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Study: Majority of women aspire to hold top roles

Many find it difficult to see themselves as leaders

A majority of women aspire to hold top leadership and board roles, but often find it difficult to see themselves as leaders, according to a recent women’s leadership study released by the professional services firm KPMG LLP. The survey, which polled more than 3,000 professional and college women in the United States, identified confidence building and leadership training, along with the ability to network with women leaders, as key elements to expanding women’s leadership in the years ahead.

“Every organization is stronger when its leadership has diverse perspectives and experiences to draw from. It is critically important for the business community to look at the challenges women often face in the workplace and take action to clear the path for talented and dynamic leaders to rise and inspire new generations,” KPMG Global Chairman John Veihmeyer said.

“The insights from female professionals across the American business landscape, as well as women on the cusp of entering the workforce in our study, offer valuable lessons about moving

more women into leadership roles. We’re looking forward to discussing many of the most critical issues from the study when we gather together with current and future women leaders at the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit,” he added.

According to the study, six in 10 women said they aspire to be a senior leader of a company or organization and more than half aspire to serve on a board. But six in 10 also said that they find it hard to see themselves as a leader when sharing how they perceive themselves and 56 percent of working women said they were more cautious about taking steps toward leadership roles.

“It’s vital that leadership teams reflect the diversity of the modern world. In a business landscape of continuous change, success is often going to depend on having a range of experiences and perspectives around the boardroom table,” KPMG U.S. Chairman and CEO-elect Lynne Doughtie said. “We are seeing in these responses a number of opportunities to strengthen connections with high-performing women at the critical points on their career paths, so they are prepared and encouraged to step into leadership roles.”

Leadership lessons start early

Three-quarters of women today expressed the desire to have learned more about leadership while growing up, as well as having more opportunities to practice leadership. “School and academics” was identified as the area where they most felt like a leader growing up and professional working women chose “smart” as the leading descriptor for themselves at this stage of their lives.

When asked what training and development skills were needed to help move more women into leadership roles in the future, women cited leadership training (57 percent), confidence building (56 percent), decision-making (48 percent), networking (47 percent) and critical thinking (46 percent) most often.

Professional working women believe it is critical for companies to support a woman’s development in her 20s (80 percent) and career advancement in her 30s (61 percent).

Confidence is key

Confidence is an attribute respondents identified as most essential to leadership success. Throughout their professional careers, women struggle with a lack of confidence; fewer than half of all respondents personally identified as confident in the study. Sixty-seven percent of women said they need more support in building confidence to feel like they can be leaders.

The lack of confidence affects an array of activities tied to becoming leaders: nine in 10 women said they do not feel confident asking for sponsors (92 percent), with large numbers also lacking confidence seeking mentors (79 percent), asking for access to senior leadership (76 percent), pursuing a job opportunity beyond their experience (73 percent), asking for a career path plan (69 percent), requesting a promotion (65 percent), raise (61 percent) or a new role or position (56 percent).

“This is an area of opportunity for organizations to identify and develop factors that help women gain confidence to lead at work,” Doughtie said. “Reinforcing confidence can go a long way in helping to bridge the gap between the aspiration to lead and ultimately becoming a leader.”

Building networks

Another key finding was the importance of support from other women leaders. Two-thirds of women said they have learned the most important lessons about leadership from other women. In addition, 82 percent of working women believe access to, and networking with, female leaders will help them advance in their career.

A discrepancy was found between the importance of engaging other women and the realities of who is doing it. While seven in 10 working women feel a personal obligation to help more women advance in the workplace, only one-third of working women have learned to leverage and support other female employees.

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.