Challenges in gender diversity in leadership roles

17th December 2013

      In India, women occupy just 3% of legislative, management, and senior official positions. According to Gender Diversity Benchmark, 2011, India has the lowest national female labor force and the worst leaking pipeline for women in junior to middle level positions – 28.71% at the junior level of the workplace; 14.9% at the middle level; and 9.32% at the senior level.

 

      Of 1,112 directorships on the Bombay Stock Exchange 100, just 59 (5.3%) are held by women. Out of 323 total executive directorship positions (generally considered to be prerequisites to holding the CEO position) on the Bombay Stock Exchange 100, just eight (2.5%) are held by women. And 54% of companies on the Bombay Stock Exchange 100 have no women board directors.

      Reports show that although women comprise about 48% of the workforce and over 50% of university graduates, their presence diminishes rather quickly as roles become more senior. Specifically, only 36.5% of lower level managers are women; less than 18% are top executives; less than 14% are on boards, and a mere 6% are CEOs of North American companies. The number of board positions that have gone to women in the past 3 years has increased by a rousing 0.2%.

- (Reported by Catalyst, a 50-year-old organization focused on promoting gender diversity.)

 

      Think of it, a woman goes through various phases in her life - searching for identity during adolescence, and focusing on marriage and family, and work during adulthood. She may accept or change her destiny upon reflecting on life during her mature years and how it paves its path depends solely on her grit and determination, with opportunity from understanding employers.

      The career lifecycle of a woman essentially follows the M-curve – one that starts out strongly peeking in her 20’s and early 30’s, dipping or plateauing for a bit and then picking up again somewhere in the 40s. Compare this to a man’s career graph you will only notice a linear progression stopping only at retirement. There is usually a lag (of easily a decade or so) in a woman’s career given other commitments, obligations and societal pressures.

      During Phase One (20s – 30s), there is no apparent difference in progression between the career graph of a man or a woman. This forms the first decade of their careers – focused and unhampered by other external pressures or factors. Women in this phase are as competitive, fierce, and tend to accomplish as much as their male counterparts.

      Phase Two (30s – 40s) witnesses a drastic shift. While organizations are looking at their future leaders, women have to walk the thin rope balancing work and family life. More often than not, women in their mid-30s succumb to either societal pressures, or family obligations, or maternal instincts, and encounter the dip/plateau in their career lifecycle.

      Women, who dedicate Phase Two to child bearing and family life, also lose out on progression in their career. It is observed, that in this phase (30s – 40s) men climb up the leadership ladder with added skills (intraprenuership, networking, innovation, etc.), which are honed more while being on the move. Many women, especially in India, tend to take a back seat, and play a role in managing their households and families, in order to support their husbands career progression, which is normally on an upswing during this time.

      But career-oriented and determined women get back on the graph during Phase Three (the 40s).
This is when they experience renewed energy after their children have reached reasonable age and are on their own life path. Women in this phase exuberate more confidence, ability, accountability, perspective and leadership and execution skills. However, some of them come back into the workforce feeling a little resentful, given that the same men that started as peers at the start of their careers may have risen several ranks within the organization.

      What lies at the heart of this discussion, about how only a few women in leadership positions are seen today, is our deep-rooted culture that is not challenged. Many organizations that do not realize the non-linearity of the career paths of talented women employees, and the various phases in a woman’s life, end up with policies that do not lend themselves to a woman-friendly work environment and lose many of their talented women employees who could be their future leaders.

      BMC Software prides in offering equal opportunities to women, creating a flexible work environment that not only makes it conducive to women in different phases of their lives to work here, but in fact goes a step further by providing them a platform and active career counseling & coaching to take up leadership roles.

      BMC Software in India has a very active Women’s Network to help women employees showcase their other facets. Be it in areas of health and fitness, creative skills, performing arts, supporting CSR activities or mentoring abilities, the network helps women in BMC to collaborate, discuss, network and address issues that not only concern them but society at large. The highlight of the group is its gender diverse core team, with men actively participating and promoting events and initiatives, and driving the network even outside the professional space.

      BMC also offers a multitude of facilities for female employees, like availability of an in-house gynecologist, flexible work hours, extended maternity leaves, resting rooms, and safe transportation facilities, in order to provide a hassle free work environment.

      The leadership at BMC believes that a significant advantage can be sought by cracking the cultural inertia. Specifically, it is the leadership that does not relegate the task of cultural change to the human resources department or pursue inconsequential tactics to buy time, but rather enacts the change it wants to see.

      I believe, success comes from “being” a leader who values and leverages diversity of thought to meet the challenges of a dynamic marketplace. The following quote sums it up:

“Give us a world where half our homes are run by men, and half our institutions are run by women. I'm pretty sure that would be a better world".

      Transparent leadership, and equal opportunities at each step are the keys to initiating and driving a change that we want to see. I truly hope that organizations and leaders value the contribution of women at all levels, and work towards eradicating the challenges faced by women in leadership roles. Understanding their challenges is a great place to start.