Both men and women in our Gender Perception Survey 2019 were clear on this point. Women make better managers and leaders. 72 percent of women and 51 percent of men asserted so.
And herein lies the rub. With such clear unanimity, why is it that only 4 percent of women hold senior leadership roles in India? What will take to motivate and enable access for women into the hallowed portals of leadership? More important, to sustain the momentum?
Here is an interesting observation about women CEOs across the world. They seem to have worked in more roles, functions, and industries than men in comparable landscapes. What it conveys is that women need to work harder and longer to get to the same place as men. This is corroborated in our survey too. To the question of whether women experienced more obstacles at the workplace when compared to men, an overwhelming 88 percent of women agreed.
How can women be provided access and a level playing field to leadership roles? How can their development be fast tracked so that they break the glass ceiling sooner and have a longer period to make an impact as a leader?
It starts from providing motivation to rise to leadership roles. One of the reasons women choose not to ascend the ladder of leadership is the association with status, power, and reward. That is not what drives many women. Can the right and gender-diverse role models help her discover self-worth in creating a meaningful identity? A recent HBR survey of women CEOs revealed that more than two-thirds were motivated by a sense of purpose to community and employees. Can women professionals be provided access to such mentorship?
Organizations should step in to identify potential early on in their careers and provide them access to learning programs and roles to broaden their skills. This will invoke greater awareness and the aspiration to know what lies ahead – both vertically and laterally. As they progress, guidance should be provided both individually and through high-potential development programs – both for leading people and for running businesses.
The next important door to open is how she is measured for performance. If organizations are truly serious about unlocking the potential of a gender-inclusive workforce, they need to get more creative in designing performance models. Currently there is an unreasonable demand for women to be constantly available and geographically mobile. This is no request for biased treatment just for women – the point is to look at the bigger organizational picture and do what it takes to rewrite performance management policies that truly will unleash high performance.
When this is supplemented with pay parity and promotion guidelines that factor potential (and not just strait-jacketed yardsticks of performance measurement), it could positively motivate women to make pro-work choices. Our survey showed 59 percent of women admitting to the experience of missing out on growth opportunities or having received unfavorable performance reviews because they were going on, or returning from maternity leave. Such experiences can be highly demotivating.
Women have been strongly acknowledged for four traits they bring to work. Courage. Risk-taking. Resilience. Ability to handle ambiguity, both in operations and interpersonal relationships. These are the competencies that are in huge demand in leaders – especially in today’s disruptive world of change and complexity. As organizations scramble to build future succession pipelines, there is a significant demographic segment waiting to be recognized.
The 2017 World Bank Report believes that increasing women’s participation in the workforce from the current 27 percent to 50 percent can push India’s growth rate by 1.5 percent. Ridding the corporate corridors of obsolete thought-conditioning towards work (especially in male-dominated areas) may just swipe clean societal attitudes towards women that shackle them to uninspired existence. Women professionals need to step up too. They must infuse greater self-awareness and honesty to acknowledge their aspirations and work beyond constraints. Only then can the twain meet to create true workplace diversity and inclusion.