Why young women shy away from leadership positions

An interview with psychologist and rheingold "Gender&Generation" director Birgit Langebartels about the needs of young women and the reality in companies.

Why do many companies not find enough women who want to take on management positions?

In fact, we hear from many companies that young women in particular shy away from top positions, are afraid to take the final step. This often has to do with a discrepancy between aspiration and reality. Even when companies claim to be equal, the structures are often still outdated and male-dominated.

How does that express itself?

Especially in upper management positions, male elbow logic often still prevails, and in many cases it is explicitly expected. Old thinking is also often revealed, for example, in the attitude toward gender. Young women in particular are increasingly allergic to this and want more togetherness.

With each other in what way?

Of course, this is about good communication and collegiality. But much more important is hybrid and agile work that goes beyond official channels and hierarchy. For young women, eye level has a much deeper and more comprehensive meaning than male bosses often interpret it. Quite a few demonstrate their supposed friendliness toward women through demonstrative gallantry or protective instincts. This may be well-intentioned, but it goes down increasingly badly with young women.

What does it look like for young mothers?

This is where the problem gets worse. In the past, "working moms" were very capable of suffering and adapted to the needs of male-dominated structures to the point of self-sacrifice. Young women no longer want this. In our own research area "Gender&Generation", we can trace these changes very well in numerous studies. They themselves have mostly grown up with working mothers and are socialized in a completely different way. Equality is a matter of course for them, they want a working life that is compatible with their mother role, their free time and their partnership. And with this mindset, they often still encounter very old and encrusted structures in companies. This repels young women. There is now a demand for flexibility that requires companies to move in completely new directions.

How can companies also score visibly?

The best way to do this is for the company to showcase female leaders in public. Such development role models have a very attractive effect on young women.

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