Everyone talks about how "women can't have it all", especially working women. Studies reveal how, even today, there are numerous barriers stopping women from achieving senior positions at work. Research shows that India ranks the third lowest when it comes to having women in leadership roles.
There’s always plenty of evidence proving that it's diversity in the workplace which helps a business grow. Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that gender-diverse companies outperform others financially by 15 per cent. It also showed that ethnically diverse workplaces outperform by as much as 35 per cent. However, despite evidence, there is still an unfortunate gap between the number of men and women in the workplace, especially further up the leadership ladder. Let's take a deeper look at barriers causing this.
What are the existing barriers preventing women from being at the top?
A number of factors influence the progression of women to senior positions in organisations.
Several biases influence perceptions about the potential of women to fulfil senior positions. The fact that women have repeatedly been under-represented showcases the set bar on expectations organisations have from women. Organisations overlook women's professional skills and take decisions according to their own agenda. This derails the global push for gender balance in leadership roles.
Stereotype set-ups reinforcing male-dominated norms influence perceptions about what it takes to be successful. Believe it or not, these norms dictate that women ape male behavioural traits to prove that they’re performing and delivering results, rather than achieving them in their natural way. These norms involve a denial of identity for women to fit in and be accepted by the dominant group.
Several women leaders suggest that it's women who need to now take charge in their own hands and shackle the age-old patriarchal system. At a recent panel discussion at the Times LitFest-Delhi, the speakers discussed at length about patriarchy, glass ceilings, and leadership roles. Shaili Chopra, founder of SheThePeople.TV, acknowledged how patriarchy is the formative barrier for women. "There is an overhang of patriarchy that stops women from climbing the corporate ladder. It has been a challenging landscape for women. This is a cultural issue," she said.
Why aren't women a revenue story? Why are there so less CEOs who are women? Why aren't more women at the top in the corporate world? @shailichopra speaks on breaking the glass ceiling at @TimesLitFestDel #TimesLitFestDelhi pic.twitter.com/H15zIJZXqp— SheThePeople (@SheThePeopleTV) December 2, 2018
Failing to change patriarchal mindset a direct blow to women’s career progression
Recently, at the #DigitalWomenAwards, Devita Saraf, founder-CEO, VU TVs, enlightened the audience with a talk about women in entrepreneurship and leadership. Raising some serious questions about why women, even today, aren’t aiming for the big ticket game, she emphasized that it’s time women come out of their comfort zone, realise their potential and grab what they deserve. As a leader, Devita’s idea of building a brand is to scale up and grow with time and this, she says, will be possible when women embrace their success with open arms.
Now, when it comes to women in junior positions, they see this conditioning among senior men and women, and do not aspire to be like them. This goes on to prove that for women to be able to make an identity of their own is often difficult, having seen wrongful examples among their leaders. It’s crucial to note that an absence of the right role models can lead women to take a step back from embarking on a journey to the top.
What measures can be taken to increase the number of women in executive positions?
No doubt, there are several organisations working to tackle and dismantle ingrained culture. However, the present fundamentals are not sufficient to achieve gender equality.
As an initiation point, employers need to fully comprehend what it takes to create inclusive organisational cultures. There’s no point starting schemes for senior women in business if the core values in place showcase little respect for parity and change in the organisation.
"We need not be liked by everyone. We must get rid of the superwoman syndrome. We shouldn't spend so much time living up to societal expectations all the time" - Shaili Chopra at Times Lit Fest Delhi
Business leaders must reconsider the structure of employment and working conditions, assessing its strengths and weaknesses in terms of diversity. Weaknesses will help identify in which part of the business gender imbalances lie and at what levels. They should then use feedback from employees and calculate data to exactly pinpoint the specific level at which progression slows down or stops for women. Another requirement is for leaders to ensure already existing committees and support systems and work ethically and diligently towards gender equality.
It's important for businesses and financial services to make it easier for working parents -- not just women -- to fit their schedules together. Assuming that the responsibility of childcare is a key factor only in women's lives will never lead to progression. Working women and entrepreneurs are scaling up the ladder, but they will not make it to the top unless there's a collective effort towards making the workplaces more equal and just.