In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will be just leaders.-Sheryl Sandberg
Diversity has been a never-ending debate. Even after a lot of initiatives and policies implemented by organizations across the world, industries have some distance to cover to attain gender parity in its leadership roles. According to LinkedIn data, women hold over 25% of all leadership positions globally. While the United States and Canada have the highest percentage of women in leadership, with one third holding roles director-level and above, India has shown the most significant percentage increase in female leadership hiring with a 25% change between 2008-2016.
Research conducted by LinkedIn and Bain & Company of more than 8,000 LinkedIn members – both female and male – found that 31% of women are more likely than men to question whether they have what it takes to advance in a leadership position. The data also accentuate the mindset gap between women and men. At entry-level, 65% of women aspire to reach the top, compared to 72% of men. This deficit stays with women into mid-career, meaning women are trailing men at a critical point in their professional journeys.
To gain more insights, Peoplematters reached out to women leaders to understand challenges that are faced by women that prevent them from reaching the top and how they can take charge of their career!
Harlina Sodhi, Senior Executive Vice President-HR, IDFC Bank
While there have been tsunamic changes in the way women have risen to leadership roles in recent past, it’s important to know that their journey continue to be fraught with challenges, glass ceilings and stereotypes. What begins to happen over a period of time is that fatigue starts to set in due to continuous struggles to prove and outdo men at work, loss of energy having to deal repeatedly with same issues and stereotype conversations. So a kind of reverse cycle sets in from growth to decay. As women become more mature and senior in their roles, they start to realize the futility of warring to get leadership roles. Around this stage, their emotional maturity is high which coupled with their heightened awareness of self-worth keeps them away from office politics and burnouts just to prove their point or score notch higher than others to win a lofty title!
Advice for Companies:
Organizations need to keep the agenda alive in the boardrooms. Ensure it is discussed and presented at all key business meetings such as quarterly results, annual reports, shareholders meet, annual day celebrations, customer and fundraising events. Businesses need to make inclusion as one of the company. Hardwire it into company core processes. Publicly promote causes and people who mentor and propel women forward and create level playing fields for them, those who willingly put their careers on line to argue merits of a women leadership.
Advice for Women:
Besides what has been spoken and discussed already, I would recommend the following:
- Know yourselves well regarding what are your strengths, preferred style of working and communication, emotional quotient, ability, and threshold to cope with stress or change and either stay within those boundaries or learn to widen them seeking interventions.
- Seek out, build and continuously nurture a wide network of support system. This should be leaders in the current organization, Ex bosses. Alumni of your B school/Ex Organization, affinity groups and social networks on LinkedIn and Twitter. The network will not only support you during times of life transitions but also make several new opportunities available for you.
- Get a life coach who will along the journey help you unleash your potential is a systemic manner without prejudice and judgment. The safe space a coach creates backed by powerful questions and reflections is unprecedented regarding navigating changes and transitions at work and propelling one forward by not only resting the demons but by unleashing potential.
Lastly, I would say is that at times, when the weather is rough, it’s ok to duck and lie low.
Recharge your energies, learn new skills. Winds and waves will turn. Stay alert, agile and leap forward when the time is right.
Sindhu Subhashini- India HR Head, Brillio
We are committed to building an organization with 40% woman. With this in mind, we have been focusing on grooming talent internally and also trying to hire from the market. What we sometimes see is that there are very few woman who are available for the roles in the market, especially for senior roles, the funnel becomes even narrower.
Advice for Companies:
Its given that organizations need to create an environment which will provide fundamental support to women. Be it the day-care facility, flexible policies etc., however, I strongly believe this cause needs commitment beyond that. We as an industry should create an environment which will enable faster career track programs, an environment which can accept and enrich successful woman. Provide them platforms to learn new skills, network and give them visibility enabling career growth. Fundamental and core are to remove unconscious bias from our organization. Biases are engrained which will sneak in without our conscious knowledge into our decision-making around hiring, appraisal or promotion. Last but not the least, make your leadership teams more accountable. Put diversity and inclusion in their KRAs. Its time for us to stop lip service and actually bring in change and the data should speak for itself.
Advice for Women:
We need to accept the fact that reaching the top of the hierarchy is not easy. Women need to first to accept this reality and then be extremely objective and do a gap analysis to understand what the gaps are. Can we as a community become considerably fair, be very candid with ourselves, have the time and ability to spread our wings, have a group of diverse mentors and coaches –be keen on learning, keep learning from them and keep changing, keep aspiring, and raise your hand when there is an opportunity – I think that’s the fundamental issue.
Raise your hand, take the opportunity and keep your learning curve high consistently.
Don’t run alone, take people with you. Both professional and personal well-wishers. When your family is with you, you have extended support – Put as much effort in communicating with this support group as much you would with your key stakeholders at work. This group will stand by you in your journey and make it worthwhile.
Sonal Agrawal- Managing Partner, Accord Group India, Managing Partner, Accord Group India, Global Operating Committee Member, AltoPartners – Executive Search Worldwide and Global Board Member, AESC
We need to recognize that competition for C suite roles is fierce, regardless of the gender. When there are fewer female candidates in the pipe to start with, the odds are even less promising. Most women manage a carefully balanced ecosystem where they juggle multiple full-time roles, professional, primary home-maker, primary parent and primary caregiver. These roles often come to a head precisely when women are mid-career – and this is often when the career takes a back seat.
Advice for Companies:
Companies should figure out why diversity even makes sense. Organizations need to ensure that the business proposition for better gender balance is enunciated and accepted by existing organizational leadership. Build the case, facilitate dialogue to build genuine consensus. If it’s agreed that women bring as much (or more!) to the table, the narrative must be about creating a level playing field, a more supportive, conducive culture, and equal opportunity, rather than about protecting or subsidizing female candidature. Also then make efforts not lose the women that you have already invested in. Implement robust re-boarding or ramp- on programs, flexibility, coaching, mentoring, training and support – for men and women - to help with a better balance with off-work commitments.
Advice for Women:
Leadership roles are not about comfort zones. Women need to evaluate their aspirations against their obligations and support systems – and make sure they can bring their ideas to the table. If they cannot honestly commit to playing as hard as anyone else, it may be unfair to expect a seat at the table. Don’t fall into the likeability trap. Get stuff done, with empathy, but don’t shy away from positive conflict or hesitate to stand up when required. Take responsibility for your career. Both men and women have to play hard to win. So, lean in. Speak up. State your ambition. Show up. Network. Market yourself.
Take risks and the challenging roles. Enlist a coach. Find a mentor. Sort out that elevator pitch.
Yes, that playing field never looks perfect. The teams, as well as each player, have to push that little bit extra to get there.