Female Leadership: Statistics, advantages and challenges

Gina Schumacher

The representation of women in management positions is a central issue in the modern corporate world. Despite much progress, there are still significant differences between the privileges enjoyed by men and women in the workplace. The statistics also show the undeniable challenges faced by women in various countries and industries.

In this article, we take a look at the many benefits of women leaders and explore why there is still an under-representation of women in management positions and how we can change that.

What is the percentage of women in management positions?

Female Leadership: A woman manager is explaining something on her tablet to a female employee.

While one might think that there should be no difference between the career opportunities of men and women in 2024, the statistics on the proportion of female managers paint a different picture.

The good news is that the proportion of women in management positions in Germany has been slowly but steadily increasing in recent years. According to statistics, around every third management position in Germany is occupied by a woman. This shows a significant increase compared to previous years — because according to the Federal Statistical Office In 2022, it was still less than 30 percent.

The introduction of the women's quota in 2016, which obliges listed companies to fill at least 30 percent of their supervisory board positions with women, has of course promoted this increase. Nevertheless, compared to other European countries, Germany lags behind countries such as Norway, Latvia and Sweden, which have had a high proportion of women in management positions for years.

But in many countries, women in management positions are much rarer than in Germany: In the United States, the proportion of women in management positions in Fortune 500 companies is only around 8 percent.

Countries such as Japan and South Korea also have particularly low percentages, which is due not least to traditional gender roles and a work culture that favors long working hours and a culture of presence. This makes it difficult for women to reconcile work and family.

The representation of women in management positions is also very low in Arab states and in many African countries. In addition to cultural norms, legal and educational factors also play a role here, which make it difficult for women to access higher education qualifications and professional networks. Outside Europe in particular, there is therefore a need for action.

Well-known women in management positions

Nevertheless, there are some women in management positions at the most famous companies in the world — a shining example that women can also lead companies to success:

  • Mary Barra: CEO of General Motors
  • Belén Garijo Lopez: CEO at Merck
  • Ginni Rometty: Former CEO and Chair of the Board at IBM
  • Marissa Mayer: Former CEO at Yahoo and former Vice President at Google
  • Sheryl Sandberg: Former COO at Meta
  • Ursula Burns: Former CEO and Chair of the Board at Xerox (and the first African-American woman to lead an S&P 100 company!)
  • Safra Catz: CEO at Oracle
  • Indra Nooyi: Director at Amazon and former CEO and Chair of the Board at PepsiCo
  • Ana Botín: Manager and CEO at Santander Group
  • Jane Fraser: CEO at Citigroup
  • Mary Callahan Erdoes: CEO Asset & Wealth Management at JPMorgan Chase
  • Ruth Porat: CFO at Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google
  • Julie Sweet: CEO at Accenture

Reasons for the underrepresentation of women in management positions

A black female leader is laughing in the office with her female black employee.

Despite numerous advances in gender equality, women are still severely underrepresented in management positions. Only in very few companies does management reflect the diversity of the workforce — in addition to social and cultural implications, this also has economic consequences.

To change this, companies must first identify the reasons for the continued under-representation of women in management positions:


A major obstacle is the structurally lower self-assessment of many women with regard to their leadership skills. Research has shown that women tend to underestimate their abilities and accomplishments, while men are more likely to overestimate their abilities. This self-doubt means that women are less likely to seek or apply for management positions.

Rejection from existing male managers

Women's low self-assessment doesn't come from anywhere. Because a significant reason for the low number of women in management roles is that existing male managers do not trust their female colleagues to do the job.

In addition, many men tend to prefer managers who are similar to them—and that's usually other men. This leads to a kind of “men's club” that makes it difficult for women to access the highest positions.

Less networking

This “men's club” is also noticeable when it comes to networking. Professional networks are crucial for career advancement — and women often have less access to the networks available to men. These networks not only offer support and mentoring, but also important career opportunities. The fact that women are underrepresented in male-dominated networking significantly reduces their chances of taking up management positions.

Traditional gender roles and work models

Traditional working models, which require long working hours and constant availability, are difficult to reconcile with the responsibilities and demands of family life. Women are still expected to do the majority of additional family and domestic work. Of course, this makes it difficult for them to assert themselves in such a working environment.

Perceived requirements for managers

The requirement profiles for managers are often heavily focused on qualities that are stereotypically regarded as masculine, such as assertiveness and competitive orientation. Skills associated with female leaders, such as empathy and cooperative behavior, are less valued in management. This one-sided perception puts women at a disadvantage, who may have different but equally valuable leadership qualities.

Early career choice

Career choices also play a decisive role in discriminating against women in management levels. Women are still rather rare in certain industries and occupations that are traditionally regarded as male, such as engineering and IT.

The underrepresentation of women in these areas starts in education and continues in professional life. Initiatives that encourage girls and young women to choose technical and scientific subjects help to increase the number of women in management positions in the long term.

Barriers to female leadership

But even women who have made it into management positions face a number of specific challenges that their male colleagues do not experience to the same extent. One of the biggest challenges is the constant need to stand up against gender stereotypes and prejudices.

Women in leadership positions must work harder to prove their competence and authority. This is often accompanied by frequent criticism, to which female managers are constantly exposed.

In addition, the social expectations just mentioned and the pressure to be successful both at work and at home can lead to considerable stress and, in the worst case, to burnout.

It is therefore only logical that few women want to expose themselves to this stress — it is all the more important that companies invest in promoting women in order to overcome these challenges.

Why should companies invest in women in top management positions?

Three strong women in suits are looking directly from above into the camera.

Investing in women in management positions has a significant positive impact on the dynamism and success of a company. Because there is no doubt that women bring different perspectives and approaches that lead to new and unconventional solutions. This diversity fosters a culture of innovation that is essential for a company's long-term success.

Women executives also have a distinctive talent for managing change and navigating through uncertain times — and flexibility and resilience separate the wheat from the chaff in the business world.

We at Flexopus have also noticed that women's cooperative and empathetic leadership has a positive effect on the working environment and leads to higher employee satisfaction and motivation. For this reason, Flexopus places great value on promoting our female employees.

Last but not least, the presence of women in management positions sends a signal to the team and the public and shows that diversity and inclusion in the company are taken seriously — because we all know how important a strong brand and a positive corporate image are for business success.

Advantages of female leadership

  • Diverse perspectives and innovative approaches
  • Improved business performance
  • Higher employee satisfaction and engagement
  • Better decision making
  • Strengthening a diverse corporate culture
  • Positive image
  • Promoting diversity and inclusion
  • Adaptability and crisis management

Promoting women in management positions

There are a variety of opportunities for companies to specifically promote women and improve their chances of taking up management positions. A key measure is the implementation of mentoring programs in which experienced managers support and target female talent and help them with their professional development. Training and continuing education programs on topics such as leadership skills, conflict management and negotiation are also worthwhile.

Companies should also ensure that work and family are compatible in order to make it easier for their employees to move up to management positions. The ability to work flexible, part-time or offer work-from-home options , play a major role in the professional development of female managers of the future.

Of course, an inclusive corporate culture in which diversity and equality are actively promoted is also a must. However, all of this is no longer voluntary, as there has been a law in Germany on the quota of women since 2016, which was renewed and amended again in 2021.

What is the quota for women?

The quota for women is a legal regulation that obliges companies to fill a fixed percentage of management positions with women. The so-called Management Positions Act was introduced in 2016 to promote gender equality and address the under-representation of women in leadership roles. Structural barriers should be eliminated so that women have the same opportunities for career advancement as men.

But how successful is the quota of women actually?

Statistics show that a lot has happened in recent years. In 2006, the proportion of women on the boards of the 100 largest German companies was just 0.2 percent. But by 2022, this share has grown to a remarkable 17.5 percent. And this positive trend continues: In April 2023, the proportion of women on the boards of listed companies in Germany reached around 38 percent. The quota for women is therefore definitely making a difference.


Although the presence of women in management positions is increasing worldwide, female managers are still underrepresented. Because despite much progress, structural barriers remain that make it difficult for women to advance to management level.

However, it is clear that promoting women in corporate governance is crucial for diversity, empathy and innovation — so your company should also set itself the goal of minimizing the challenges faced by women in management positions and thus creating a more equitable working environment.

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