Article: Women in leadership: A deep dive into the obstacles and the future of equality


Women in leadership: A deep dive into the obstacles and the future of equality

Prerna Sabharwal highlighted the potency of implementing quotas to mandate a specific percentage of women in leadership positions, emphasizing its effectiveness as a powerful tool for fostering gender diversity.
Women in leadership: A deep dive into the obstacles and the future of equality

It's no mystery that there's a scarcity of women leaders worldwide. A recent study examining the 33 largest multilateral institutions unearthed a stark reality: of the 382 leaders in their history, a mere 47 have been women. Even the percentage of women at the helm of Fortune 500 companies has barely surpassed the 10% mark. While pondering the elusive goal of gender equality in leadership, let's delve into the reasons behind this disparity.

To kick things off, women face a barrage of criticism on various fronts. This societal phenomenon has become so ingrained that women often internalise the disparagement, taking it to heart and earnestly striving for improvement. Despite studies debunking such notions, we decided to have a candid conversation with a woman in power, Prerna Sabharwal, Head of Culture and New Business at Dot Media and explore the real issues at play.

Women in leadership TODAY

UN Women underscores the critical importance of achieving gender parity to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. While the integration of women into equal participation and leadership roles is fundamental, global data highlights an enduring underrepresentation of women across various decision-making tiers. This stark reality underscores the challenging path toward gender equality, emphasszing the imperative for collaborative endeavours to narrow this gap and expedite advancements.

Echoing this sentiment, the Head of Culture and New Business at Dot Media articulated that the distribution of women in leadership roles is disparate across locations and industries, often manifesting as underrepresentation in diverse occupations. Challenges such as gender bias, a lack of female role models, the complexities of balancing work and personal responsibilities, deficient professional networks, preconceived notions about their leadership styles, and gender-based compensation disparities are frequent hurdles faced by women.

She disclosed, "Recent research indicates that only 10% of women occupy CXO positions (top-level executive jobs), while 25–30% hold senior management positions. Unsubstantiated assumptions about women's emotional intelligence can detrimentally impact their career prospects and recruitment processes." 

Breaking down barriers

Over the past five decades, women in the professional realm have overcome significant challenges to ascend to top leadership positions within the corporate landscape. Despite these strides, persistent barriers continue to impede their success. One notable example is the exclusionary nature of social activities, both formal and informal, such as golf outings or happy hours. Unfortunately, professional women often find themselves left out of these engagements, not due to a lack of interest on their part but rather because they are not extended invitations by their male counterparts. 

Consequently, these women miss valuable opportunities to establish the rapport and connections crucial for career advancement. Addressing these challenges, Ms Prerna Sabharwal highlighted the existence of gender prejudice, income inequality, the need for equal opportunities in training and development, gender-neutral corporate policies, and the significance of mentorship. The identified structural barriers and recommended modifications include:

Gender-inclusive policies: Organisations frequently lack comprehensive gender-inclusive policies, such as flexible work schedules and adequate support for maternity leave.

Implicit bias: A critical aspect is addressing unconscious bias in various aspects, including performance evaluations, promotions, and hiring processes.

Board representation: It is imperative to ensure increased representation of women on company boards, fostering diversity at decision-making levels.

Promotion criteria: Recognition of a variety of leadership philosophies is essential when establishing promotion criteria, promoting a more inclusive approach.

Overcoming mentorship hurdles

Since the #MeToo movement, trust between men and women in the workplace had been increasingly difficult to establish. One consequence is men becoming hesitant to mentor women due to the fear of false accusations of sexual harassment. In fact, 60 per cent of male managers had felt uncomfortable engaging in common work activities with women, such as mentoring, working alone, or socialising together, according to 2019 survey results from The survey also revealed that 1 in 6 men had been unwilling to mentor women.

As a result, it has become more challenging for women to find high-powered male mentors and sponsors crucial for advancing in their careers. However, company culture can play a pivotal role in reshaping how these situations are addressed. Sabharwal suggested that achieving greater gender diversity in leadership roles requires active mentorship and sponsorship from management. Companies could employ various tactics, including:

Building an inclusive culture: Businesses should work to create an inclusive workplace where all workers are treated with respect and feel appreciated. Male executives who are willing to mentor and sponsor women are more likely to be drawn to inclusive cultures. 

Diversity and inclusion training: Giving male leaders the skills they need to be successful mentors and increasing awareness of the value of gender diversity in leadership can both be accomplished through offering training and education on diversity and inclusion. 

Mentorship programs: It can be quite beneficial to set up official mentorship programs that match female mentees with male leaders. These programs must to be organised, focused on goals, and provide continuing assistance and direction.

A blueprint for fair and transparent workplaces

Unconscious bias permeates various aspects of the business landscape, contributing to systemic issues like the persistent and widening gender pay gap, flawed hiring practices, and decision-making influenced by affinity bias. The key to fostering a truly diverse and inclusive work environment, which ultimately leads to employee satisfaction and a robust company culture, lies in addressing and reducing unconscious bias. The Head of Culture and New Business at Dot Media emphasised the importance of combating unconscious bias, particularly concerning gender, to ensure equitable processes for leadership evaluation and selection. Some essential tactics include:

Awareness training: Conduct training sessions aimed at increasing employees' awareness of their unconscious biases. These workshops help individuals recognize their prejudices and take steps to mitigate their impact.

Diversity education: Promote continuous education on diversity and inclusion to cultivate a more inclusive culture. Establishing a sense of shared responsibility for eliminating bias is crucial for fostering a diverse and harmonious work environment.

Unbiased recruiting and advancement procedures: Implement procedures that minimize the impact of prejudice in recruiting and advancing employees. Utilise performance evaluation measures and structured interview questions to ensure a fair and transparent selection process.

Policies for lasting gender inclusion

Despite the increasing acknowledgment of the business case for diversity by major corporations and consulting firms, and the incorporation of diversity as a cornerstone in significant policies, the representation of women in managerial, directorial, and senior official roles has experienced only a modest increase. From 31 percent in 2001, it marginally grew to 35 per cent in 2018. Therefore, the question of the extent to which policy and legislation should intervene to promote gender diversity in leadership roles remains a matter of debate. 

While some advocate for a more proactive role to rectify gender imbalances, others highlight the efficacy of initiatives and changes driven by the market. Ms. Prerna Sabharwal identifies policies that she believes would be most effective in promoting gender diversity:

Quotas: Mandating a specific percentage of women in leadership positions through quotas can be a powerful tool to foster gender diversity.

Transparency and reporting requirements: Encouraging organisations to disclose their gender diversity data can enhance transparency, providing valuable insights into the current state of gender representation.

Equal pay legislation: Enacting legislation to address the gender pay gap is imperative to ensure equitable compensation for women. This step is crucial in promoting fairness and eliminating disparities in remuneration.

The future of women in leadership

Standing at the juncture of progress and potential, it's invigorating to envision the future of women in leadership. While women's leadership roles have made commendable advances, the journey remains a work in progress. Addressing this, Sabharwal expressed, "I am cautiously optimistic about witnessing a shift in women's representation in leadership roles in the near future. To expedite this transformation, we can consider the following measures:

Diverse hiring and promotion practices: Implementation of fair and unbiased processes for hiring and promotion, focusing on merit rather than gender, can foster inclusivity.

Supportive work environment: Creating a work environment that champions work-life balance and implements family-friendly policies is essential to empower women without compromising their personal lives.

Networks and affinity groups: Nurturing the development of women's networks and groups within organisations can provide a supportive community, fostering collaboration and mentorship.

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Topics: Leadership, Business, #HRTech, #HRCommunity, #WomenofChange

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