Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging

6 challenges women face in the workplace and how you can help

Female leaders are leaving companies at the highest rate ever. For every female director who gets promoted to the next level, two female directors leave. It’s not all that surprising when you consider the wide array of challenges women face in the workplace.

These challenges don’t just hold women back, though. They can have a major negative impact on your bottom line as well. Let’s take a look at some of the challenges women face in the workplace, and what you can do about them:

We’re outnumbered

Just one in four C-suite leaders is female. And only one in 20 is a woman of color.

For every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level roles to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted.

As a result, men significantly outnumber women at the manager level—and women can never catch up. Uneven promotion rates are often both a component and result of challenges women face in the workplace.

We’re perceived as less qualified

Women in leadership are more likely than men to have a colleague imply they’re not qualified.

And they’re twice as likely as male leaders to have someone mistake them for a more junior employee.

And they’re more likely to report that a personal characteristic—like being female or a parent—has played a role in them being denied or passed over for a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead. Having multiple intersecting identities only adds to the challenges women face in the workplace.

Our DEI work is ignored

Women leaders do more to support employee wellbeing and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

But 40% of them don’t feel the organization acknowledges this work in performance reviews. That’s a lot of time and energy spent on work that no one recognizes. And this is one of the challenges women face in the workplace that could make it harder to advance.

Women are also 1.5 times as likely as men at their level to have left a previous job because they wanted to work for a company with a stronger commitment to DEI. Given the stats, it’s hardly surprising.

We’re stretched thinner

Female leaders are more overloaded than men in leadership. 43% of them experience burnout compared to 31% of men at the same level.

We get less support

Women of color get less support, but are more ambitious. 41% of them want to be top executives, despite the challenges women face in the workplace. That’s compared to 27% of white women.

We want more workplace flexibility 

Just 10% of women want to work primarily on-site. As a result, women are more likely to stay at, or join, a company that offers remote or hybrid work options.

Working remotely some or all of the time isn’t just about the flexibility, though.

Women who work this way experience fewer microaggressions and higher psychological safety. This decrease is even more significant for women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities.

So, what can you do?

Those stats are pretty upsetting, right? So, what can you do?

To overcome the challenges women face in the workplace, it requires a team effort. Everyone has to do their part, regardless of gender. Or seniority.

Leaders must set an example. Everything from how they talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, to if they challenge their own unconscious biases, can impact the behavior of their employees.

Challenge the stigma

It’s only when people step up and challenge stigmas that others notice their unconscious biases. It’s not always a comfortable conversation, but it’s an important one.

Can you hold unconscious bias training?

Or get a senior leader to talk about their experience facing bias?

The stories told by senior leadership can stick with employees. Especially when you factor in that we process—and remember—stories better than statistics.

When leaders share their challenges, it makes them feel more accessible to employees. It can also turn their problems from abstract concepts that happen to someone else, into tangible problems that employees should look out for.

Encourage DEI initiatives (and recognize those who run them)

What do your DEI programs look like? Really?

And, more importantly, do you recognize the hard work put in by the people who run them?

It’s important to recognize any extra work done by employees, whether that’s overtime, running an employee group, organizing charity work, or something else. This makes them feel valued and appreciated—and means they’re more likely to stay.

Consider a quota

I know, quotas sound questionable. But they work. And they don’t mean that incompetent women get in; in fact, they weed out incompetent men.

So, if you’re serious about helping eliminate the challenges women face in the workplace, is it worth giving quotas a go? Even if only temporarily?

Provide support (and listen to your employees)

Do you listen to employees when they give you feedback? Or do you collect it then forget it?

It’s important to act on the feedback employees give you, particularly if there are recurring patterns.

Making employees feel heard, and reducing the sources of their stress, can help prevent burnout.

Which, over time, can also reduce the money you lose to sick leave and employee churn.

Offer flexible working

Flexible working is more inclusive regardless of what your DEI goals are. It can also help address a number of the challenges women face in the workplace with one change.

Could you offer more flexible hours? A hybrid approach? Or even remote work opportunities?

Watch your words

The language we use creates a particular narrative in our minds.

If we spend a lot of time with someone, or we’re in a position of power, those words can also influence how people see us, themselves, and the rest of the world.

So, while you may feel fine using a word like “master” when you talk about “mastering a craft” consider the masculine undertones and the associations with slavery. Because while you may not notice them, words like that can and do affect your workplace culture. 


The only way talented women will stop leaving companies en masse is if something changes.

That requires businesses to wake up to the challenges women face in the workplace and start supporting them how they want, not how businesses want.

Changes like offering flexible working and using inclusive language show employees you’re committed to making a difference in this area. This can change how they do things, too. But it has to start at the top.

If you’re ready to build a more equitable workplace, you need the right tools. Workrowd empowers you to target challenges women face in the workplace with training, ERGs, resources, and more.

Plus, our real-time analytics ensure you can track your progress over time, as you benefit from a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

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