Moving From Hiring To Sustainability Needs Us To Include Women In Leadership 

While companies push to hire more women, data shows that in most workplaces, women still occupy very few leadership positions. What are the best practices to change this scenario?

The drive to establish gender-equal workplaces is gaining momentum in India Inc. With just over 50% of women in the global workforce and even fewer in India, corporates are engaging in more conversations about women at work. However, when we look at the gender distribution, we often find that women flourish in entry or mid-level positions, but do not rise to leadership roles.

In the evolving corporate landscape where women are changemakers, we at Women’s Web engaged in a roundtable to dive into the reality of women in leadership positions. Our roundtable included Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) experts from leading companies and focused on how organizations enable best practices to help women climb the corporate ladder.

The reality of women in leadership

While plenty of conversation about women in leadership has an empowering effect, is it enough? Shilpi Chugh, Head of HR for Dyson, says, “Organizations need to authentically believe and measure equal representation of women in the workforce. Doing so will make everyone accountable for the balance. The dialogue around gender balance is empowering but there is a need to amplify it more.” 

Bhuvana Subramanyan, a Marketing Leader with over 27 years of experience, says, “Advocacy and allyship are often part of larger corporates and MNCs. We see changes as discussions around gender equality emerge. However, we must accept the reality where practices are missing from the system and at the individual level.” 

The conversation highlights a shift in the awareness of women in leadership roles. However, tangible actions enabling women as leaders have yet to reach their potential fully.

Poulami Majumdar, Global Lead – Equity and Fairness DEI Consulting, Cisco Systems, says of the industry at large, “We have to build a conscious workplace culture that looks at skillset development. Once implemented, organizations must sustain the culture to transform the reality of women in leadership.” 

Similarly, Shyamasree Chakrabarty, Senior Director at Happy Plus Consulting, points out, “We are enabling hiring – we see women at work. However, we miss out on including them in the career ladder.”

Focused on these aspects, we understand the challenges women face at work

Unconscious bias 

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A prevalent unconscious bias against working women is that they are loosely committed to work when at a marriage or child-bearing age. Shyamasree says, “Unconscious biases have and continue to hinder growth opportunities for women.” 

How do we address unconscious bias? Bhuvana says, “Organizations must create relevant awareness opportunities to help employees across the gender spectrum realize the impact of unconscious biases that can later develop into conscious biases. These opportunities include workshops, training sessions, on-the-floor interactions, and more.”

Lack of mentoring 

With very few women in leadership positions, the opportunities for women to connect with other role models for guidance and mentorship are limited.

Poulami points out, “Organizations need to ensure there are enough women in senior leadership positions to act as role models for women who aspire to shatter the glass ceiling.”

Skewed use of metrics 

We often have metrics that focus only on hiring women – they show women’s representation in the workforce. However, when we look at metrics around women’s promotions or their growth in their fields, the data reflects where we lack.

While organizations conduct drives to hire women and attract them to the workforce, they must create environments wherein women can thrive. Therefore, if we are to study the presence of women in leadership roles, we need to examine and analyze various metrics.

Missing accountability

While policies strengthen women’s representation in the system, the absence of inclusive practices weakens their career growth opportunities. Shilpi says, “Organizations need to authentically believe and measure equal representation of women in the workforce. Doing so will make them accountable for the balance.”

Women have limited opportunities to claim senior positions when organizations provide superficial career growth opportunities. The problem, however, can be resolved.

Best practices

Having addressed the problems that lead to women’s absence from leadership roles, the D&I experts at the Women’s Web roundtable focus on solutions and best practices that enable women to lead. The following are effective strategies:

  • Access to hybrid work models and flexible timings helps women manage professional commitments with personal responsibilities
  • Enablement of on-the-job learning opportunities that support upskilling required to reach senior positions
  • Showcasing women as mentors and acknowledging that their talent influences other women to take on leadership roles
  • The provision of reasonable accommodations to support women during life-altering events such as marriage, childbirth, or menopause help balance work without losing opportunities
  • Return to Work programs or Career Reboot Coaching help women rejoin the workforce without worrying about career stagnation.

Women’s representation in leadership roles requires immense effort. However, as we recognize the best practices, we must stick to them to retain women in the workplace. As the D&I experts state, even if inclusion and equality policies exist, we must ensure organizations enable us to claim our place.

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About the Author

Rhea Sakhardande

I am a researcher working toward understanding the complex fabric of society. I have a Master's degree in Sociology and am currently exploring Diversity and Inclusion in corporate spaces. read more...

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