Arlène Derbaix & Jessica Thiry from Bliss

It is now a known fact that women in leadership positions are great assets for any teams or any companies. An HBS(1) research shows that gender diversity, in regions where gender diversity is seen as important, relates to more productive companies (as measured by market value and revenue)

Why is it so? 3 reasons for that:

  • BLISS LR 035a diverse workforce signals an attractive work environment for talents
  • when you value diversity, you encourage diverse idea exchange
  • a diverse workforce signals competent management for investors.

And of course, what is true at the level of a company is also true at the level of a team! 

Hoogendorm et al. (2) remind us that one potential determinant of a team's effectiveness is its gender diversity as the gender mix of a team may offer an assortment of knowledge and skills. Mixed gender teams are more generous and egalitarian. Teams with a larger percentage of women perform better by building meaningful relationships and creating successful work processes. 

However, women still seem to be under-represented in the field of Project Management, a profession where building relationships and creating successful processes are quite important skills. According to the PMI's 2018 Membership Satisfaction Survey, the gender breakdown of membership is 70% male and 30% female. So, why is it so difficult to keep women engaged in leadership positions? 

Regardless of the roles and the industries, we know that women leaders are facing similar challenges (McK, Women on the workplace, 2021 & 2022)(3) .

  1. Women leaders are overworked and under-recognized. Those women are two times more likely than men leaders to spend substantial time on DEI work. Indeed, we know that they do more to support employee well-being, to promote inclusion and diversity. And we also know that this type of work is essential to improve retention and employee satisfaction. However, this type of work is rarely recognized, even if it requires time and energy. As a result, women are overworked compared to their men peers. 
  1. Women leaders want a better work culture. After what we just mentioned about the importance of D&I for women leaders, this is not a surprise to see that culture at work is also very important. And they want a better culture for themselves (more flexibility for example), but also for their teams and for the company as a whole. When considering switching job, those factors are becoming more and more important for women leaders: flexibility, commitment to employee well-being and manager support. 
  1. Women leaders are also overworked at home. Even if we have seen an improvement over the past decade, the women are still responsible for most or all of their family’s housework. As men advance in their career, they are doing less – it’s not the case for women. At entry level, 30% of men are responsible for most or all of their family’s housework vs 58% for women. At senior manager and up, this percentage drops at 13% for men and is still at 52% for women. At the end of the day, this becomes unsustainable. We should ask ourself: as a manager, but also as a friend, as a family member, how do we encourage women to take care of themselves and to look for help and support? 

Because, when we put those 3 reasons together, the ultimate consequence is that the burn-out rate for female leaders has been raising for 3 consecutive years. In 2020, 32% of women say they have been often or almost always burned out. This figure increased to 42% in 2021 and to 43% in 2022. 

So what can we do to keep our women leaders engaged on the workforce and preserve them from burn out? A piece of the answer has already been mentioned hereabove. And let’s be more specific. 

Firstly, those women are asking for more flexibility. When you need to juggle with your life at work and your life at home, flexibility can make a huge difference. However, we need to be careful to not mix flexibility with “always on”. We should provide female leaders with more flexibility but also allow them to put in place some boundaries to protect themselves. Some example of boundaries are : emails only during office hours, no meeting after 5-6pm, etc. 

A second path of reflection is about creating allyship and community between women leaders. An HBR article (Uzzi, 2019)(4) was explaining that women need 2 types of networks – one network similar to the one of men (social/professional network) and another one, only with women, the inner cercle, likely to provide critical private information on job opportunities and challenges. Another study, from Dr A. Schatzberg explains that women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences

Finally, women leaders want to evolve in their career as much as their male colleagues do. But let’s face it: how many biases do still exist on women in the workplace? Between a man and a woman, with the same profile and experience, men are more likely to be chosen for a position. Why ? women leaders are more likely to report that personal characteristics, such as their gender or being a parent, have displayed a role in them being denied or passed over for a raise, promotion or chance to get ahead (McKinsey, Women on the Workplace, 2022) .  Unfortunately, this is still the reality and women need to be aware of the game in which they play. As Clara Moley (5) would say “the business game is not school. It plays by its own rules”… and women need to be aware of them. 

At a time where Inclusion and Diversity seem to be so high at the society agenda, some figures are still worrying… why? are companies really playing the game of diversity? or do they consider it as a “tick the box” exercise? 

Either way, we know all the benefits of having women in our teams. So let’s not wait for the change to be brought to us – let’s be that change, let’s walk the talk and let our teams be places of diversity, respect and performance.

How to keep women engaged


(1) HBS, When gender diversity makes firms more productive, Feb 2019

(2) Hoogendoorn et al., The impact of Gender Diversity on the performance of business teams, Management Science, Vol. 59, No. 7, 2013

(3) McKinsey, Women in the Workplace, 2021 & 2022

(4) Uzzi, Research: Men and Women Need Different Kinds of Networks to Succeed, Harvard Business Review, Feb. 2019

(5) Clara Moley, The Rules of the Game, Podcast