A way forward for women in leadership

Keeping opportunities from women often puts unwarranted pressure on male employees too

Published: 18, Jul 2017

Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit organization accelerating progress for women through workplace inclusion. With operations in the United States, Canada, Europe, India, Australia, and Japan, and more than 800 supporting organizations, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work.

Image: Shutterstock (For illustrative purposes only)
Image: Shutterstock (For illustrative purposes only)

Women in leadership roles has been a topic of discussion for several years now. While the industry has seen a large number of women leaders-such as Chanda Kochhar, Shikha Sharma, Indra Nooyi, Vinita Bali-who have taken corporations, governments, academic institutions and myriad organizations to greater heights, they represent too small a percentage of leaders in the holistic sense.

What experiences propelled these leaders to the forefront of their profession? How do we empower more women to follow in their footsteps, or better yet, create foot prints in the sand of their own? The answers to these questions could be critical to empowering all women—as well as businesses.

For women in India, it's a slow and often arduous journey to the top. Women’s careers are often in direct conflict with motherhood and various other ‘key result areas’ (KRAs) that are imposed upon them, which often prompts them to give their job up for the former. It is time for the corporate world to create an equitable workplace where equal pay is given and childcare becomes a ‘parent’ responsibility and not just women’s responsibility.

Today, advancement in technology has enabled many jobs to be done remotely; organizations which acknowledge this change and focus on productivity vs. face time, will be favored by the diverse and emerging talent.

Tracking progress

In Catalyst’s Intention to Impact report, we have seen that majority organisations have leadership development programs in place. However, these programs don't reach enough women. Similarly, while many organisations have mentoring and sponsorship programs, women don’t seem to have influential mentors or access to sponsors. Tracking progress and access to programs that support promotion is important and organisations that make it a priority are able to discover systemic biases and effect change.

For e.g. one organisation realised that women were not being asked/ nominated for jobs that took them away from their base location. On checking, they realised that not only were many women ready to move from their base location, there was undue pressure on men who were not in a position to move but had to consider it, due to its relevance to promotions.

Tracking time spent in a position by both men and women before being nominated/ selected for promotion, helps leaders identify unconscious bias and, as a result, take corrective actions.

Culture of giving feedback
Workplace culture can often create either an inclusive environment or an exclusive environment. Everyday words and actions can make one feel excluded and sometimes reinforce stereotypes.

The organisation should engage and encourage actionable solutions to make it easier to address barriers. Listed are some examples of how a manager can hold meaningful conversations without using labels or negative words.

•    “She is abrasive” – Focus on her work performance instead of her workstyle
•    “She is so helpful” – Focus on her contribution to the project or team rather than diminishing her contribution as ‘being helpful’
•    “She gets overtly emotional” – Describe the consequences of her behavior without using labels

Take charge of your own career
While organisations and families take proactive steps in encouraging women by supporting and treating them equally, women should also take action to maximise their access to ‘hot jobs’. The following are a few tips to successfully help you negotiate your role and carve a path for your way to the top:

•    Identify the professional interests, skills, responsibilities and priorities you would like to take on
•    Learn about your organisation’s strategic plan and identify opportunities that will benefit the company
•    Talk to colleagues who have successfully negotiated their role in the past and learn from their experiences
•    Create a written proposal clearly spelling out your accomplishments, the scope and specific goals for the role change, possible positive impact to be expected in your performance, benefits to the organisation and a proposed timeline and support/ resources you’ll need to succeed
•    Set up a meeting with your manager to discuss questions, concerns and suggest alternatives, if need be
•    Agree on the next steps and check in regularly to discuss your progress as well as any issues
•    Pay it forward and share your experience with others to empower them.

As more and more women are provided with opportunities for education in India, there needs to be a change in attitude and expectations. I look forward to the day when this apt quote from Sheryl Sandberg- “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders” -becomes a reality. This will only happen when we see more companies evolving into truly gender-neutral organisations that recognise and respect the true potential of its employees.

This blog has been written by Shachi Irde, Vice President and Executive Director, Catalyst India WRC

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