Women in leadership: Inspiring the next generation - Hindustan Times

Women in leadership: Inspiring the next generation

ByHindustan Times
Feb 16, 2024 06:38 PM IST

This article is authored by Vidya Shah, executive chairperson, EdelGive Foundation.

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” This powerful statement by the renowned poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou encapsulates the essence of women’s representation in every sphere of life. The importance of representation cannot be overstated; when women ascend to positions of leadership, they do more than just fill a seat at the table. They break barriers, challenge norms, and open doors for countless other women who are inspired to follow. In the dynamic landscape of business, where leadership and innovation are pivotal, the inclusion of women is not just a matter of equity but a cornerstone of progress and diversity. Yet, the journey to this ideal is fraught with challenges and disparities. The underrepresentation of women in leadership positions is a widely recognised issue in businesses. Despite progress in recent years, the glass ceiling and the broken rung remain formidable barriers.

Women in leadership(Pixabay) PREMIUM
Women in leadership(Pixabay)

Statistics reveal a stark picture of gender disparity in leadership. According to a 2023 report by McKinsey & Company, women hold only about 25% of C-suite positions globally. This underrepresentation is even more pronounced in certain industries. For instance, 32% of women working in technical and engineering fields frequently find themselves as the sole female presence in their professional environment. The reasons are complex, ranging from unconscious bias to a lack of mentorship opportunities.

The lack of diverse female representation profoundly impacts children's career aspirations from an early age, as a University College London (UCL) Institute of Education report reveals. It shows that 36% of children model their career goals on people they know, while 45% are influenced by media. This limited exposure often funnels girls into traditional roles; for instance, 18.6% aim to be teachers, reflecting the scarcity of female role models in less stereotypical fields like technology and engineering.

Societal norms often cast women primarily as domestic caregivers, inadvertently reinforcing the notion that their careers are of secondary importance in their professional settings. This perception contributes to lower pay and reduced visibility in their roles. A study on Pathways to Leadership for Women in the Finance and Economic Sector highlights that women leaders often find themselves in supportive roles like HR due to biases associating them with empathy and democratic decision-making, traits perceived as unsuitable for tough leadership decisions.

The same study also details the struggles that women face in the areas of networking and mentorship – which hinder their progress to leadership roles. Women often face underrepresentation in professional networks, leading to their invisibility. They confront multiple challenges like work-life balance, biased talent management, and a lack of investment in social capital. Mentorship and sponsorship are widely recognised as critical components in leveraging the organisational community to develop employee potential and shape their experiences. Women are often overlooked for high-stakes assignments crucial for reaching top organizational positions, usually due to a lack of influential sponsors advocating for their advancement.

These patterns highlight the critical need for more varied representation of women across professions to broaden young girls' horizons and women’s advancement concerning their careers.

Amidst these challenges, numerous women have risen to prominent leadership roles, serving as beacons of hope and inspiration. Consider Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, who reshaped a global brand while advocating for work-life balance, or Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, founder of Biocon, who broke stereotypes with her phenomenal success in the man-dominated field of biopharmaceuticals. Then there is Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, steering a century-old company into the electric vehicle era. Their stories of resilience, innovation, and leadership under pressure offer powerful lessons for aspiring leaders.

Women in leadership roles, particularly as CEOs, significantly impact corporate culture and attitudes towards women. Evidence shows that companies led by women, like General Motors under Mary Barra, experience a positive shift in perceptions. A study found that 73% of firms with female CEOs saw an increased association of women with leadership qualities in their communications, along with a notable decrease in gender-stereotyped language. This demonstrates that elevating women to high-level positions is an effective method to dismantle stereotypes and foster more positive attitudes towards women in leadership.

Women leaders not only shift mindsets but also enhance mentorship and sponsorship for female employees, crucial for career advancement. By mentoring, they offer vital guidance and support, aiding in skill development and opening career opportunities. In sponsorship roles, women can champion their mentees for key roles and promotions, fast-tracking their career growth and dismantling workplace gender barriers. A DDI World survey reinforces this, with 71% of women leaders consistently accepting formal mentorship roles and expressing willingness to mentor more if asked, highlighting the positive impact of women in leadership on fostering talent development.1 To increase women’s representation in leadership, education and policy changes are crucial. Organisations must commit to diversity and inclusion, not just as a checkbox but as a business imperative. While ESG policies are driving some of this change, there is a crucial need to change perceptions towards women and acknowledge the growth and innovation they bring with their leadership.

The future looks promising as more women break through the glass ceiling. Their successes pave the way for others, creating a virtuous cycle that encourages more women to pursue leadership roles. In the journey towards equal representation in leadership, it is important to acknowledge that shattering glass ceilings will fix the broken rungs.

This article is authored by Vidya Shah, executive chairperson, EdelGive Foundation.

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