Bistriti Poddar

The author is Chief Communications Officer at uKnowva - 360* HRMS

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7 Success Strategies that can Help Women Leaders Thrive and Break Barriers

The article mentions Strategies to encourage women's leadership and entrepreneurship in today's world. It also states the Reasons and Barriers that women leaders have and Ways through which they can overcome

Fostering gender equality and including more women in leadership roles is getting renewed attention these days. While there is increased conversation and more awareness of workplace gender bias, there is still a considerable lag in fulfilling the promises of equality at work. 

Even though women represent 58 per cent of all graduates in law, social science and business globally, they are still not well represented within business leadership. As per a study of 8,600 companies across 49 countries, women held only 16.9 per cent of the available board seats in 2018. In a 2020 report by Mercer of over 1,100 companies across the world, women made up only 23 per cent of executive positions. This leads to the question that amid the ‘noise’ to support women to lead and thrive, is there any real action and progress?

What are the Issues or Barriers Women Leaders Face in Today’s World?

According to a survey by ISACA, the primary barriers faced by women working in technology include workplace gender bias, wage inequality in comparison to male colleagues and a scarcity of female role models. 

The report, 'The Future Tech Workforce: Breaking Gender Barriers' identified the top 5 barriers experienced by women in the technology sector as: 

Lack of mentors (48%)

Lack of female role models (42%)

Gender bias in the workplace (39%)

Unequal growth opportunities in comparison to men (36%)

Unequal pay for the same skills (35%)   

Why there is Less Participation of Women in the Top Managerial Roles in India

As far as the boardrooms of the Indian corporate sector are concerned, only a few women occupy top positions. A recent study carried out by an IIM Ahmedabad (IIM-A) faculty and her team showed that only a meagre 5 per cent of women have made it to top management positions and only 7 per cent have made it to senior executives. Some of the major reasons behind the less representation of women in top managerial roles include:

  • Appraisal and promotion policies are insensitive to women’s preferred style of work and the leadership styles they adhere to.
  • Gender stereotyping issues lead to men resisting women leaders’ commands and they perceive women leaders to be poor at analytical and critical decision-making skills.
  • Women are also more likely to face motherhood and marriage penalties at workplaces.
  • Women are more likely to face micro-aggressions and misconduct like discrimination, derogatory remarks, and sexual harassment at workplaces.
  • Women in India also face compounding biases based on their identity, race, sexuality or disabilities.

What Skills Should Women Possess to Overcome the Barriers?

Women who occupy leadership roles often encounter more scrutiny and are judged more harshly compared to their male counterparts. In fact, many women leaders across the world are of the opinion that they must work twice as hard to earn the same respect as men. Considering these challenges, there are certain skills women must focus on to overcome these barriers:

  • Communication skills to know how to handle communication with men at workplaces in India and call out on anyone who does not respect the opinion of a woman leader.
  • Time management for fine-tuning the work-life balance and working hours and having a propulsive impact with every invested hour. 
  • Integrity and honesty are critical skills for women to overcome those barriers. Women leaders must own up to their professional values, principles and ethics. Without honesty about their deliverables, it’s hard to scale up and be indispensable for the management. 
  • A higher emotional quotient helps in conflict management, stress management and team management to play with people’s strengths and competitive capabilities to extract desirable business outcomes in times of rapid and uncertain changes in the industry.
  • Succession planning is one of the core skills women leaders must equip themselves with to instill trust, empathy, guidance and honesty internally in teams and help all members relearn and grow beyond expectations for the greater good of all.

7 Strategies for Women to Overcome Barriers, Bias and Thrive in the Workplace

As per research, there are two types of factors that combine in subtle ways to create roadblocks for women: pull factors and push factors. Pull factors are internally driven like the limitations women place on themselves, dragging them away from leadership actions or roles. On the other hand, push factors are externally driven like the limitations placed on women by their organisation, others in their network and the society or culture. These two factors are intertwined, as women respond to and shape their context.

While externally driven factors certainly hinder the ability of many women to succeed, the key to unlocking opportunity is to simultaneously overcome internal barriers that are holding them back. Here’s how both these factors can be addressed for women to achieve success:

  • Many women enter the workplace bringing with them an inner voice that doubts their own competence and worth. This results in a lack of faith in what they can accomplish. Women need to be unapologetic at all times and not let anyone in the team or organisation belittle their knowledge, experience or opinions. It is important to override the guilt or fear of being the boss or a leader. Silencing the inner critic is critical for a woman’s career progression and vital for her to thrive in senior positions.
  • Women should not fear making mistakes because without mistakes nobody can learn. However, it is essential to have a mindset of not repeating the same mistake twice. 
  • Women must be ready to face uncertainties in a fast-changing digitised workplace with practical strategies in mind as the rate of change is increasing exponentially. Hence, team leaders are more likely to face uncertain challenges every day at work. To succeed, women need to spend time reflecting and focusing on themselves, pushing themselves to come out of their comfort zones and take on new challenges with confidence.
  • They must have a 'Yes! I can!' attitude to achieve milestones they don't expect themselves to conquer from the start. For women who wish to succeed, believing they can accomplish anything is a critical starting point.
  • Companies must also invest in coaching, mentorship and learning and development programs to streamline processes and make way for their teamwork to bring value to the boardroom table. Innovative training programs by organisations that bring women together and help them build self-confidence go a long way in shaping the women leaders of tomorrow.
  • Organisations must also invest in diversity, inclusion and equity in their teams for fruitful succession planning and politics-free and bias-free workplaces.

Concluding Thoughts

While organisations around the world are gradually beginning to take steps to establish solutions to gender bias and help women thrive, women will also need to spend more time reflecting and focusing on themselves, stepping out of their comfort zones and taking on new challenges with confidence. Coupled with an encouraging and supportive work environment, they can more effectively chart a course to leadership and build self-confidence that can go a long way in shaping the leaders of tomorrow. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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