India’s overall Female Workforce Participation rates which continue to hover at 20% have long been a much talked about area of concern for policymakers, government and economists alike. At the same time, another related challenge that needs to be addressed is the representation of women in leadership roles.
Gender parity at leadership level roles within Corporate India will not only pay a social dividend in the form of a more balanced and inclusive society, but diversity at leadership levels in corporate organizations has its own merit. Research clearly shows that diverse companies do better in the long run even financially and are more responsive and adapt better to changing market dynamics. They are simply more sustainable and likely to do well over longer periods. Additionally, more women in leadership roles are usually linked to higher job satisfaction and commitment to the organization — for people of all genders.
An increasing number of corporate organizations, both large and small, are realizing that there is an urgent need to boost the percentage of women in leadership roles, thereby improving gender parity at the leadership level. A recent study revealed that 44% of the companies polled had set a goal to increase female participation in leadership roles. Amongst these, it was the large enterprises that led the way with a massive 83% of them having the presence of a clear goal for increasing the number of women in leadership roles. We can expect that the post-pandemic era will see more women stepping up to take on leadership roles and organizations facilitating a conducive environment for this to happen.
While there are several structural barriers affecting the overall participation of women in leadership roles like access to opportunities and mentors, societal and family pressure to retain work-life balance which at times discourage women from pursuing an ambitious career path, there are also individual factors at play which deter women from actively pursuing leadership opportunities. Leadership potential and capability are gender-neutral but societal and behavioral biases present do pose some additional challenges for women leaders.
Given this context, aspiring women need to proactively plan their own journey towards a leadership role. They need to systematically pursue the opportunities that can help them take their career to the next level.
Since we are always more likely to be successful at something that we like doing, it is better to pursue opportunities in areas/industries that interest us. Having decided the domain to focus on, women must work on identifying and acquiring the hard and soft skills needed to be successful in the industry/ role of their choice.
To start with, assess as objectively as possible your strengths and personality traits. Be sure to balance self-perception against the feedback of others and accordingly decide what areas of development are for you.
In addition to ensuring competency in domain/functional skills, a higher Technology Quotient is becoming a critical skill for every leader. Women will also need to step up their game on this front and this is true for women across the board, not just those working in the tech or tech-enabled sector.
Being an effective or impactful leader is not just about the right kind of domain expertise or hard skills. The most successful leaders in the coming years will be those who will be able to build resilient, scalable, and capable teams. If we enable the growth of our team and organization, our own success will follow inevitably. A growth mindset, the ability to lead and drive change, empathy, and learnability are some important traits that women should prioritize and try to cultivate within themselves.
Further, Women as leaders – both in the Corporate sector and elsewhere - are often held to higher standards of performance – even by themselves. Women also more often than not tend to underplay their achievements and do not negotiate well in terms of asking for their growth.
Therefore it’s not enough for women to just believe in themselves but equally critical to come across as self-confident and be more proactive in showcasing their accomplishments. They should embrace courage, resilience and try to find mentors who can help them. Last but not least, we must also pay it forward by mentoring and guiding other young women into their professional journey.