Navigating the Path to Leadership: Insights for Women

Do women genuinely aspire to be leaders despite headlines suggesting otherwise?

I recently hosted the last Datos Insights Women’s Network virtual meeting of the year on the topic of Do Women Want to be Leaders? Our panel included Darchelle Caces (Senior Director at Trustmark), Jakki Kennedy (Lead Business Analyst at MMG), Teresa Magruder (EVP at Shelter Insurance), and Jennifer Ramos (AVP at Global Indemnity). Our discussion covered trends related to women in leadership roles and how organizations can encourage more women to pursue leadership roles.

Balancing Career Aspirations With Personal Responsibilities Can Be Challenging

McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace 2023” report showed that over the past five years, women’s representation at the manager or director levels has only grown 3-4%, creating a weak pipeline for future leaders. According to our panelists, there are many different factors that are factored into their decisions and timing for pursuing a leadership role. Several mentioned that their career paths were not linear; some specifically chose to pursue a leadership position, while others were presented with the opportunity. Routes to leadership also differed – some entered via a supervisory role and some through a project-leadership role that eventually turned into a people-management role.

Other factors discussed that can impact women’s interest in pursuing leadership included: the desire to lead and influence individuals and teams; work-life balance considerations; organizational culture (including politics); exposure to role models and mentors; and generational perspectives around boundaries and what it means to be a leader.

More Can Be Done to Fill The Future Leader Pipeline

Despite concerns that women are less interested in leadership roles than in the past, McKinsey’s report shows that 9 out of 10 women under 30 want to be promoted to the next level, and 3 out of 4 aspire to become senior leaders. To encourage more women to seek out leadership positions in their organization, there needs to be more leadership development and opportunities specifically aimed at preparing and supporting women, a focus on building company culture around inclusive practices, and visibility of women leaders as role models.

Most of our panelists agreed that their interest in pursuing leadership was developed during their early careers, often by a mentor at their company who saw their potential and encouraged that direction. This highlights the importance of mentoring women who show leadership potential, beginning in their early roles at a company, but also women at all stages of their career path.

Advocate For Yourself

Women often struggle with self-promotion, which can be a limiting behavior when pursuing leadership positions. Women seeking to advance their careers should take the opportunity to document accomplishments in performance reviews, be comfortable speaking up to take credit for ideas, and seek out opportunities that can help them build their technical and interpersonal skills and exposure. Additionally, for women already in leadership roles, it is important to advocate and provide opportunities for women in your organization.  

In addition to advocating for your accomplishments, our panelists discussed the need to advocate for your boundaries. Not all tasks are created equal. When presented with additional work, consider which assignments are aligned with your career goals and can provide you with an opportunity to learn the business, advance your skills, and build new relationships and prioritize those if possible. One panelist shared, “Setting boundaries shows strong leadership – it speaks volumes to the people you lead. Set boundaries and have the ability to stand by them.”


Despite headlines touting women’s disinterest in leadership roles and the recent “lazy girl job” stereotype, many women do aspire to senior leader roles. Their pursuit may vary depending on personal goals or obligations, but it’s important to encourage women to consider taking on leadership positions. Fostering an inclusive company culture, offering leadership development and mentoring programs, and providing more flexibility are ways to maintain the pipeline of women reaching senior level roles.

Our next Datos Insights Women’s Network virtual meeting will take place on January 31st at 11am ET on the topic of How to Avoid Getting Stuck in a Critical Support Role, led by Datos Insights Senior Principal Deb Zawisza. Register to join us here.