Gap analysis of women leadership development in Corporate India

Leaders at the top must be skilled at using the greatness in themselves, engaging the greatness in others and achieving and sustaining extraordinary outcomes for the organisation

Bhavna Dalal
Published: 11, Aug 2017

Bhavna Dalal ( is the Founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners [] a Leadership Development company based in Bangalore, India. She is a Team Leadership Coach with ICF PCC Certification, IIM Calcutta Executive MBA, and B.E.(Electronics). Also, the author of the book Team Decision Making [] endorsed by former CEO's of Target, Lowes, LimitedBrands,bank of Baroda, 3M , Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, Dr. Manoj Pardasani (Associate Dean Fordham University) and many others. Bhavna has been serving on the Board of Directors of Bodhi Education Society (A not-for-profit that supports schools in rural Andhra Pradesh in India ) for the past 5 years.

Leadership is the ability to influence and inspire others towards, the leaders, team or organizations goals (Photo: Shutterstock)
Leadership is the ability to influence and inspire others towards, the leaders, team or organizations goals (Photo: Shutterstock)

In my journey of working with people and organisations in developing leadership skills, I see three gaping areas that need a lot of work in developing women leadership in India. Let's explore these three areas and the nuances behind them.

1. Individual contributors ready for people manager roles There is a false sense of control that many women feel in remaining individual contributors. This resistance to seeking promotion to a people manager role is often limited by this false perception of having to take on more meetings, staying back late and in essence lesser work-life balance with the increased responsibility. The sum total of the time a manager spends at work is not necessarily more than an individual contributor. This one self-limiting belief prevents a lot of individual contributors ready for people manager roles holding themselves back. After they get over this, what women stuck in this layer need help with is building confidence, speaking up and becoming more assertive. They must learn to manage themselves better, including understanding their work life and personal life needs. Some may need to improve their time management and organisation skills. The fundamental leadership skills needed at this stage, however, is that of self awareness; a sense of clarity on their own personal vision. Setting long term career goals is necessary.  These women must learn to get comfortable with self promotion, advancing their network, negotiating and asking for what they need. Honing their people skills is a must. Getting a mentor, someone who has done this before may be is a good way to prepare them.

2. Women in senior leadership roles in executive teams and boards
While there is a large majority of women, resisting their career journeys to people manager positions, there is an equal, if not larger, pool of women mired in the middle and finding it difficult to break through the last layer in the corporate ladder. This, in spite of being top performers in their present roles, working with terrific mentors, continuously upskilling themselves, spectacular 360-degree feedback reviews, basically managing themselves and their teams brilliantly. What is the missing link for this cohort?  What is it that these women need to close the gender gap for senior leadership?

Leadership is the ability to influence and inspire others towards, the leaders, team or organisations goals. This means you need to use your talents skills and abilities. You need to help the organisation reach its goals while working effectively with others. This means leaders at the top must be skilled at using the greatness in themselves, engaging the greatness in others and achieving and sustaining extraordinary outcomes for the organisation. To achieve the last part business, strategic and financial expertise is needed. It is important to be adept at understanding where the organisation is going, what its targets are and their role in taking the business there. They have to be good at looking at the financials and understand the story it tells. It is not that these women are missing in these capabilities. However, they are misinformed in the advice that is given to them. The advice they are given is the one given to the previous group. It is possible that there has not been enough faith or appreciation of how ready these ladies may be to rise and sustain themselves at the helm of organisations. The door opener to the top layer is the business, strategic and financial expertise is never told to them. It is almost as if they are groomed to continue being in middle management. This conventional advice needs to change for them to be able to breakthrough.

3. Women coming back to work after a break
Organisations are looking to tap into this segment of latent talent to improve their diversity ratios. There is a pool of smart, intelligent women with good experience and work ethic that have taken a break typically to raise children. Once their children are reasonably independent, these women are ready to rejoin the workforce. There are lots of advantages for organisations to hire this segment.
•    They come back with a renewed energy and enthusiasm to be back in the work force, unlike some of the counterparts that have been in the same environment for years.
•    If they settle well in the company while striking a good personal life balance, the chances of them sticking around longer and helping maintain good employee engagement numbers is high.
•    Their on boarding costs compared to a fresh graduate are much lower since they are already familiar with the corporate culture.
•    They come back with a lot more maturity and high emotional quotient.
Various factors come into play preventing this from becoming a seamless transition.
•    They lack confidence due to the break they have taken. Instead of focusing on the skills they may have used during the break, they focus on their own lack of experience as they start interviewing. Very often their gap becomes a chip on their own shoulder. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Positioning the fresher perspective they have gained after their break and how they utilized their time towards personal growth, including what they read or learnt will help.
•    There are enough free resources available online to learn anything at all that one wants. Taking a few weeks to retool yourself in their area of job interest is a good idea.
•    Start-ups are always looking for free interns. Spending a quarter or two doing a free internship to learn the ropes of the current corporate environment while they continue your job search may be a good idea. It helps instill confidence in their capabilities, maybe even get hired by the same company, fills in experience in their resumes.
•    Seeking formal or informal mentors and having lots of conversations around strategies to rejoin the workforce is another way to go.
•    Having realistic expectations about salary is important.

While it is challenging, it is possible to bridge these gap areas and bring women leaders to the next level in their careers. This will benefit individuals, organizations, communities and the country as a whole.

Leadership for millennials: Unlearning past methods to create the perfect modern fit
What you stand for: Valuing your values during appraisals and performance reviews