Women empowerment is often talked about a lot, but it’s high time that organizations and society, in general, should look at their initiatives again and focus on creating measurable impact for women to reach the top.
Fact: Indian population > 120 crores, of which women constitute 48.5%.
Fact: Only 17% of senior roles in India are held by women.
Fact: A survey of 5,500 businesses in 36 economies shows that 41% of the Indian businesses surveyed have no women in leadership roles.
Fact: Survey also reveals that only 7% of the senior management (CEO/ Managing Director) roles are held by women in India. The most common roles are Human Resources Director (25 percent) and Corporate Controller (18 percent).
Fact: If India can increase women’s labor force participation by 10% (68 million more women) by 2025, India could increase its GDP to 16%.
From a global perspective, data shows developing regions continue to lead the charge on diversity with developed economies lagging behind.
However, even in this scenario, India continues to rank third lowest in the proportion of business leadership roles held by women.
Why does women empowerment in India still continue to struggle to reach the top of the corporate food chain?
Is it because of the dearth of opportunities and talent?
Is it because of self-limiting beliefs that women harbor?
Is it subtle gender biases that deter women from exploring their own potential?
Or is it because of the lack of a satisfactory support system, in a silently present systemic patriarchy and an unconscious bias in our culture, where society still sees women as primary caregivers and homemakers.
Well, in reality, the answer seems to be all of the above.
Need for coordinated efforts from employers, policymakers, and society for women empowerment to create diversity at the top
Gender diversity is seen as an important performance factor by all organizations. Reports confirm that companies with higher participation of women in leadership and decision-making roles generate higher market returns and superior profits.
A lot of organizations are now investing in mentoring programs, support groups, coaching programs for working parents, leadership development programs, developing female-friendly workplace policies and processes and initiating career transition programs for women professionals on a break.
However, one interesting point to be noted is the disconnect that seems to exist between how companies approach leadership and how female leaders actually perceive it.
For instance, though communication is seen as the most important quality of good leaders by both sexes, women are more likely to perceive this skill in terms of listening and engaging in a two-way dialogue, while men are more likely to focus on broadcasting messages.
Thus, though companies recognize the need for women leaders, they need to do more to transform their leadership culture to attract women.
Women have to clear many hurdles to reach the top
Two other significant factors for minimal female representation at senior management roles are societal bias and higher expectations and their own self-limiting beliefs.
Even today, in India, women are primarily expected to take care of their family and home with their professional aspirations taking a backseat.
Often, the man of the house and his aspirations take precedence over that of the woman of the house. However, gradually a shift in mindset is being observed in young urban India, which is slowly seeing shared responsibility homes, wherein partners support each other in both their work and home lives.
Also, policies such as paternal leaves, work from home, etc. help male partners support their spouses more and sensitize them to the challenges faced by women in managing it all.
If this trend percolates across the country, across regions and communities, then India shall soon be on the path of achieving a GDP that’s much more than 16%.
Self-belief: I am, I can, and I will
However, even with all these changes in the way people think in the organization and in the society, if women do not capitalize on their own true potential, then seeing women leaders in senior leadership roles will continue being a challenge.
As rightly said by Paul G Thomas, “The one thing over which you have absolute control on is your own thoughts. It is this that puts you in the position to control your own destiny.”
Women need to primarily lead themselves; they need to have a sense of who they are, what they can do, and where they want to go in life.
This will impact all aspects of their lives — right from health and their relationships to career aspirations and goals.
Thus, women first need to change the way their thoughts run. They need to have more role models to look up to and be one to others. They need to be more vocal about their ambitions and raise their hands for the right roles and projects if they want to progress into senior management positions.
Women need to get over the guilt of putting themselves first.
They need to take the reins of their career in their own hands and not just wait for opportunities to be handed over to them.
In one of her interviews, Indra Nooyi (CEO PepsiCo) brutally stated that “Women Cannot have it All” but also said that by planning meticulously and creating a good support system, they can come very close!
Women entered the workplace globally post World War I and II where they needed to take up the positions that were left vacant by men who had joined the armed forces to fight the war.
They tried hard to maintain their employment status even after the war ended.
Over the years, women’s movements and revolutions helped achieve the desired basic benefits for women initiating women empowerment.
India is an agrarian country which saw many women out in the fields working all day long.
Though they had entered the labor force, they needed to start making a mark for themselves in the corporate world. With increasing levels of education, women slowly started transitioning themselves from the field to other jobs in business and corporate world.
Women have certainly come a long way and working outside the home resulted in a number of positive empowerment outcomes such as financial independence and greater decision-making power within the household.
Though we can celebrate the rise in the number of women in organizations, it still needs to be seen if we can increase the numbers at the senior management level and break gender stereotypes and cultural dictates that hold them from sitting at the table.
The various initiatives taken up by organizations to support work-life balance are fast gaining popularity across different industries and sectors, and the gap we see now is slowly yet steadily being bridged.
With India poised to become the largest economy in the world by 2030, it definitely cannot afford to leave half of its workforce behind!
(Also read: What is blind hiring and how effective is it?)