MGA Faculty Q&A With Dr. Simone Phipps: Why Women's Share Of Executive Jobs Is Falling

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2024 12:00 AM
Categories: Pressroom | School of Business | Faculty/Staff

Macon, GA


For the first time in nearly two decades, women's share of executive roles in the workplace dropped in 2023. The Washington Post recently quoted Dr. Simone Phipps, a management professor at MGA, in an article about this topic, and she breaks it down further here in our latest faculty Q&A.

Can you provide an overview of the current trends in women's representation in executive roles? What does the data show about the decline?

Reports show that women's representation in executive roles has always been far below men's, demonstrating a clear gender gap (LeanIn.Org & McKinsey & Company, 2015; 2019; 2023). However, despite the vast disparity, the number of women in the C-suite (i.e., executive-level managers) had been rising for years, although minimally. Then, in 2023, the number of women in executive roles dropped for the first time in nearly 20 years (Chiang, 2024; Telford, 2024). The data shows that although organizations talk about prioritizing gender equality, and although gender equality is one of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), toward which organizations ought to be striving, it still remains an elusive target, and thus, much more intentional work needs to be done.   

What are the primary factors contributing to the decrease in women's representation in executive positions?

There are a number of reasons including flexibility, support, and openness. A main one is the need for flexibility. Women often have caregiving responsibilities (whether for children, elders, or others) so they need organizations that are sufficiently supportive in culture to facilitate work-life integration. Flexible arrangements allow women to thrive in senior roles at work while still being able to fulfil any responsibilities they may have outside work. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted this need for flexibility especially among women, but post-pandemic, many organizations feel the need to return to a more traditional workplace with more traditional hours and working arrangements including mandated work in the office. This practice needs to be reassessed. 

Support from organizations must also come in the form of intentional mentoring, coaching, and other training and development opportunities that prepare women for senior positions. 

Finally, gender bias still exists. Employment decisions are sometimes made by individuals who view women as incapable of effective leadership in certain roles. We need those in power to be open and fair-minded, and ensure women have the same opportunities as men in terms of hiring, training and development, and promotion.

What measures can organizations take to reverse this decline and promote more women into executive roles?

Organizations must promote a supportive culture that 1) recognizes the need for work-life integration among women and 2) implements initiatives (e.g., flexible work) to facilitate work-life integration. Quite often, as seen during the pandemic for example, the need for childcare interrupts women's journeys to the c-suite. In fact, they may feel compelled to leave the workforce altogether, even if just temporarily. This time away may set them back as their male colleagues were present in the workforce and benefitting from opportunities to get ahead.

It all comes down to attitude. Attitude often precedes behavior. If one has a positive attitude toward a behavior, one is more likely to engage in that behavior. Thus, organizations need to adopt a cooperative attitude regarding women in the workplace. This will lead to supportive behavior that promotes gender parity. A cooperative attitude encompasses care, dialogue, and striving for consensus. First, companies actually need to care about gender parity, recognize its importance, and genuinely want it. Then, they need to engage in dialogue with women to find out what exactly they need (e.g., flexibility, mentoring, training and development opportunities etc.) so that gender parity can be achieved.

Finally, all organizational members need to work together to meet the needs in a mutually beneficial way. For example, if a female employee needs to telecommute twice a week, and still performs exceptionally, arrangements must be made. There needs to be reciprocity.

What advice would you give to young women aspiring to reach executive positions in their careers?

I would advise women aspiring to reach executive positions to not be afraid to assert themselves and to take every opportunity to show their competence and how they add value to their organizations. Yet, be humble and respectful. Yes, it is a challenge, because there are often societal perceptions and expectations of women in the workplace and their roles. However, try to be authentic. 

I would advise women to seek out new learning opportunities and volunteer for responsibilities that are meaningful to the organization and its leadership. Seek genuine feedback and don't be afraid of constructive criticism. Also, recognize that every organizational member is important and nurture sincere relationships at every level, building a robust network. The truly effective leaders are trusted leaders, so they should be prepared to make decisions that affect others, and this must be done with competence, integrity, and compassion.  

With this said, the aforementioned advice means nothing if the organization is unprogressive, and thus unwilling to embrace equity, to reject unfair bias in employment decisions, and to provide the necessary support to achieve such a worthy SDG as gender equality.  



Chiang, H., Kaulapure, S., & Sandberg, D. J. (2024, March 8).  Elusive Parity: Key Gender Parity Metric Falls for First Time in 2 Decades. S&P Global.

Telford, T. (2024, April 3). Women’s share of executive jobs falls for first time in years, study finds. The Washington Post.

LeanIn.Org & McKinsey & Company (2015). Women in the Workplace.

LeanIn.Org & McKinsey & Company (2019). Women in the Workplace.

LeanIn.Org & McKinsey & Company (2023). Women in the Workplace.