Women leaders sidelined at prominent corporate firms due to motherhood, says University of Auckland study

Women are struggling to remain in top jobs in some of New Zealand's biggest companies and those firms are battling to retain them due to motherhood, a new study released on Thursday shows. 

The study called for businesses to achieve gender balance at senior levels by developing a better understanding of motherhood. 

"These women were mainly seeing men, or women without children, in the leadership roles above and around them. They were also hearing how other women in leadership, especially mothers, were spoken about," said study author Amanda Sterling, from the University of Auckland's Business School. 

"All of this created an expectation that, to be a leader, they needed to perform as if nothing was going on with their bodies, hide their experiences or go to additional lengths to prove that they were just as capable." 

As of last year, women made up 41 percent of senior management roles in private intuitions, research showed. Despite recent progress, that number had dropped 6 percent from the previous year. 

Dr Sterling said the research showed the experiences of pregnant women and mothers within leadership needed to be recognised and better supported. 

The report listed 48 case studies of women who were either in leadership roles, on the trajectory to leadership or aspired to be a leader. 

Dr Sterling said the research showed motherhood was still the most significant barrier for women in leadership. 

"Therefore, if organisations want more female leaders and wish to be truly inclusive, they need to properly understand and really support the experiences of mothers within those higher-pressure leadership roles. 

"I'm hopeful that my research will create change in the system so that more women can not only stay but flourish in leadership roles," said Dr Sterling.