The year is 2021. While the world was battling the pandemic at its peak, my client Paul had another pressing issue on his agenda. "Payal, our company, has some great benefits for women. We are rated in the top 10 when it comes to paying equity. We do whatever it takes to help women grow into leadership roles. And yet we don't have many women leaders in our organization. And those who are in leadership roles feel like stepping down. What is it that you would suggest I do?"
Around three months back, while coaching a senior leader from a well-known company in the Valley, this was a question he asked. In his role, he had to ensure he made gender diversity a priority—by setting aspirational goals for the proportion of women in leadership roles. He was failing at that.
I've met many Paul-like leaders worldwide who wonder what more needs to be done to attract more women into leadership roles.
There are a lot of theories on why more women don't get into C-Suites and why we lack women in leadership roles. However, in my 21 years of coaching and speaking at companies, I can say that there are three primary reasons I have seen why the gap stills exist:
Most women are afraid to succeed
Whether we like it or not, it's a brutal truth of our time. Most women start well on the corporate ladder. Most are technically skilled and have expert knowledge. But as they reach the middle of the ladder, they are suddenly afraid of growing. They are fearful of the change and responsibility that will come with growth. They keep thinking of how the family and home are impacted. These actions and thoughts clearly indicate to the management that the next level is not suitable for you because you don't seem ready to take on it.
Lack of encouragement to help women to help them grow
Women employees face problems and dilemmas their male counterparts do not, especially when young. Some women, unable to cope, even give up working. Add to this how companies lost many women during the Covid 19 phase. And according to a study by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org, companies will likely continue to fail women in the workforce.
To support women's access to leadership positions, companies must invest in external coaching programmes for their women leaders. Coaching significantly affects how women grow and succeed in the workplace.
Women don't take charge of their career growth
Here's a fact from my coaching experience: For every ten male executives who sign up for coaching with me, I have only one woman who signs up. Once a male executive and I have a pre-coaching discussion, men do not return to their families to ask if they should invest in their growth. They sign up for their coaching sessions. On the other hand, women tell me they will need to talk this out with their spouse, friend, or family and then get back. And guess what? 95%of the time, women don't sign up. They don't take charge of their career.
Our fears, guilt, imposter syndrome, aim for perfection, and instinct to give more to the home weigh us down in many ways. The reality is that women are not prioritising their growth.
Our corporate world is doing so much to help women grow into leadership positions, but it's the women who decline the opportunity.