Getting women to leadership: Why we need a comprehensive approach?

Even today, challenges are plenty for women in corporates. It needs an integration action agenda to close the gaps, says Saloni Vijay, DGM, Vodafone Mobile Services

Getting women to leadership: Why we need a comprehensive approach? - CIO&Leader

Across many industries, there is still a big gap between the number of men and women in the workplace especially further up the leadership ladder.

Lack of women in leadership position

According to me, there are many factors which contribute fewer women in top leadership. Lot of times the basic thing lacking is “Intent”. There are few corporates which really focuses on gender diversity, rest are just there to report the numbers at workplace. If corporate really want to see equal ratios for male and female in leadership roles, they should not only hire the right women talent but equally important to nurture and make them ready for the higher roles, which I feel is not happening.

Another big thing is unconscious bias among managers. While discussing about the promotions of every potential women, there is a hesitation to offer them a higher position considering their dual role as worker and caregiver both. It turns out that men more often get the kind of “high-profile assignments, mission-critical roles, and international experiences” that typically lead to the C-suite and above.

There is a lack of female role model in the industries. Statistics shows that while at the entry level there is almost 50-50 ratio which joins the workforce but in 8-10 years, the percentage of women in the workplace drops down. There are fewer women who feel very confident on themselves for the leadership roles. Sometimes there is lack of aspirations also which doesn’t push women to believe themselves and cross the boundaries out of their comfort zones.

One major factor is stereotype that men “take charge” and women “take care” puts women leaders in various double-binds. For example, women are judged as being too hard, too soft, and never just right. Women leaders are also seen as competent or liked but not both. Also, men may be seen as having the “default” style when it comes to their ability to lead effectively, meaning women spend part of everyday repeatedly proving they too can lead.

Biggest issue for women in the workplace

I can’t think the biggest issue of women in the workplace as they are plenty. Topmost issue is gender bias that many women experience at their work place. Jobs that require frequent travel, physical exertion, etc. are still open for men only as they are considered more eligible than women. Many companies while hiring women employees ask them openly about their marriage and further family planning as they cannot afford the maternity leaves and other flexibility perks.

Another most noticeable challenge that women of today face at work place is the work-life imbalance. Differentiating personal life and professional career becomes little hard for women in general. They tend to mix up work commitments with personal priorities and that’s when all the issue starts. Family feels neglected, friends feel lost and unfortunately she has to face the wrath of her entire support system just because she has forgotten to draw the line between work and life. This challenge is mostly self-imposed and to get out of this mess, the woman has to help herself. A noticeable challenge is pre and post maternity leaves environment. Once the lady resumes office post her maternity break, she may be in for surprise as her role would no more be the same. She may have to begin from beginning all over again.

Lack of role models is another challenge. Women have time and again proved their capabilities in the work front but still the top cream layer is mostly occupied by men. The challenge here is female leaders are many but role models are few. Hence, when women try and look for leaders whom they can emulate, they are left behind.

While male leaders are many and they train their successor with full vigor, a women leader learns everything the hard way. When women look up to men for guidance and mentorship they feel they are disconnected and disoriented as there is a great difference in their objectivity and style of communication.

Organizational changes to get more female leaders

Make a deliberate investment to help women colleagues. Be intentional about appointing highly qualified women to the executive team, corporate board, C-suite, and CIO position.

Sponsorship is essential for women. We know that women have a lot of mentors; but they also need sponsors who will give them visibility, talk about their accomplishments behind closed doors, and promote them for stretch opportunities.

Inclusivity is also an important aspect. Carefully and humbly listen to women colleagues, which can help them feel more included. When women feel like outsiders in the workplace because of their unique qualities or differences, they feel excluded. Exclusion comes at a great cost to organizations in the form of lowered job satisfaction, reduced work effort, diminished employee voice, and greater intention to leave. Building an inclusive workplace means creating a culture that fully engages and supports all employees.

People should not judge the effectiveness of women leaders based on gender stereotypes. Need to provide diversity and inclusion training to help employees understand the effects of gender stereotyping.

Organization needs to introduce women-friendly policies, which are policies for sexual harassment, flexi hours working and pre and post maternity benefits.

Changes require for women to grow as leaders

Women should have a clear career plan and should share it as and when required. Women take few breaks in their career due to child and family responsibilities. Women who are successful in advancing upwards, plan their careers with a longer time horizon in mind, continuously share their plans, and get the support they need along the way to continue to progress.

Results do not speak for themselves, and opportunities do not just fall in our laps. Self-advocacy is a critical behavior to learn, unfortunately most women struggle with it. Successful women know how to own their strengths and accomplishments, share how they add value to the organization, and ask for opportunities to grow and advance.

In order to move into new roles, advance into senior positions, or make time for projects and development that will help with growth, women have to leverage the skill of delegation. They need to delegate or distribute work to free up time for strategic initiatives.

Women should believe that there are no barriers to advancement. There may have been factors all around them that could have prevented their success, but they shouldn’t let that get in the way of their own beliefs about what they could personally accomplish.

Women leaders should be socially supportive and speak out for others. There is growing evidence that when women wield power and assert themselves on behalf of others, they are able to do so effectively and without incurring social repercussions. Women leaders can be seen as very effective if the beneficiaries of the female leader’s efforts are her team members.

Women leaders can advance by others speaking out for them – conferring upon them the social status needed to endow female leaders with the legitimacy to be assertive. Beyond helping and encouraging each other, it is also important to help and encourage self. Success is a state of mind, and if they don’t allow themselves to enjoy their current role and pat themselves on the back for the work they’ve put in to get there, they’ll be miserable. Remember that a positive mindset and a great sense of resilience are both crucial to continuing to grow and progress in their career.

Outside of the office, women have to be sure to find something that allows them to get out of their own head a bit, as well. There is an entire world that exists outside of the promotions and politics of the workplace. No matter how great their responsibilities become, they shouldn’t allow them to over-burden them.

Of course, at the end of the day, there is no “magic secret” to landing a top role. There is no passcode or God-given right for anyone to be in the C-suite. They have earned that seat at the table, and they must not forget it. Lead confidently, and inspire other women to do the same.

Advice to women colleagues

Identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go. You are unique as a fingerprint and the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service. Surround yourself with women who might be on the positions you want to strive to be in or other leadership roles and get to know them. Be connected with them, listen to their stories on what works for them or what hasn’t worked and use that to start building your own platform. The biggest thing in corporate world is building your own professional portfolio and how you set yourself apart from everyone else. By developing these skills early in your career you will be a step ahead. Have determination and persevere on when meeting road blocks. Often the solution is just there when you are about to give up. To succeed in a corporate world, you need to take ownership and become accountable.

Challenges are everywhere. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying something new and good is the challenge that you must impose on yourself. More challenges one faces in life, her achievements and memories increase manifolds.

Instead of dreading the challenges, if one learns to treat challenges as stepping stones of success, they will hardly feel its magnitude. Women have to break the soft sweet image in order to succeed in their work endeavor.

Being as fierce, stable and aggressive as a lioness and working towards her goals without any distraction makes a woman achieve her goal with precision.


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