Women in leadership: Overcoming the Top Barriers to Career Advancement
By Arijit Banerjee
It’s commonplace to see organizations championing women’s causes, senior leaders promoting gender diversity initiatives, management team members attending diversity panels, and inspiring women leaders to address employees. It makes one believe that corporate India is finally ready - with equal representation of men and women leaders at the helm. Data, however tells a very different story. India ranked 142 out of 149 countries in the economic opportunity and participation sub-index of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018. The report also suggested the need for improvements across board to get more women into senior professional roles as women occupy only a tiny share of the top leadership pie in major corporates.
While there are a number of deterrents and barriers in play when it comes to women’s advancement at work, here are the top four biases organizations need to look out for:
Creating gender parity
According to McKinsey, India has one of the largest opportunities in the world to boost GDP by advancing women’s equality—$770 billion of additional GDP by 2025—but this would require holistic change. To bridge gaps, it’s important for organizations to focus on ways to create gender equity across the employee lifecycle. This not only involves reducing initial hiring biases but also having mechanisms in place to provide impartial opportunities to women candidates for advancement, monitoring, and managing their progress.
Many leading companies are already offering mentorship opportunities and creating an ecosystem that encourages greater participation of women. Intel runs a “pay it forward” program that identifies promising female employees and engages them in a mentorship program to groom the next generation of leaders. Sandra Lopez, VP at Intel, is one such leader and a product of their sponsorship program
Breaking the glass ceiling
India ranks fifth lowest - among 35 countries - for having women in top roles, according to a Grant Thornton 2018 report. When there is a low representation of women in the workplace, the enterprise loses out on skills, ideas and perspectives that are critical for embracing change and capitalizing on new opportunities. Many organizations are implementing initiatives such as leadership training programs, designed specifically for women employees, to help them break the corporate glass ceiling and thrive.
The Coca Cola group started a leadership program, exclusively for their female employees, when they faced a management crisis back in 2014 due to the extremely low level involvement of its women employees. The program was designed keeping in view the specific requirements of the female population. It aimed to create more women leaders by boosting confidence and helping women take on new challenges, and encouraging them to participate in male-dominated functions such as sales, operations and manufacturing.
Bouncing back into work
Typically companies strive to achieve a healthy gender ratio at entry-level positions. The numbers however start dwindling significantly as they climb up the ladder. Career breaks, that many women take to manage family expectations such as childcare and elder care, is a major culprit behind these numbers. Almost 20 million Indian women have dropped out of the workforce, making it imperative for organizations to offer reskilling and upskilling programs in relevant technologies when they re-enter the workforce.
VMware’s Taara, Vodafone’s Re-connect, PayPal’s Recharge, Amazon’s Rekindle are examples of such ‘back to work’ initiatives that aim to help women assimilate back into the workforce quickly - through structured onboarding, flexible work options, and skill training programs.
Networking for success
Networking isn’t part of many school curriculums, yet men leverage networking for growth - something that women are typically not accustomed to. A recent study published by SAGE Journals found that women’s professional networks are often less effective than men’s. Creating forums or platform that offer a healthy mix of social connections, support, and motivation is a pre-requisite for intellectual, professional and financial growth of women employees. Such initiatives help women carve a niche for themselves and grow their personal brands.
Caterpillar launched its WIN (Women’s initiative network) as early as 2006 to provide personal and professional development opportunities to their female employees by empowering networks and connections. With a slew of global events as well as local chapters, WIN provides a platform for the company’s future women leaders to enhance their effectiveness via networking, information exchange and mentor/mentee relationships.
Ensuring diversity on board
Fostering gender diversity is no longer a feminist notion and has come to occupy an essential place in the corporate agenda. Using automated and assessment tools in the hiring process can help organizations eliminate gender bias and improve employee onboarding and experience. Clearly, cultural shift in the mindset combined with internal policy changes and relevant technology tools is needed to accelerate the transition of women employees to the top.