International Women’s Day is around the corner, and it is a time when organizations and individuals alike deliberate about empowering women professionals and breaking the glass ceiling. In 2017, the United Nations’ theme for the day was “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”. Despite such emphasis on women leaders, achieving this goal continues to seem like a herculean task. Only 24 of the CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies are women, and this seems to be the leadership trend across most organizations. The obvious question that is being asked for decades is ‘why?’, especially when one continues creating reservation policies to enable women to receive basic rights and privileges.
The issue is twofold – (1) why organizations balk at the idea of hiring women for senior leadership roles, and (2) why women hesitate to take up the mantle of responsibility. Interestingly, the gender disparity in Senior Leadership teams isn’t a result of women dropping out to have babies; instead, the scarcity of women leaders is attributed to:
(a) an unconscious bias: As stated by Sheryl Sandberg, in her book ‘Lean In’, success and likeability are positively correlated to men, and negatively to women
(b) lack of work life-balance: Because of this unconscious bias, women have to work much harder than their male counterparts to prove themselves
(c) absence of women role models in senior positions: Women leaders only account for 3% of senior leadership across the globe
It is interesting that women professionals face these challenges in their careers when a McKinsey research reveals that companies with gender diversity outperform their competitors by 15 percent.
How can organizations alleviate these discrepancies?
- Being aware that there is a bias and changing mindsets through active coaching. Organizations like Google and Facebook have made their Bias training courses public for the benefit of other organizations.
- Ensure that hiring, promotions, appraisals are fair, and eradicating gender-specific pay gaps for the same roles. According to the survey conducted by Fairygodboss, a website for women to review their companies, Boston Consulting Group fulfils these criteria and was voted the top company to work for by its women personnel.
- Flexibility to blend work with personal lives, has become a priority for professionals, especially women, to choose or continue a job. RMSI Private Limited, a global IT services company, offers women an extended maternity leave, flexible working hours/part time, work from home options, as well as an option to take a short-term break in careers.
- Results oriented work environment. Shifting focus from time logs to accountability and results increases productivity and return on investment for organizations and employees alike UK-based E-Learning company MindTools has found great success operating on this model
How do women right the wrong?
Studies indicate that women are predisposed to accept blame and give out or share credit, often leading to self-sabotage.
Practicing confidence, openness and honesty, and displaying solidarity with other women to help others realise that women in Senior Leadership Team are not aggressive, but, possess splendid executive leadership skills is the way forward to address some of the biases around women leaders.
Women Leadership – a worry or win?
Researchers reveal that women adopt a transformational leadership style displaying trustworthiness, collaboration, charisma, intellectual stimulation, and empathy that motivates their followers (Bass & Riggio, 2006, as cited in Matsa & Miller, 2013).
Women leaders are also held in high regard for their mentoring skills. Therefore, more women equate to more problem solving.
Gender disparity starts top down. A 2016 survey conducted in trade companies across 91 countries concluded that “the presence of more female leaders in top positions of corporate management correlates with increased profitability of these companies”.
The ideal scenario for women in leadership position would not only mean success in their positions but being liked for their achievements; as Geraldine Ferraro, an American attorney said, “Some leaders are born women.”