Wanted: More Women Leaders – the Why and How

By : |October 28, 2020 0

Women leaders. Simply the use of the prefix- ‘women’ before leaders, signifies their under-representation. This is true across multiple sectors and spheres. Only 4.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women (HBR). The situation continues to be bleak in Government representation; in 2019 only 11 women served as Head of State and 12 as Head of Government. (UN Women)

Closer to home, women comprise only 3% of the CEOs and MDs of companies listed on the NSE (ET). In the development sector, as per Dasra’s study of 300+ social organisations in India; two-thirds of organisations have an under-representation of women in positions from managers and above. The difference becomes starker as the organisations grow in size.

And, these are simply examples of the lack of representation; they do not even begin to capture the multitude of challenges women face when they actually achieve this representation, on their path to leadership. This article sheds light on these challenges and the ways we can work to overcome them. But before that, one needs to understand why we need more women leaders.

We need more women leaders, but why?

Beyond the ideological debate of ensuring equality, evidence suggests that gender diversity leads to better productivity, innovation, decision-making, employee retention and satisfaction. A study of the BSE 100 showed that companies with women on their boards performed better (Dasra). Research on panchayats in India discovered that the number of drinking water projects in areas with women-led councils was 62% higher than in those with men-led councils (UN Women).

An HBR survey indicated that women scored statistically significantly higher than men on a majority of leadership competencies, taking initiative, acting with resilience, practising self-development, driving for results, and displaying high integrity and honesty. The global economic benefit to closing the gender gap in workforce participation by 2025 could be $28 trillion. (The Atlantic) Hence, it is not only the ‘right thing’ to do; to have equal representation of all genders, it is economically more prudent.

Then why aren’t there enough women leaders?

To answer, and understand solutions to address, this, Arthan in collaboration with The Rockefeller Foundation, working on a study on Women’s Leadership for the Development Sector that included interviews with 50+ development sector women leaders, a survey of 100+ development sector professionals, insights from male leaders coupled with secondary research. Of all senior leaders interviewed, 57% believe that women are under-represented across all levels, especially senior leadership.

The study found that there are a plethora of reasons; stemming from biases, both overt and covert. From the time women join the workforce, they are in an ecosystem with structures traditionally set with men in mind. According to Arthan’s survey, ~50% of women have been asked personal questions about marriage plans and children during interviews. Later, women continue to face performance support, review and reward bias (~50% of women interviewed had been passed over for a promotion that they rightfully deserved over a male colleague).

The proportion of women to men drastically falls as one moves up the organisational hierarchy. Factors for this include -safety concerns and culture, unsaid biases and microaggressions, marriage, motherhood and so on. In 2018, an ILO report found that globally 606 million working-age women declared themselves unavailable for employment due to unpaid care work, while only 41 million men were inactive for this reason.

What can we do?

To be gender-responsive and inclusive, a company requires deliberate effort on the part of all stakeholders; from adopting inclusive policies to their fair, effective implementation to behaviour change regarding deep-rooted biases.

A few examples include- a fair recruitment and talent management process; leadership demonstrating that you will not tolerate a culture of bias; gender sensitisation training, mentoring, safety, flexible policies for men and women; so that the culture does not reinforce gender roles. (76.2% women Arthan interviewed believe flexible working hours and policies are important to help them continue working efficiently, however, only 49% organisations provide any kind of flexible working options right now), paternal leave, networking and the support of men as allies.

It will be many, many years before we hope to achieve gender parity, but they work for this has to begin now. According to WEF, an immense challenge preventing the economic gender gap from closing is women’s under-representation in emerging roles. Let’s take action now, for the future of women leaders and future women leaders.

[The article is written by Anchal Kakkar, Co-founder, Arthan]

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