Women in Leadership
I had answered on LinkedIn, quite a few weeks ago, a question about Women in the workplace. Thought Iwould share it here.
Girls, girls, girls
Since time immemorial there’s been a debate about why women are not in leadership positions. I just answered a question but thought I’d like to throw this into the debate. It’d be great not to add why you don’t think it doesn’t happen because that just keeps the status quo the way it is. Rather, let’s change things. If you a woman and want to get into leadership then what are you going to do about it? Take charge and blame no one. And if you’re in business, how are you going to get quality, brilliant women into your workplace at senior levels so that the ratio is equal to men?
My response to a question about women and leadership.
From my experience it’s got nothing to do with management models. Its women themselves. Many lack the courage to do what th
ey really want to and they believe the rhetoric they hear. That’s sad. And then worst of all then this all gets regurgitated and men are blamed. We girls have to stand up and be counted and know that we can do it, that it is hard work and not whinge (even a little bit) because we are the only ones who can change things. And MOST of all we have to stop blaming other things for the percentage of women being in leadership positions.
I have dealt with this issue both, in India and abroad, about women having equal positions in key leadership roles and here’s my take.
Several times, I have seen organizations do the math, and figure out that they have x% women in frontlines, sub-x% in management ranks and way below x% in the leadership team, and then wonder why this is so.
I think the issues are a little larger than just numbers.
I am largely going to speak about the Indian context because that’s where I have practiced the most, however, some of it may apply to other contexts as well.
Most Leadership team members are about 40+ years of age, which means they would have passed out of college about 20 years ago. 20 years ago, the %age of women who graduated out of MBA colleges and engineering colleges, in India, was miniscule. So the pool of women from which one can draw, for leadership positions is itself very small.
The large number of wom
en in frontline positions in India is a recent (decade old) phenomenon and we should see some impact of this, in terms of higher numbers of women in leadership positions in about 5-10 years’ time.
2 of India’s banks have the largest number of women in senior leadership positions. Not surprising, since banking was a career that most women were encouraged to take up back in the 70s and 80s. So was teaching and hence no surprises that a lot of principals and heads of department are women.
So first off, I believe we must recognize, the importance of the input factor in terms of numbers.
Second, even in organizations where there is a stated intent for a ge
nder balanced workforce, there are unconscious filters at play. The old boy network, selection of people who’re like me, gender biases, are all at play
. I have yet to come across an organization where the promotion committee has a defined process to “watch-out” for these blocks, in order to ensure ge
Next, women have to stop behaving like victims,but at the same time, not get into either persecutor mode or I’ll match you mode. The whole argument for diversity gets defeated, when women start playing the game the way men do, and start adopting the same rules.
I have several times come across strong women, who have grown up the hierarchy, only to realize that they have acquired the traits of men. I am extremely saddened when I see this (and I see it quite often).
It is indicative of a failure of the
system. A system which espouses the cause of women but continues to reward masculine behaviours, as a result leaving little choice for women, but to adopt those behaviours, if they are to succeed. This leading to a complete negation to the unique flavour that women bring to the workplace, and thereby nullifying the advantages of that diversity.
Somewhere,there have to be collective dialogs between men and women about how the workplace can be gender balanced, not in terms of numbers (which seems to be the current focus) but in terms of systems, processes, reward mechanisms, facilitative mechanisms for women and men, in terms of organization culture.
I appreciate what you say about women will have to stop whining and stand up to the challenge, and I see a lot of that happening, however they cannot win this journey alone. Men have to be included in it, and change decisions and journeys have to be taken together.
As long as macho workplaces continue, women will have no choice but to toughen up and become pseudo-men. That serves nobody. And women who comply get labelled as bitches (pardon the french) and the ones who don’t get labeled as wimps and cry-babies.
I have met a number of women, who don’t hire women into their teams because women will get pregnant, because they’re too emotional and can’t handle stress/pressure. And that’s another issue!
The last time I had a dialog with an organization, we realized that women face different challenges from men. And we identified 2 clear inflection points in a woman’s life (which might be more socially relevant to India) which lead to a drop-out from work/career.
1. When they get married (especially if they’re living in a joint-family), the pressure on the woman to manage home, the expectations of the in-laws, husband and work, make it extremely difficult. Nothing changes for the man. But for the woman, she suddenly has to do that much more in the same 24 hours day. Can we set up counselling for the woman and he husband to be, so that this can be discussed, and ways found for both of them, to help the woman manage more easily, this transition, and for the husband to share the load?
2.Motherhood. Similar to above, the woman’s world changes when she becomes a mother. And it’s more than just time. The emotional bond to the child and the internal conflict about giving time to the child while at the same time having to focus on her career.Once again,counselling at this stage would be very valuable and would help a woman deal with it much better.
It is in such directions that we must apply ourselves. Affirmative action, reservations, mandatory enforcement of gender balance. Will only lead to enforced compliance and not a change in attitude, spirit and culture.
So what are your thoughts? I would love to know.
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