During a recent speaking engagement with a women's cohort at a company in Bangalore, I was asked a thought-provoking question during the Q&A session. A participant inquired, "While progress has been made in increasing women's leadership roles, gender diversity in corporate boardrooms remains a global issue. Why do you think this is the case?
Here's my take on this.
From my seventeen years of experience coaching both men and women, I've noticed that women often unwittingly impede their own progress and success.
Despite encountering opportunities, many women hesitate to take the necessary steps to advance. This tendency can create a barrier to women's representation at the senior level of organisations.
Let me share a real-life example of Megan, one of my coaching clients. She is a senior manager at a well-known IT firm in Milpitas, San Jose. Her company hired me to coach three of their leaders, among which one was Megan, and the other two were male executives. Now, Megan is an intelligent tech leader; she works hard and is known to deliver results. Her team loves her and respects her. Her boss was keen on giving her some high-visibility projects and moving her into a senior leadership role. Our coaching sessions were going well, and in the first month of the session, on a Friday afternoon, she called me to share the great news. As I picked up her call, I heard an enthusiastic Megan saying, 'Payal, guess what? My boss called me this morning and said I should be heading the North Europe project for the next seven months. It's a huge one, Payal, all thanks to you for bringing about this change in me,'
"Wow, this is incredibly amazing news, Megan," I said. "So what's the deal?" I asked. "Ah, Megan replied, still enthusiastic about the project. 'I will be the senior head of the department to bring about some reorganisation so that the client portfolio in North Europe increases by 150%."
"This is a game-changer for your career, Megan,' I said to her happily.
'Yes, it is Payal, but,' Megan paused, and it was a long pause. 'But I must decline it.'
'Decline it; why?' I asked shockingly and confusedly. I knew Megan always had it in her to grow and do something big, like each of us.
'Well, Payal, they want me to relocate to Europe for months to bring this project to life. And I know I can't consider this move even for a month. I mean, you know, Payal, I have two girls, and they are in middle school. The house, my husband, and the girls. Goodness, God. Who will manage all of this? Maybe next time, I will opt for it. I must pass it on, this time," she said with a deep sigh.
Let me tell you, our coaching sessions took a dramatic turn after this conversation. I knew that Megan would need to transform her thinking and behaviour, or she would miss many more opportunities. Megan finally took that role in North Europe after my in-depth discussion with her.
But many women like Megan let opportunities pass them by. The corporate world is full of possibilities. I have witnessed how women are given opportunities, but they decline them.
Here are a few internal shifts every woman in the corporate world must bring about if we want to see them.
Make family your partner in growth: Megan internally took it upon herself that she was responsible for the house and that everything fell on her shoulders. What was needed was for her to sit and speak things out across the table to her husband and kids. Always make your family your partner in your growth. Talk to them about your growth plans and how everyone can be a part of them. Share responsibilities as much as possible. Make your growth a family affair, and let others know how keen you are.
Grab opportunities: Megan knew sixty per cent of the job in the new role offered but was also hesitant to take it up because she felt she needed to gain knowledge on the non-technical side of the job. She focused on the forty per cent she did not know and was making the decision to let go of the role. Women need to focus on what they know, take the job, and learn the rest.
Learn the language of business: Megan's most significant strength, which differentiated her from the other women around her, was her business sense. Many women are technically skilled at the job but need to speak the language of business. Begin to take an interest in the company's bottom line. Read about other companies' P & L statements. Speak about business and numbers at the meeting.
I've always believed that discrimination is more inside our heads than out there. Today, what is needed most is for women to bring about a change in their thinking and behaviours.
At every company's women's day event, I share with women tips and techniques to bring about an internal shift in their thinking so their actions can be different and better, which would help them and the organisation grow.