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Ever calculated the percentage of women that occupy top management positions in your company? If it's dismal, then your calculation is right. corporate India ladies share startling hidden truths that restrict a woman's journey to the top
Hidden truth No. 1: Companies with a high representation of women on their board of directors significantly outperform those with low representation by 84 per cent on ROS (Return on Sales). Yet, fostering women leadership is not a priority!
Pallavi Jha, chairperson & MD, Dale Carnegie Training India: Just three per cent of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Hence, with such a huge dearth of female role models, how can the existing women workforce march ahead? Women constitute about half of India's total population and we produce more female graduates than males. Yet, the rise of women to the top is restricted due to two key factors: a) there is a big dropout of young women from the workforce before they transition to mid-levels on account of what is known as the ‘nesting' syndrome as they settle down in their personal lives, and b) many who do make the successful transition stagnate at the workplace due to the existence of the glass ceiling and stereotypes in most cases. Those who continue despite social pressures, are often shielded from ‘extreme' jobs and refrained from critical (read: senior) responsibilities.
Geetha Kannan, an HR consultant on diversity and inclusion and member of the CII Karnataka Women Business Leaders Forum: A study by Women in Leadership (WILL) Forum shows that Indian companies have much lower women representation in senior positions compared to MNCs. And the main barrier is the cultural resistance from within the company itself. Also, the challenges faced in the workplace can be attributed to the differences in the way boys and girls are/were raised, right? Firstly, a common bias at the workplace is the negative stereotyping of working mothers. In my previous company, many women colleagues complained that they were not allotted onsite assignments as the male team members ‘assumed' they would not be interested due to other (read: family) commitments. Researchers state that ‘a lot of people rate the same performance as better when told it was done by a man.'
Hidden truth No. 2: Only 17 per cent of Indian companies offer leadership development programmes targeted towards women
Kalpana Margabandhu, director, India Software Lab, IBM India: Are we ensuring there are enough women in all talent development programmes? Is the HR manager approaching women candidates for key leadership opportunities? In the case of women who may opt for a sabbatical, there ought to be a special programme to help them come back. This is to assign them critical roles after a bridge programme, so that they are not refrained from key ‘senior' jobs.
Cecy Kuruvilla, global director - leadership development/diversity, Sodexo Remote Sites & Asia - Australia (AMECAA): Relationship-building strategies are often important for a woman's career advancement; they need to communicate their career aspirations and seek feedback from their superiors; taking initiative to increase visibility in the organisation is a successful strategy. But how many companies encourage the above? Mapping out a career plan, encouraging the creation of women's networks, getting a senior mentor (who could be a male) are all steps that need to be adopted.
Hidden truth No. 3: A working mother needs not only a flexi-plan, but also a career growth one
Margabandhu: Firstly, the regular ‘flexi' benefits should be rolled out to all and not just women. Apart from these, employees benefit greatly through mentoring programmes, job rotation, learning and exposure to working in a global environment. All these provide an insight into the larger roles that women aspire for, but are refrained from. Women crave for challenging opportunities, exciting assignments internationally, visibility to the top echelons of the organisation, opportunities to drive change - irrespective of her family duties.
Jha: At work, the ambitions begin to conflict when women ‘settle down'. At this point, they undergo stress and turn to their employers to provide them with a socially acceptable window to balance their priorities. It is here where all the flexi benefits help the individual crossover to a full routine in a couple of years. However, women also recognise that to reach senior levels, only a part-time work- from-home approach won't work, as they feel challenged when they see other colleagues move ahead during this period. It is here where the employer can provide fast-track training with a clear career development plan to mainstream the person back into the system again.
Hidden truth No. 4: Women must adopt strategies different from their male colleagues' to advance their careers
Deepali Bagati, senior advisor, Catalyst: When women were proactive in making their achievements known and proactively networked with influential others, they advanced further and increased their compensation growth. Making their achievements known did not impact men's careers. Also, because men receive the benefits of sponsorship from leaders and women are mentored more, rather than sponsored, men get promoted more. Their sponsors tend not to be at the level of those who sponsor men. Exclusion from informal networks would make it difficult to find sponsors or mentors, and, women would in effect have to adopt more proactive methods to make their achievements visible. Women leaders tend to be labelled as ‘less assertive' or ‘less competitive' and there arises a need to prove themselves again and again, before they are promoted.
Kuruvilla: Research has shown that male stereotyping often results in women needing to work harder to get the same rewards. Likelihood that women will leave to have a family; cannot work long hours/travel and even bias around women who do not have children/ family obligations have somehow put their careers before family needs, make the climb to the top for women harder than men. Though researchers identify emotional intelligence and empathy as female leadership traits, companies fail to understand that they also take more calculated risks in business than their male counterparts.
- Viren Naidu
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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