women lead the way in supporting employees, balancing workloads across their teams, and driving diversity and inclusion initiatives. When a crisis hits, these softer leadership skills become necessary to hold teams together through difficult times and to weather the uncertainty to keep an organisation on track.
Having women in leadership roles is a strong driver for organisational success. It can create more sustainable companies, ensure a better experience for existing employees, and attract recruits.
Risk of burnout threatens women’s career paths
Being handed a company in crisis when failure is likely has been called “the glass cliff,” or the idea that when an organisation is in trouble, it becomes a woman’s job to save the business.
McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2021 Report found that women are more burned out than they were a year ago, with burnout rates escalating faster in women than men.
While organisations often seem to recognise the good work done by women on leadership teams, women leaders don’t often receive official recognition for their efforts. In addition, little structure exists within companies to help employees create boundaries or get enough downtime to continue to perform at a high level.
What happens if the women who have managed to lead through challenging times burn out trying to keep pace? When a company relies heavily on leaders but doesn’t support them in performing at a high level over the long term, the best talent will likely leave. As a result, organisations risk losing the leaders who have navigated difficulty and have the necessary skills to continue the journey.
How can women leaders manage career sustainability through times of crisis?
The COVID-19 pandemic may be the impetus for real change for women in leadership, but only time will tell if critical changes are genuinely underway.
Women leaders can protect their careers by setting boundaries and using corporate benefits and programs that balance work and personal demands. They can make a difference by modelling healthy choices for the employees coming up behind them, empowering other women in everyday interactions, and championing others when opportunities arise.
Adopting these positive behaviours isn’t the only necessary action to ensure women have a clear path to leadership and proactive career development. Individuals and organisations need to pinpoint where and how the leadership and authority of women are undermined (for example, by being cut off in meetings or micromanaged) and develop strategies to counter these effects. Addressing the ways both women and men can inadvertently contribute to women being held back is vital to creating gender equality at work.
Companies need to invest in programs that support women in leadership in avoiding burnout. For example, when businesses implement flexible work arrangements, they should also offer healthy frameworks that allow employees to get the downtime they need.
With a focus on cultural change and accountability, organisations should offer policies and programs to support women in leadership. By doing so, they reduce corporate risk and help keep their strongest leaders from leaving to other companies.
Want to learn more about career sustainability and the future of engineering leaders? Join us for The Future of Engineering Summit on May, 2022.