The percentage of women in senior management positions has remained dismal for long, even after research indicating that gender diversity is the key to success for any company. We all know that leadership qualities are based on a person’s personal strengths and capabilities and cannot be influenced by his/her gender, however, gender gap and pay gap are also realities. So, is it that women are not saying yes to be at the head of the table or is the system still lacking in providing them with an inclusive environment? Recently the Dalai Lama too urged women to accept more leadership roles, “I urge young women to accept leadership roles. We need you to promote love and compassion. Realise my dream—that the 200 nations of the world be governed by women. There’ll be less war, violence, and economic and social injustice because strength is rooted in love and compassion.” So what is it that is stopping us?
Women in Parliaments
Even though the number of women heads of states as grown over the years the fact that women are under-represented in the governments of most countries is also not a surprise. The UN Women “Only 24.3 percent of all national parliamentarians were women as of February 2019”.
Women In Corporates
The Harvard Business Review quotes a research that says, “Only 4.9 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and two percent of S&P 500 CEOs are women. And those numbers are declining globally.” The same article highlights HBR’s own research which finds that “women in leadership positions are perceived just as — if not more — competent as their male counterparts,” when during 360 reviews women in leadership positions were judged on overall effectiveness and their specific competencies.
With the way the world is headed, we all want less war, less violence and economic and social injustice but efforts to recruit women to leadership roles will only succeed when there is a work culture where women can succeed. We all know that stereotypes die slow. And how unconscious biases play an important role in recruitment and promotion decisions. The same HBR article says as per the current data, “Women are perceived by their managers — particularly their male managers — to be slightly more effective than men at every hierarchical level.” And the result remains the same in traditional male bastions of IT, operations and legal.
Women undermine themselves
Sadly, when the report compares “confidence ratings,” it found that women are not very generous in giving themselves the highest ratings. The research also finds that women are less likely to apply for a position unless they find there is a perfect match to the listed qualifications while men are happy to apply if they believe they are “close enough”.
Efforts to recruit women to leadership roles will only succeed when there is a work culture where women can succeed.
Women view leadership differently
A 2015 study by talent management system Saba Software, conducted by the Harris Poll, suggests that men and women look at leadership differently. The report finds, “Sixty-five percent of women (versus 56 percent of men) said they view leaders as those who share their knowledge and connect with their colleagues to help the team and the business. When women bring this attitude into managerial roles, it may actually make them stronger, more effective leaders.”
Women are more hesitant to speak up about their career ambitions.
The study by Harris Poll also found that 60 percent of male employees expect their companies to play an active role in their individual career options, versus 49 percent of female employees.
Sadly, when the report compares “confidence ratings,” it found that women are not very generous in giving themselves the highest ratings.
How Media Reacts differently
It is true that female leaders are treated differently than male leaders. That difference in treatment is even highlighted in media coverages. “An analysis of news coverage of CEOs carried by the Rockefeller Foundation suggests that not only that the media covered the personal lives of female CEOs more frequently than male CEOs, but that 80 percent of news stories pegged the blame for failed company turnarounds to CEOs when they were women, compared to just 31 percent when they were men.”
Creating an inclusive culture will take time and the onus of it is on all stakeholders. Organizations need to shed unconscious biases and create opportunities and a suitable work culture where women are not judged for asking a work-life balance. Women too need to believe in themselves that they can achieve. As a society, we need to stop having different yardsticks for judging men and women. But most importantly, women need to continue to say all the uncomfortable things and get the conversations going so that it opens the doors for the future generation of female leaders in a boardroom where there is gender equality.
The views expressed are the author’s own.