The demand for women's leadership development programs has grown. That has much to do with more companies recognizing the benefits of having women in senior leadership positions. 

These development programs focus on helping women develop the crucial skills needed to succeed in leadership roles, from communication and negotiation to building strong professional networks. 

Women are underrepresented despite organizational investment

Women continue to be underrepresented in senior leadership positions even though organizations are increasingly investing in these programs geared toward aspiring female leaders. 

This suggests that many leadership development programs fall short in truly addressing the problem of women’s underrepresentation as leaders in the workplace.

Exactly where do women’s leadership development programs go wrong? In this article, we’ll explore some of the shortcomings of these programs and why the business world needs to provide equal access to leadership positions.  

Why companies need more women in leadership roles

Most people accept that diversity has many positive effects on organizations. This has been well-demonstrated and documented in areas that range from general profitability and growth to the ability to innovate and attract talent. There is still some distance to be covered in accepting the positive benefits of gender diversity, though. 

Profit benefits

However, companies that have women on their executive boards are more profitable

Organizations with more gender diversity in senior leadership positions are also more profitable, but the benefits extend beyond the balance sheet. 

Cultural and other benefits

Studies have shown that women leaders do more to support the well-being of their employees, improve company culture, and boost overall inclusiveness.

Addressing organizational shortcomings hindering women’s rise

With the current struggle to attract and retain employees, along with a global talent shortage, companies need to do more than just accept the positive benefits of women in leadership. Companies looking to grow and compete need to address the shortcomings that continue to limit women within their own organizations. 

The role of women’s leadership development programs 

Individual women's leadership development courses often have different goals and focus. Each generally aims to provide women with the skills, knowledge, and support they need to succeed in leadership roles. 

These programs can help women:

  • Build confidence
  • Develop their own unique leadership style
  • Learn to navigate gender bias and discrimination in the workplace 

They may also provide opportunities for networking and mentorship. This can allow participants to build relationships with other women and senior leaders and be an important part of gaining access to opportunities and advancing one’s career. 

Why programs alone aren't enough

The growth of women’s leadership development programs is a positive step in the right direction. Yet, they fall short of addressing some of the underlying problems women face in the workplace. While it’s easy to point to the expansion of such programs as positive, it’s important to fully understand and address their limitations.


Women's leadership programs can reinforce gender stereotypes by suggesting that men know how to lead, but women need to take special programs to be suitable leaders. 

This undermines women in the workplace and perpetuates inequality by suggesting that women are naturally insufficient to lead. 

Structural barriers

By treating women as a homogenous group, such programs fail to address a range of issues that create barriers in the workplace. 

Women's leadership development programs may focus on individual skills and behaviors, but what about the system that created such inequality in the first place? 

Barriers can include:

  • Biased hiring and promotion practices
  • Inflexible work arrangements


It doesn’t matter how many well-trained women leaders are available if the larger structural barriers are not addressed. 

Women’s leadership programs may be seen as a way for organizations to demonstrate a commitment to gender diversity — without addressing larger issues within the organization. 

The result of such thinking upholds the current status quo and creates additional obstacles to gender equality and access to leadership positions.  


Women's leadership development programs may not address the unique challenges faced by women from varying backgrounds. This can represent differences in: 

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Socioeconomics
  • Cultures

Perfunctory equality demonstration efforts

The very existence of women's leadership development programs may be seen as the final solution for workplace equality by organizations. 

In this situation, such programs become no more than a perfunctory demonstration of effort to solve the lack of gender diversity.   

Without addressing these types of societal and organizational problems, leadership programs aimed at women will continue to have a limited impact. This doesn't negate their necessity, but rather it expands the conversation to include the organizational support needed to create gender equality in the workplace.

Expanding women’s access to women in leadership roles

Women should be encouraged to seek out resources that help expand their network and access to women currently working in leadership positions. By building relationships, learning from others with similar challenges, and helping each other break down barriers, women can hasten the changes necessary for true workplace equality. 

Leadership and executive education for women

Leadership and executive education can help women address the gaps they experience in the workplace due to lack of opportunity. 

This is particularly important for those in industries that are traditionally male-dominated. It’s equally important for those working in organizations that seem to provide male workers more access to training and leadership opportunities.  

Take charge of your education and career

Are you ready to take charge of your education and career? Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University’s Executive Education Programs can help all individuals gain the critical skills needed for success in today’s dynamic and challenging environment. 

We invite you to learn more


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