Hurdles faced and how to overcome them.
India is one of the fastest growing economies of the world. The finance ministry projects a GDP growth rate of almost 7% and India is likely to become the third largest economy behind USA and China by 2030. Despite all this growth and development, the percentage of women in the workforce is a dismal 19%. Clearly if India has to continue to grow at the same pace, this number has to reach at least 40%.
These numbers get even more grave when you look at leadership roles taken up by women in India. Amongst the Fortune 100 companies in India, only five have women CEOs. Globally, there is actually an increase in the number of women taking up senior leadership roles. In 2021, there were 31% women in senior management – the highest number ever recorded. 90% of companies worldwide have at least one woman in a senior management role as of the same year.
Having had the privilege of working with many women leaders during my career and coaching many of them too, here are some of the realizations which have occurred as to some key reasons for lack of growth of women leaders in India.
Social Conditioning and Biases
“I am a woman, I am supposed to ….”, “It’s hard for women to….”, “I am expected to….”, “It is my job to….”, these are some standard limiting beliefs I have heard from women as reasons for not pursuing something they want to. This clearly points to social conditioning and biases. While there is clearly a movement away from this and more awareness and openness are starting to creep in, many women are still strongly trapped in the clutches of these kind of conditioning. Perhaps as a result of parenting, social structures and other factors. Women tend to deal with pressures from various people around them including parents, society, in-laws, spouse and children.
Some research has shown that women returning to work after having a child is only around 30% in India. While this number may vary depending on the geography and sector, overall, it gives us a fair indication. There are perhaps various factors to this. The social conditioning that it is a woman’s role to raise children, unfriendly employment laws and lack of flexibility at work force are many of them. Forget men with lack of empathy, I have seen even women leaders themselves hesitant to hire other women back after they have taken a long break from work. Guilt is another aspect which comes naturally to a woman much faster than their male counterparts, blaming themselves for things they really should not and therefore taking the entire responsibility of raising the children themselves.
I have often seen that everything really boils down to self-confidence at the core. In a board room full of men, often the loudest person rules. Many women, though bright and intelligent are often overshadowed by their alpha male bullies. Sexist and intimidating comments from the male colleagues are mainstream. This makes many women feel that there is no use saying anything. The fear of saying something wrong and coming out in a wrong way holds many women back in expressing themselves. Sometimes this also stems from the need of perfection. It is important to work on this aspect by staying abreast of the current skills, building competencies, and speaking boldly and objectively.
Women are more likely to follow the rules than their male counterparts in my observation, having led many teams. Loyalty and ethics also mean a lot more to them. Empathy driven by emotions can be a big strength for women at the workplace. While emotions can be a big strength, if not managed properly, it can be very harmful and cause unnecessary issues and there is a lack of objectivity. Taking things personally rather than looking at it as a specific issue sometimes moves people towards negativity. This causes a defensive behaviour and a huge amount of insecurity at the workplace.
It always starts with the awareness of these aspects and working on breaking the biases. Coaching is an effective way of helping people deeply introspect and work on some of the aspects as above, and keep them away from the career derailers.
Power of Diversity
We have to acknowledge that both women and men have their own strengths and we have to work towards making India a more equitable place in terms of its workforce. There is no second thought that if India has to grow at a rate of over 5% year on year. Diversity in the work place is no longer a “nice” thing to have and just a fashion statement. It is a definite need for sustainable growth of organizations and the nation as a whole.
I do hope more organizations commit to invest on the growth of their women leaders while educating their male counterparts of the sensitivities of working with the opposite gender and people of all sections of the society.