Women in Leadership: Challenges and how to navigate and triumph

When more women are empowered to lead, everyone benefits.

Kenya's current seven women governors. Top from left: Kawira Mwangaza (Meru), Fatuma Achani (Kwale), Anne Waiguru  (Kirinyaga) and Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay). Bottom from left: Wavinya Ndeti (Machakos), Cecily Mbarire (Embu), and Susan Kihika (Nakuru). PHOTOS/Courtesy.
  • Just like men, women need the right, accommodating environments to lead with empathy, vision, and impact.
  • Sexism is a challenge women face till now. Many a time, the voices of reason by women are not heard, for many just see women as sex objects.
  • As a woman leader, what are you doing to ensure those behind you, the blooming leaders looking up to you, gain the skills, strategies and passion to lead?

As the global landscape of leadership transforms, acknowledging the indispensable contributions of women is paramount. 

This article navigates the compelling reasons why women leaders are vital, examining their adeptness in navigating complexities, driving organizational success, and inspiring positive change. 

Worth noting is that women in leadership challenges are something we witness every day. We have talked about it over and over again till it looks like a norm, and in some instances, we who are blowing the trumpet about it have been branded cry babies, feminists and disillusioned activists.

The reality is so true, as it was yesterday, that just like men, women need the right, accommodating environments to lead with empathy, vision, and impact.

A weighty undertaking

Leadership is a huge responsibility; it calls for a strong heart founded in love, empathy, dedication, knowledge, wisdom, tolerance, hard work, humility and a spirit that embraces imperfection for self and others.

Being a leader is hard for both men and women; therefore, building resilience muscles is necessary to thrive.

Undoubtedly, leadership poses more complex challenges to women because of factors like the physical and biological being of women, double standard performance expectations, and the multi-roles held by women at the family and community levels. 

The deep-rooted historical and patriarchal systems birthed gender stereotyping, stigma and discrimination, dragging women leaders and those striving to lead behind. 

Ageism and sexism

Ageism and sexism still exist. 

A young woman leader speaking will be trashed for being a baby (immature), an older woman will be called primitive, old and with outdated thoughts, and will be called the menopause boss lady whose emotions are all over. 

Those in mid-age will be tagged the boss ladies struggling with mid-life crisis.

Ponder this extreme opposite: a young male leader speaking will be applauded for being bold and confident, and the older male leader will be honored for being assertive, full of wisdom, knowledge and expertise.

Sexism is a challenge women face till now. Many a time, the voices of reason by women are not heard, for many just see women as sex objects.


Forging a life balance in many roles women play, like being mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, community members, professionals, and leaders, is tough to pull through.

For being nurturers, women are expected to show up in completeness; anything short of that is negatively judged and labeled by family, community and self.

Unimplemented policies

Women in leadership still face challenges attached to policy gaps or lack of functional policies related to supporting women’s leadership agenda.

Kenya’s 2010 Constitution has made a lot of good progress in terms of women’s development agenda, such as the two-thirds gender rule. 

However, effective full implementation of these policies for sustainability still remains a faraway destination.

For instance, women forging for political leadership still face challenges with being accommodated and supported by major political parties, unlike their male counterparts. 

The contribution of women in leadership, governance and decision-making cannot be wished away. More women have to be nurtured and prepared for the task. PHOTO/New African Magazine.

Political parties will give male candidates tickets to run for major seats, which they usually win. 

Covert snags

To ensure compliance with the policy, they will then slot women in as nominated legislatures.

Though the nominated women leaders are present, they are always tagged “nominated “in the legislation houses, toothless to bring any milestone leadership imprint to their people. 

In itself, the nomination is a limitation, a stumbling block, a snag covertly set to stifle women’s voices instead of elevating them. 

Way out

Navigating the challenges women face in leadership requires a combination of resilience, strategic thinking, and collective effort. To triumph over these obstacles, women can employ several strategies:

  • Build a support network

Now more than ever, women must cultivate relationships with mentors, peers, and allies who can provide guidance, share experiences, and offer support. A strong support network for women in leadership is invaluable in navigating challenges.

  • Advocate for gender equality 

Actively promote and advocate for gender equality in all aspects of life. Encourage workplace policies that support diversity and inclusion, and speak up against discrimination.

  • Develop leadership skills

Continuously invest in developing leadership skills. This includes honing communication, negotiation, and decision-making abilities. Confidence and competence can help overcome stereotypes and biases.

  • Challenge stereotypes

Challenge societal stereotypes and biases by showcasing leadership qualities without conforming to traditional gender expectations. Prove that effective leadership knows no gender boundaries. It’s upon us women to go the extra mile and prove wrong what doesn’t hold water about women leaders, and showcase what’s true.

  • Embrace diversity

Diversity in leadership styles and approaches should be acknowledged and appreciated and even more, leveraged for maximum results. Recognize that leadership effectiveness is not determined by gender but by a combination of skills, experiences, and qualities.

  • Leverage technology

Often, women are regarded as not well acquainted with technology. As women taking up leadership roles, let’s learn the new way and utilize technology to connect, collaborate, and amplify our voices. Online platforms can serve as powerful tools for networking, knowledge-sharing, and mobilizing support for gender equality initiatives.

  • Educate and empower others

To those already advantaged by time and experience, take it upon your shoulders to share knowledge and experiences to educate others about the challenges women face in leadership. Share your journey. Empower fellow women to strive for leadership positions and create a culture of mutual support.

  • Participate in policy advocacy

Knowing that women are the biggest beneficiaries of policies that recognize them and give them back their voice and authority in leadership spaces, actively engaging in advocacy for policies that support women in leadership in not an option but a must. Collaborate with like-minded individuals and organizations to address policy gaps and ensure effective implementation, be it in political, professional or the corporate fields.

  • Balance self-care

Without self-care, burn-out is always lurking, threatening to topple you over. Striking a balance between personal and professional roles is crucial. Prioritize self-care to maintain well-being and resilience. Setting boundaries and managing expectations can contribute to sustained success.

  • Lead by example

Demonstrate effective leadership by leading with integrity, empathy, and inclusivity. By showcasing strong leadership qualities, women can inspire others and contribute to a cultural shift towards gender equality. As a woman leader, what are you doing to ensure those behind you, the blooming leaders looking up to you, gain the skills, strategies and passion to lead?

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In navigating these paths, women can not only overcome challenges but also contribute significantly to reshaping perceptions and fostering an environment where leadership is recognized based on merit, not gender.

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Ms. Kangwana is a Leadership and Governance practitioner championing Wellness, Diversity and Inclusion. She is also a columnist with Scholar Media Africa. Her contact: ekangwana@gmail.com


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