Women Leadership - Challenges & Way Forward!

Nurturing families with love, caring for them passionately & painstakingly - WOMEN - are essentially the building blocks of society! They are the torchbearers of traditions & values, who gently & unwaveringly shape the character of the nation by making it a personal mission to instill the right morals in their children. At a professional front, women are making forays into areas hitherto dominated by men, from preparing to be the first human on Mars, to heading countries through unprecedented change, fighting for human rights, leading fortune 500 companies, women are leaving their footprint everywhere!

As we celebrate the women of today, let us explore what it takes to be the woman we aspire to be - the strengths, struggles, and way forward!

Strengths - what women bring to the table!

They say women are from Venus, no wonder they bring unique attributes, perspectives and competitive edge to companies that they work with. Some of the obvious advantages they bring are:

  • Work-life balance: Issues like long working hours, working on weekends, and after office meetings that hinder the work-life balance are severe deterrents for women who constantly struggle to keep up with their family responsibilities at home. However, with more women on board, in decision making positions, work-life balance should improve.

  • Gender discrimination: Work practices have evolved based on men’s working style, many organisational features reflect men’s lives and situations, that make it challenging for women to embark, stay, and pursue the course to leadership. Women leaders create less gender discrimination in recruitment, promotion and retention. As they understand the challenges of women better, and can effectively create a supportive environment for women facing challenges during their pregnancy, child care. One of the exemplary women leaders that I would like to quote is ‘Ms Maya Hari’, Twitter, APAC Managing Director. Known for creating an inclusive work environment, she is well-respected and loved by Twitter’s employees for her democratic and open management style. She drives initiatives such as ‘active women’s mentor and sponsor for @TwitterWomen and SWAT (Super Women At Twitter) employee resource groups’.

  • Diversity: Women comprise of at least 50% of the global consumers and are increasingly responsible for household financial decisions. More women on board would enhance understanding of consumer behaviour from a woman’s stand point, and help challenge gender stereotypes. Needless to mention that a multiplicity of perspectives can spark creativity and innovation, and help organisations spot and seize more opportunities.

Women’s impact, as per research:

  • Companies across all sectors with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation (McKinsey).

  • Companies with greater numbers of women leaders fare better in periods of greater economic volatility (Thompson Reuters).

  • To quote an example, Apple, which is No. 1 on Fortune's list, has 19 women out of 107 top executives, across the board, 29% of its leadership roles are filled by women.

It is therefore no surprise that women participation in workforce and especially leadership positions is significantly important for economic empowerment of the counties.

The journey so far:

Women have been outnumbering men at most universities since the 1970s (1). Yet, global average of women in senior management positions remains flat!

  • It is indeed surprising that only about 34% of global managers are women. 68% of the world gap remains to be closed for gender gap for roles such as managers, senior officials and legislators. It is interesting to note that 67% to 74% of the respective gap has been bridged for gender gaps in labour market participation and technical roles. This comparison clearly highlights that while gender-biased labour market outcomes have improved, the presence of women in management roles is one of the main barriers to overcome, both in the public and private sector, in order to achieve full economic gender parity (2).

  • Only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. In 2017 the number reached an all-time high of 32, but has slid back down to 24. Leading to a one-year decline of 25% (3)

  • Women only hold 30% of senior management roles in Singapore.

  • Projecting current trends into the future, it will take 108 challenging years to overcome the global overall gender gap. The most challenging gender gaps to close are the economic and political empowerment dimensions, which will take 202 and 107 years to close respectively (2).

Reasons behind the disparity.

As per a survey reported by hrinasia.com, October 11, 2016

  • When asked to name the top three reasons why women are under-represented, 37% of all respondents in Singapore cited family pressures or commitments outside of work.

  • Only 37% of females in Singapore think that their current employer has clear and enforced policies on gender diversity, equality and inclusion.

  • Only 49% of women surveyed feel that their organisation is lacking fair and equal representation of female business leaders. Additionally, 32% believe it is due to a preference by management to promote men over women, and 30% attributed it to a workplace culture that does not actively foster diversity, inclusion and equality.

What actually happens:

  • Domestic responsibilities fall more on women than men, to the ratio of 2:1 (5). It is therefore not surprising that women take time out for “family time”, while men take time out to change careers or for reasons having serious implications, such as - lost income, impeded career growth, depreciation of skills, difficulty in reestablishing one’s career.

  • Women are more likely to take a break from their employment than men. 37% of professional women voluntarily dropped out of employment at some point in their lives vs 24% of men (6).

  • Working mothers are seen as less dedicated to work, and they often earn less (7).

  • Working mothers often find them selves struggling with the public opinion, as they are seen as more self-oriented and as less dedicated to their children than stay-at home mums – especially when they are believed to work because of a personal choice rather than financial necessity (8).

  • Women lack role models as most of the leadership positions are occupied by men. They have to walk in uncharted waters at workplace, and find little help in finding their foot.

  • Women are faced with two choices - Competent or Likeable, but rarely both. They are often faced with the double dilemma - when they act empathetically, in caring and nurturing way, which is consistent with gender stereotypes, they are viewed as too soft and less competent leaders. On the other hand, when women act strongly, take tough decisions, speak assertively, and seek compliance, which are the ways that are inconsistent with stereotypical image of women, they are considered as too tough, shrewd, cold and cunning.

  • Women find it difficult to negotiate, especially when it comes to the salary. As per a research by Lean in Organization, “Women who negotiate for a promotion or compensation increase are 30% more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are bossy, too aggressive, even intimidating.”

  • No wonder, “for every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted”. And by the time women reach the SVP level, they hold merely 20% of line roles, and it is the line roles that lead more directly to the C-suite. To quote, 90% of new CEOs in the S&P 500 were promoted or hired from line roles in the year 2015.” (9)

  • Women do not aspire for the top positions. “Only 40% of women are interested in becoming top executives, compared to 56% of men. Women and men worry equally about work-life balance and company politics. However, women with and without children are more likely to say they don’t want the pressure, and women who want a top job anticipate a steeper path than men who do.” (9)

So, what’s the way forward?

Ask, Speak up, Stand for yourself!

Only a heart full of love, happiness & fulfilment can share its joy with others. Before nurturing others, you need to heal first!

  • Find what you want. Once you do, bring it on! It is never too late to learn, re-skill or up-skill yourself.

  • Be confident. Nothing can stop you, until you stop trying.

  • Don’t hesitate to seek help from men, make them see your perspective, share your struggle. They can only help once they know your part of the story. Working with more and more women, especially in leadership positions might be new to them too. Remember John Grey’s book “Men are from Mars & women from Venus? It is okay if men think differently, create a common ground, let them see where you are coming from.

  • Go out and network, find a mentor / sponsor Your network impacts your net worth. If you see someone as a potential mentor, go talk to them, don’t wait for them to approach you. If you identify a sponsor who can pitch you for a new position, don’t hesitate to share your capabilities with them. Shed that hesitation, it might be flattering for them to be of help too, or they might simply like to help and support you in your initiative.

  • Promote sisterhood. Women in senior positions should try to mentor their juniors. Women in general should stand up to support other women.

  • Don’t fall in the perfection loop. There is never a perfect time. Go for it, as soon as you can. Studies indicate that eighty percent of women set the bar very high for themselves professionally, as they often think they need to be perfect!

  • Dream! And chase your dreams passionately, unabashedly, and unapologetically!

Women hold half of the sky,

never shy away from getting your share of the sunshine!

(References mentioned below)

Author - Preeti Dubey Founder, Director Strive High Pte Ltd

Women face invisible barriers that arise from cultural beliefs, workplace structures, practices, and patterns of interaction that are not supportive of women. Our Women Leadership Training programs and coaching are astutely designed the "empower the women from within, and help them develop a mindset that is designed to succeed!"

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1. https://doi.org/10.1086/683847)

2. World Economic Forum 2018)

3. http://fortune.com/2018/05/21/women-fortune-500-2018/ .

4 https://sbr.com.sg/hr-education/news/only-30-senior-managers-in-singapore-are-women-report

5 Bianci et al., 2000)

6 Hewlett & Luce, 2005).

7. https://www.henrikkleven.com/uploads/3/7/3/1/37310663/kleven-landais-sogaard_nber-w24219_jan2018.pdf

8 Etaugh & Nekolny, 1990)

9 Sandberg’s Lean In organization reported in "Women in the Workplace Study” 2016)

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