The 2018 list of top 100 CEOs of the world has one woman. A similar list for India has four women. Both lists have a dismal range of 1% to 4% women. In 2017, 25% of the Indian labour force was women and this figure nearly doubles in USA, Canada, Japan and EU. The situation is grim at a global level. In 2018, 24 women (4.8%) were CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. Women occupy 24% of senior roles globally. In 2017, women formed 22% of EC roles in the Americas, 15% in Europe, and 4% in Asia. A mere 15% of board directors were women in 2017. For the same year, the global average annual salary of women was 12000 USD as compared to 21000 USD of the men.

So where are the women?

Even if they are present in the workforce largely in some nations and to a smaller extent in others like India, they seem to be missing to the point of not being there at all at the top level. According to IMF, a mere addition of the missing Indian women to the workforce would make the world’s biggest democracy richer by 27%. Yet, there were five women in the 2010 list of top 100 CEOs of India and the scene is unchanged today; they are numerically lesser in fact. In the quest for making the workplace better for women, the government introduced a longer maternity leave; some experts suggest that the workforce lost more women as the decision irked some organizations.

Even if they are present in the workforce largely in some nations and to a smaller extent in others like India, they seem to be missing to the point of not being there at all at the top level.

Since, we have cried ourselves hoarse over gender discrimination and biases against women or safety at workplace, let us keep that aside and deal with the other issues on hand which could make the work environment less or more conducive for women who aspire to be leaders.

Lack of women in the top jobs means that there are lack of role models for women who aspire to take leadership roles

It is true that supervisors play a significant role in encouraging their team members to grow and aspire for bigger roles. The idea here is not to make a person a leader but to make them believe in the possibility and that they are equally likely to be appointed a leader than the next man. Men enjoy legitimate power owing to their position and therefore knowledge power because of their experience in that position and sometimes even referent power- the ability to convey a sense of acceptance or approval, which means they are able to influence both men and women who admire or respect them.

Since there are lesser women in leadership roles, women tend to gravitate towards the men of power and hence go to them for important decisions instead of going to a woman in a legitimately important position. Even if she could be the decision maker in a case, the right to make that decision is often bestowed upon the male leader by both men and women. Since men and women have different leadership styles, it is often difficult for women to model themselves in the leadership role, as they do not see women leaders in action. The more we hire or promote women in these jobs, the more the young women will be able to visualize themselves in a leadership role.

Since there are lesser women in leadership roles, women tend to gravitate towards the men of power and hence go to them for important decisions instead of going to a woman in a legitimately important position.

It helps that men are able to bond with the bosses whereas women hesitate to bond with the male bosses outside work

While most young women join the work place aspiring to grow to the top roles, they lose their confidence as they grow up the ladder because they do not get the opportunity of socializing with leadership. Recently we saw a news report about two CEOs bonding with each other. How often do we see similar reports on women CEOs or even women and men CEOs? Alternatively, how often does one see a woman having a backslapping, fist-thumping and high-fiving situation with the boss outside work? More often than not, we see that men prefer a male boss and hence this bro-code or bromance works well for a male leader.

Organizations tend to overestimate men’s performance and hence hire or promote them basis potential. In contrast, organizations tend to underestimate women’s performance and hence hire or promote them on basis of track record.

The biggest pitfall when it comes to hiring the right person is the lack of objective decision-making process that removes the bias between the genders. I work in a woman-dominated industry and I do end up preferring women in some of the roles and therefore get told that men are gender-disadvantaged in the team! Hence, surveys on equality in the workforce will not give the right perspective if men do not answer them taking due consideration to the women’s point of view, who are the minority or in some rare cases, the other way round. Therefore, such surveys will not help organizations fathom the unfairness in the workplace.

More often than not, we see that men prefer a male boss and hence this bro-code or bromance works well for a male leader.

Sense of victimization

It is a vicious cycle. Women tend to feel that the workplace is unfair to them and they are not promoted due to their gender so while they tend to work harder they fight less for a raise or a promotion or a change of title and therefore are not represented when the recommendations go to the board.

Microaggression is a thing for women

Studies prove that minor discriminations negatively affect the health of women especially their blood pressure. The resultant stress causes negative side effects, weight gain being one of them. Microaggression is a situation where women are less likely to be believed or given credit and more likely to be mistaken for being a newbie or a junior in the organization than the men.

Often women find themselves as the only woman in a roomful of leaders

The sole woman in the room ends up trying harder and perhaps even being patronized or mansplained. “Let the lady speak!” or “We need one woman at least to volunteer.” How many times have you been at the receiving end of such comments?

Even when women are in relatively significant number like say 10-15%, they are picked at by the men

Why are the women sitting together? I have an easy way to deal with such statement. I protest; why are the men sitting together and invite them to sit amidst my close-knit clique of women.

The essential need of the hour is to give the women their fair due, equal pay for equal work and equal right of refusal to an opportunity.

To conclude, it is not enough that we hire women, make a smattering of women-friendly policies or keep the legally mandatory number of women in the top job. It is not enough that we pat ourselves on our backs if we have a certain percentage of women in the organization. It is not sufficient to consider women only for certain types of jobs. The essential need of the hour is to give the women their fair due, equal pay for equal work and equal right of refusal to an opportunity. It is important that women be coached for leadership positions basis their potential and not just their past performance or the number of maternity breaks they have taken. Change cannot happen in a day. Corporates cannot absolve themselves by hiring one or two women in the top jobs. The change has to be visible across the board at all levels.

Organizations must begin with removing gender bias in promotions at the ground level. They must place women in important places like Team Leads, Department Heads, Divisional Presidents, and Executive Board. Women can become leaders only if they get the opportunity to work their way to it, just as the men. It is ridiculous to assume that one can pluck women leaders out of thin air. They come to the leadership role from the layer below and if that layer has no women, the answer to this conundrum of vanishing women is a no-brainer.

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Riti Prasad is the author of Double Trouble, Double Fun!: A Supermom’s Guide to Raising Twins, Wicked Temptations and Mathematics Fun, Fact and Fiction. She works in the Fragrance Industry as Creation Head. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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