International Women’s Day has come and gone, but here is a thought to ponder upon. In this day and age, are women well-represented in the senior management of companies in India? The disturbing fact is that with millions of women joining the labour force in India over the past few decades, it is striking that only few senior positions in the top corporate firms are held by women. While organizations are struggling to hold on to their best and brightest women, the persistence of the glass ceiling makes this difficult. Undoing the glass ceiling requires a precise understanding of the overt and subtle barriers to progression faced by women, and the strategies used to overcome these hurdles.
As a company, it is essential to embed gender diversity in its very culture. Companies need to build a better pipeline of female contenders in middle-manager levels. This band allows for higher visibility and a better chance for sponsorship. It is also at these levels that we can begin to develop women into future C-suite leaders by proposing them for board positions, or enrolling them in executive leadership programs.
There are several internal and external factors that create a counterpunch that slows the movement towards greater gender parity in the senior ranks. For instance, many companies do not consider gender parity as a C-suite priority. Given the lack of focus on this issue, it isn’t surprising that very few companies have stated clear goals for achieving gender balance. The extremely slow progress in achieving C-level positions accompanied by the female executives’ perceptions of how they are viewed and how far they can really advance may be stalling the movement. Many women have spent decades in the pipeline watching few women make it to the top. Hence, they express skepticism about the capacity of their organizations’ abilities to appreciate women’s competencies to contribute at strategic levels.
Women are often under-estimated in areas such as governance, directorship, and executive leadership. The inequitable division of domestic labour between men and women has consequences for the acquirement of social capital at work. Women who have an unequal share of domestic duties are often disadvantaged. If companies are unable to support women with options such as flexi time and employee benefits to help them manage personal responsibilities along with a transparent career mapping, it leads to stress at the work place and this is often depicted as a woman’s weakness. These factors form a hindrance for them in pursuing a long-term professional career.
Organizations have not undertaken the cultural adaptation needed to become places in which women at all levels believe they might truly flourish. Declaration of their commitment to progress may be offset by senior level behaviours that suggest the organization is not ready for substantial change. Instances of women being looked over for promotion may cause distrust, discouraging female colleagues from considering career growth. Another deterrent is the issue of equal pay for equal work. In many cases, women executives do not believe that the economic pay offs for competing for a top position will be the same for them as for men, a factor that may undermine their motivation to advance.
Companies can no longer ignore a gender brain drain if they are to remain competitive. First and foremost, organizations need to identify and address ways in which their cultures may be isolating women. Gender forward companies place a high priority on diversity in senior management and evaluate ways to formalize this. Companies should aim at forming a board that champions this cause as it will trickle down to all levels and in turn lead to a highly involved executive team. Nowadays, diversity focused organizations make gender equality a performance review measure, encourage gender equality practices and even create a gender forward committee.
The case for improving women’s access to C-level positions has never been stronger. Various research studies suggests that greater representation of women could bring in diversity in values, beliefs and attitudes, which would broaden the range of perspectives in the decision making process and kindle critical thinking and ingenuity. Adopting measures to ensure greater gender parity will eventually make available a larger and diverse talent pool, one that has immense opportunities.
Gender equality has all the signs of becoming a powerful reputation driver in the years ahead. Moving forward ‘gender diversity’ could be just as important a parameter as a ‘best place to work’ tag when it comes to enticing the finest talent in your industry. There will be a fierce competition for these scorecards as the global economy improves and the war for talent continues.