What are some barriers to the success of our girls and women?

The ways in which women are steered away from realizing their full potential starts from a young age and continues through adulthood. From highly gendered toys that prescribe what boys and girls should be interested in, to language that discourages girls to see leadership as a positive skill to acquire, impressionable girls are very subtly handed messages about how they are supposed to act within society.

Without role models to show them what can be done, they are unlikely to set themselves on a path that will even out the gender imbalance in male-dominated industries and leadership.

As adults, women who exhibit leadership traits (which are commonly associated with masculinity) can be regarded unfavourably for not acting “stereotypically female”, and often criticized for their personality rather than for their performance in performance reviews.

Sheryl Sandberg refers to this as the “likeability penalty” as it relates to successful women. Men also tend to be promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on accomplishments.

We’ve all read the news about Jian Ghomeshi and how his inappropriate behaviour was enabled to continue for so long, which leads us to the topic of toxic work environments.

"Without role models to show them what can be done, they are unlikely to set themselves on a path that will even out the gender imbalance in male-dominated industries and leadership."

All too often, workers and companies are not equipped to identify and handle situations of harassment at work, and that needs to change.

Lastly, men and women seem to have differing expectations when it comes to family. Harvard recently published the results of a multi-generational study that examined the expectations of male and female Harvard graduates, and how those expectations have played out in their lives.

It found that the majority of men expected that their career would take precedence over their partners and that their partners would carry out the lion’s share of child care (a traditional model); yet, the majority of women expected to have equal importance in career and half of women expected equal responsibility in home life. Unsurprisingly, the women in the study are less satisfied with their careers compared to the men.

What can women do to overcome these barriers? How can women ensure their own success?

Sheryl Sandberg captures some very good advice in her book: women can build their own confidence by taking on leadership roles and new opportunities, even if they don’t think they’re 100 percent ready for them. Taking on new challenges naturally requires a person to grow into them. She also advises women to find mentors that will advise them and sponsors that will advocate for them.

Additionally, women should build a solid support network of friends, business connections, and allies. It’s also important to select partners that support a “100 percent/100 percent" mentality in a relationship — where both people are able to bring their whole selves and full potential to the table.

On their own, women can achieve greater satisfaction and confidence by celebrating their own successes, whether big or small, and championing other women by advocating on their behalf and recognizing their strengths.

There is a lot that women can do to become successful, but we also need companies and men to come to the table to build inclusive workplaces and achieve equality at home.