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Where Have All The Women Gone? How Leadership Development Falls Short For Women

Written by: Nicky Espinosa, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Look around you. How many women are serving in senior leadership roles in your organization? How many women are on your company’s board of directors?

It’s a sad fact that we have a huge gender gap in leadership and the divide only gets bigger the higher you go. Companies are launching and resourcing diversity & inclusion strategies, but these programs usually don’t address the bigger issue that nobody seems to be talking about… where have all the women gone?

The surface-level answer is that women are bowing out. They are choosing not to apply. They are throwing their hands in the air in frustration and saying forget it, I’m good where I’m at.

This becomes a convenient excuse for companies to say they’ve done what they can and check the D&I box.

So the problem gets swept back under the rug for another day.

But what if we take a deeper look? Let’s go beyond the surface level and ask a better question…Why are women bowing out?

Now, this is interesting!

The truth is a lot of women don’t want to bow out. They are just sick and tired of the fight. They’ve been fighting for their seat at the table for so long that it doesn’t feel worth it anymore. They’ve been passed over at key intervals throughout their career. They’ve been minimized and told to fit a mold that’s not authentic to them. They’ve faced bias & adversity regularly. So they choose to settle in. They don’t apply for the promotion even though they are ready. They decide this is good enough. And their climb halts mid ladder.

At this point, most women make a choice, settle in and try to make the most of it or keep fighting. If you keep fighting you could end up resentful and unfulfilled. Eventually, burnout sets in and the wheels come off the bus entirely.

Why are these our only options? Well, technically they aren’t. You might think that if you can just build up your leadership skills a little more then you’ll be able to navigate all of this. You try the tactics you learn from the leadership development class you went to. You experiment with the advice your mentor gives you. But something feels off. It feels harder than it should be and it seems like you’re always getting the short end of the stick.

This is where the traditional leadership development models fall short for women.

Those traditional development models are made for men. Hear me out. They are intended to teach you how to emulate the best leaders before you. There are some amazing leaders before us, but most of them are men. Remember the stats? There just aren’t as many women in leadership. And many of those women have had to fit the mold that men made before them.

This just doesn’t work for a lot of women. It’s not authentic. So when you try the same tactics, it might fall flat. It’s not going to produce the same results consistently because it’s not your approach.

Traditional development models devalue your best talents. Women are often intuitive, empathic, and compassionate. We have an ability to see things through other people’s perspectives. We anticipate multiple scenarios easily. We see the whole landscape.

These are highly valuable skills that make you a change leader. You can create an inspirational vision that teams follow through fire. You can move mountains. And yet your talents are lumped into a category of “soft skills” and only taught at a surface level. Why? Because they are innate talents that are hard to teach someone. They are your superpower.

A lot of leadership trainers and coaches are good at soft skills, but not necessarily good at helping you bring them out in you. It feels too intangible. It’s deeper work. So they brush over these skills in your development.

Traditional development models disregard the complexity of women’s lives. Most women wear a lot of hats. You have a ton of responsibility in your lives. There’s work, kids, dinner, housework, parents, appointments, shopping and all the things that fit into the category; If you don’t do it, it won’t get done. That's a lot!

Most leadership development programs completely disregard this. A lot of women feel ashamed if they complain about it. So they just work harder. They wake up earlier, go to bed later. They fit more into their day. They give up a lot of themselves to make it all work.

When development programs try to address this they talk about balance and burnout. They tell you that balance is important, but they don’t really tell you how to do it. And the tactics they do offer only focus on time management and how you manage your work. That’s not usually a big problem for women. It’s all the other stuff you’re doing!

It’s the same with burnout. We are talking about it more, but again it’s surface level. No one wants you to burnout. Of course not, they need you to keep doing all the work. So they offer flexibility, time away from work, etc. All good steps, but again surface level. Avoiding burnout happens with you and how you choose to spend your energy. That’s a more personal journey that those traditional models just can’t tap.

So what’s a women leader to do?

Well first of all, you don’t have to settle if you don’t want to. It is possible to live a fulfilled, happy life and have a successful leadership career. The development work is just more personal for women. Start by recognizing that your professional and personal development is one thing. It’s all your development. Look for a different kind of support, coaching, mentorship that goes deeper. You want a holistic approach to your development, not just work. When you start seeing and feeling the results you’ll never go back to the traditional leadership development stuff.

We are going to close the gender gap in senior leadership, but it’s not going to happen with one-dimensional development programs. Take control of your own development. Decide what you want for yourself and don’t let anyone tell you can’t have the things you want. They aren’t you. They don’t live your life. You create your own future. Write your best story.

You’ve got this!

Nicky specializes in empowering women to become badass leaders in work and in life. Book a free strategy call at

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Nicky Espinosa, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Nicky Espinosa is a leadership expert and executive coach specializing in supporting women executives to reach their full potential. She is a former healthcare executive, author and professional speaker with 20+ years of senior leadership experience. She is on a mission to close the gender gap in the C-suite by empowering women to confidently level the playing field.



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