The Real Reason We Have Too Few Women Leaders At The Workplace

Women leaders are more likely to invest in people over processes, and prove time and again to approach decision making with empathy. They are less transactional and more tactical in their relationship with employees, leading to lower attrition levels and development of talent.

A few years ago, a high performing woman in my team put in her resignation. She was in line for a promotion so her resignation at this point was confusing. After much prodding, she confessed that the resignation was due to pressure from her family to conceive. She was already suffering from PCOS and her family believed that work stress was contributing to the infertility.

I changed her profile so she would have a lighter load at work and not attrite from my team and from the corporate world. Experience had taught me that women who attrite for personal reasons like these, rarely make it back.

Every year we lose 18% of women from the corporate workforce. Reasons like the above top the list. Others include family pressure to marry, lack of support to manage home and work, care of aged parents/in laws, relocation of spouse for better career prospects and most important – pregnancy and child care. In every situation, it is the woman who is asked to make the sacrifice. A woman’s career is still considered subordinate to her male partner’s, her income supplementary.

Sexist workplace culture

Within workspaces also, there are areas that are gender discriminatory.

We know that networking in corporates is an important skill/tool to climb the ladder. Networking most often happens during smoke breaks and over drinks in the evening. Women are pretty much kept away from these spaces and hence lose out on important information sharing opportunities. If on the off chance a woman was invited, she’d have to sit through an evening of rowdy jokes, most of which would be sexist and downright offensive, and possibly will have to deal with being called unsavoury names the next morning for so much as having a couple of drinks with the men. Women have learnt to politely refuse such invitations, even if it means slower growth.

Sexist jokes at the workplace in fact, deserve a write up of their own. Women continue to be a minority in meetings and board rooms and hence are completely ignored while cishet men, oblivious to the discomfort they are causing continue to crack them. I have never been able to understand why profanity is frowned upon, but jokes on say, marriage are ok? It is exhausting to call out these problematic jokes, especially when you stick out like a sore thumb. And let’s be honest, calling your boss out on his ribald sense of humour isn’t going to get you anywhere, is it?

MeToo brought to light so much that was suppressed

As if there wasn’t enough stacked against women in work spaces, Metoo showed us how many women undergo sexual harassment at work. As conversations open up, we see that there isn’t one type of a victim/survivor, but there is one type of predator. The one who looks for the most vulnerable, and plays hard to get her to lower her defenses.

Sexual predators exist in all industries, with the single agenda to control the victim’s mind and body. While most corporates do have a robust POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harrasment) policy today, cases still go unreported. Policies can only do so much when society continues to be regressive and treats women as objects of sexual gratification. However, Metoo and media exposure have opened the door for women to report sex crimes, and I am hopeful that most corporates take this seriously. That there is reprisal today for sexual harassment is still small consolation when a woman is put through this harrowing, horrific experience.

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Attrition means fewer women at the top

Since there is only a smattering of women in middle and senior roles, obviously older women leaders are rare. While we gush with unbridled excitement over Indra Nooyi or Kiran Mazumdar, we need to raise our voices louder over this inadequate representation of working women that has come to be, because of patriarchy.

Older women at the work place also have to put up with ageist jokes. Cis het men don’t seem to get that the jokes are possible BECAUSE the women are there and haven’t dropped off the workforce after life altering personal transitions like marriage and pregnancy. Ageism has no place in a woman’s life who is juggling different roles at the same time and trying to keep her head above water. Cis het men need to acknowledge how easy they have it as compared to a career woman, and instead of plying her with meaningless accolades of praise, step up to the game and contribute to the domestic load.

There is enough research to show that women are more productive at work. The reason although unfortunate, is that women don’t have the luxury of time – to slack off, take frequent smoke breaks, chat by the water cooler. They have a laundry list of stuff to do – both at work and home, and so they get cracking at it fast.

Cis Het men need pull up themselves

Despite women being powerful agents of change, they continue to be under represented in decision making roles.

Women leaders are critical to advancing gender justice and parity. An equal society cannot be created when only 1 gender – cis males – has sole decision making power impacting all other gender minorities. Women leaders have proven to be more likely to coach, to lead through example aligning with meaning and purpose. They are more likely to invest in people over processes, and prove time and again to approach decision making with empathy. They are less transactional and more tactical in their relationship with employees, leading to lower attrition levels and development of talent.

As a woman who inhabits the corporate world, I would tell men – do better. Get more women you know personally and professionally to hold their jobs. If you are in a position of power, make the workspace safe and comfortable for her. If you must, make concessions for her timings.

Remember, you – the cis man, is the reason she doesn’t have the entitlement you have. So, when you expect her to work as late as your male employees, do try to atleast get her a safe ride home. Call out sexism when you see it – the bro code of laughing at another man’s offensive joke needs to go out of fashion fast. And if you have a woman boss? Consider yourself lucky.

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About the Author

Poornima Kulathu

I am a banker, author, poet and an intersectional feminist. Speaking up on social issues, mentoring and coaching and cooking up a storm for friends and a certain strapping 21 year old boy are what read more...

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