While there has been some progress in women’s climb to the top echelons of corporate leadership, the UN women’s commission observes that there’s still a long road ahead to reach equality with men in elections or appointments to decision-making bodies and administrative posts.
At the closing of the 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in late March, prominent world leaders acknowledged the need for more women to be included in decision-making. As per the Agreed Conclusions released by the global body, temporary special measures, such as quotas, and increased political will “are needed as an enabling pathway to this goal”.
The document also notes that the pandemic has exacerbated the pre-existing inequalities that “perpetuate multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.” Recent data released by UN Women and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed that the world’s nations are not doing enough to protect women and girls from the economic and social fallout caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
Closer to home, only a miniscule percentage of women occupy top leadership positions. According to a recent study titled ‘Women On Board 2020’, India ranked 12th in women member presence on companies’ boards globally. The report that covered employers from around 36 countries found that of 628 companies from India, only 55 percent have women directors.
The study also pointed out that there’s a huge gap in the maximum tenure of men and women on board; with 46 percent of women having been a director for less than a year.
Claiming women’s space in leadership
Companies whose boards are in the top quartile of gender diversity are 28 percent more likely than their peers to outperform financially, reveals the McKinsey & Company Diversity Wins Report 2020.
Echoing similar sentiments, Urvashi Parmar, creative director at Celebration says, “Having more diversity in the senior management can break down gender barriers by broadening women’s ‘professional imagination’, providing them with role models and increasing their capacity to project themselves into leadership roles. Higher numbers of women in decision-making positions can therefore instil cultural change and have a strong symbolic meaning, showing that women can be leaders too. Research has shown that gender diversity in the boardroom matters because it brings a broader collection of experiences, viewpoints and backgrounds which result in better decision-making.”
Parmar believes that having more women on the board also tends to curb excessive risk taking, decrease aggressive tax strategies and improve firm reputation, earnings quality and sustainability performance.
For Sreedevi Sreekumar, chief business officer at Talentedge, the aim is to not just achieve equality in measurable, tangible and quantifiable aspects such as income and education, but also in intangible aspects such as the ability to take decisions and lead an organisation.
"It is incredulous that even today the gender divide exists in the society but also the corporate world in terms of board seats, leadership and decision-making. At Talentedge, we celebrate everyone equally and across levels; we don’t just have women leading teams; they are also equal partners in decision-making. We need to create a new perspective where we build a world without divisions of any kind, including but not limited to having women leading decision-making and organisational change,” she adds.
Barriers and biases
According to research conducted by Harvard Business Review, women need to be far more qualified than men to be considered for the same position. The study further reveals that many women, who find a place in corporate boardrooms, are not treated as full-time members. Unfortunately, they have to keep proving their worth time and again.
In certain cases, women are not boardroom-ready because they are weighed down by societal expectations. With the dominance of patriarchy, women are often relegated to domestic roles, while men take on the mantle of leadership. Sometimes, the prevalent conditioning prevents women to assume positions of power, thereby clipping their career growth.
Aakanksha Kapoor, CEO at I Say Organic believes that several women turn down opportunities because they often get caught up with caregiving duties.
“There’s no denying that women are slowly beginning to take up leadership positions. On several occasions, they do not take up opportunities they truly deserve, because they first need to attend to their homes. While it is a personal choice, I often wonder if they are impeding their growth due to the unrealistic expectations laid down by society. Women possess great skill sets and can do everything men can. It’s high time women also start to believe in their capabilities and in their abilities to create change. This can only happen when education, organisations, and policies also create a space for equality,” she adds.
According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data, women in India spend upto 352 minutes per day on domestic work, 577 percent more than men (52 minutes) and at least 40 percent more than women in South Africa and China.
Towards achieving an equal future
The pace has been slow, however, women must be credited for treading a male-dominated landscape riddled with hurdles, and achieving success in more ways than one.
“In each of these spaces that women occupy, they have to make multiple decisions to build their product and brand to compete in a fair environment. They are constantly strategising and looking at novel ways to cut through the competition to be heard and discovered! It has taken a long time for women to be here, but I think we are headed in the right direction with policies and opportunities, where women are confident about the decisions they make and create for others,”shares Hajera Lahir Kudroli, founder of Babysutra.
While gender diversity and representation must be regarded as organisational goals, they have to seamlessly be a part of its culture. Diversity and inclusion are certainly markers of a progressive workplace, and women must be appointed in leadership positions for the value they bring to an organisation.
It may be a far cry for women to dominate leadership positions, but as they say, every little drop makes an ocean!
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)