Decoding the challenges & bridging the gender gap in leadership roles
While some sectors like banking, insurance and pharmaceuticals have seen a notable increase in the number of women leaders in recent years, there are sectors like energy, oil & gas, auto and infrastructure that have a predominantly male leadership team. Even from an entrepreneurial perspective, the presence of women in leadership roles is low. Startup India, a government initiative, says that women constitute only 13.76% of entrepreneurs in the country. Though the number of women in leadership roles in India is steadily increasing, for now, they are still in a minority.
Traditional mindsets and deeply entrenched notions about the segregation of work between men and women continue to be an influencing factor at the workplace. Constantly restricted to staying within the confinements of society’s pre-defined norms of how a woman must be, women leaders often are unable to express themselves freely in comparison to their male counterparts.
Another challenge is striking the right work-life balance, which has been accentuated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Burdened by household responsibilities very often on account of gender disparity at home, women find themselves struggling to meet basic deadlines let alone progress at work. While these challenges can largely impact our women taskforce, the Indian corporate world has witnessed several inspirational women leaders. Since gender stereotypes are deeply engraved in society and will take generations to pass, it would be ideal to not be discouraged but to consider leadership roles as an opportunity to break the stereotype. Here are a few ways women can use these challenges as stepping stones for success.
Emotional intelligence; getting the balancing act right
According to business journalist and author Suzy Welch, one of the most complex challenges for any boss, male or female, is the ability to handle the emotional distance. Women bosses find it even more difficult to do so as they tend to move between the two extremes of what she calls the Ice Queen and Good Mother leadership styles. The remedy, she says, is to strike the right intimacy balance so that a woman boss is close enough to know her team members, yet distant enough to lead them. In other words, strike a balance between being tough and approachable, demanding and caring. Some women bosses achieve this balance by adapting to the situation and demonstrating toughness and niceness accordingly. Alternatively, they adopt the mantra of being nice to people while being tough on tasks.
Women possess genetic attributes essential for leadership success
A decade ago, showing emotions at work was considered to be a weakness. Today, however, empathy is considered to be one of the most indispensable traits of a leader. Women genetically have a far stronger emotional quotient in comparison to men, therefore, have a valuable advantage in leadership. Other commonly observed traits identified in women leaders namely participative decision-making, people development and role modeling have been termed to be more important by organizations of the future, according to McKinsey’s recent report.
Inspiring women inspire women
Two-thirds of the women leaders surveyed by KPMG learned their most important leadership lessons from other women, including friends, colleagues and peers. Aspirational women leaders are likely to be more inspired by other women leaders who have had similar challenges as them. Therefore, women in leadership roles must help build the next generation of women leaders by serving as positive role models and by helping more women advance in their careers by mentoring them professionally. Male leaders on the other hand must also partake in mentoring and guiding capable women to become successful leaders of tomorrow.
Cultural shifts at organizations can narrow the gender gap in senior positions at India Inc.
While most established organizations in the country understand what gender equality is, only a handful of them actively and continually, strive to promote and instill this culture in daily decision-making. Organizations must realize that having diversity in terms of gender at work makes employees more compassionate and understanding. Having a woman leader helps to normalize the idea of having a woman in power among men, even if it is a concept alien to them. Having support systems like flexible work set-ups, home support systems, productivity tools and technology innovations and mentorship clubs must be considered to be a norm by every organization for all employees, male and female.
Human Resources can play a crucial role in recognizing and preventing bias or male-dominated cultures but must be supported by senior leadership. Leaders require to demonstrate their dedication to nurturing women through the talent pipeline - attracting, retaining and developing women in leadership positions. Below are critical factors that leadership must imbibe in to make inclusion a breathing culture in the organization they represent.
- Educate employees on diversity & inclusion, by encouraging positive conflict and identifying & discouraging unconscious biases
- Create a safe space for dialogue by encouraging women to express their ideas and thoughts freely during meetings and in forums
- Offering guidance and mentorship to aspiring and capable women leaders through advice, coaching women along their career paths and into the ranks of leadership
Witnessing a world where gender equality is a natural way of life is a dream we all hold. The responsibility of making it a reality depends upon each of us as employees, leaders, organizations, media and individuals. Gender disparity is a deeply engraved norm in a patriarchal society. However, a strong organizational value system and culture can create ripples with far-reaching effects to break down this barrier brick by brick.