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Women’s Day: Breaking the glass ceiling in leadership roles in Asia

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New Delhi, March 7: Asia’s economic landscape is undergoing a significant transformation with women increasingly asserting their presence and influence across various sectors.

A new white paper, ‘Women Leadership in India Inc.’, offers a glimpse into the future of women leadership in corporate India and the larger Asian business ecosystem, underlining the opportunities as well as challenges. The findings have the potential to be applied to all of Asia as well.

This collaborative study effort that saw contributions and support from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, among others, delves into the current state of women in leadership roles within Indian companies.

Through extensive research and insightful discussions with industry leaders, the study identifies both the progress made and the obstacles that persist on the path of achieving gender parity at the top.

Progress and Challenges

The white paper acknowledges the positive impact of government initiatives in promoting women’s participation in the workforce. However, it also highlights the need for a shift in focus, emphasising the crucial role of individual companies in taking ownership of the advancements of women in leadership positions.

The study identified gender inequality within organisations as a fundamental obstacle hindering women’s advancement in leadership roles. This manifests in various ways, including:

* Organisational policies and practices: Existing company structures and policies may inadvertently create barriers for women, such as limited access to flexible work arrangements or unconscious bias in promotion decisions.

* Limited career advancement opportunities: The lack of clear and transparent career progression pathways can leave women feeling discouraged and unsure of their future within the organisation.

* Work-life balance challenges: Balancing professional and personal responsibilities remains a significant hurdle for many women, particularly those with childcare or eldercare responsibilities.

* Cultural norms and stereotypes: Deep-seated societal biases regarding gender roles can create an unfavorable environment for women seeking leadership positions.

Actionable Solutions

The white paper recognises the need for a multi-pronged approach to address these challenges and accelerate progress towards increased women’s leadership in Asia. It proposes eight key actionable solutions:

1. Plugging the Leaky Pipeline: This proposal aims to address the “leaky pipeline” phenomenon, where women lose out at various stages of their careers, particularly at the middle-management level. The paper suggests incentivizing companies through tax breaks or awards to encourage them to actively promote gender diversity through initiatives such as unconscious bias training, targeted mentorship programs, and flexible work arrangements.

2. Mandatory, Actionable, and Transparent Diversity Reporting: The white paper advocates for mandatory diversity reporting for all companies, not just the listed ones. This transparency would allow for better monitoring of progress and identification of areas where improvement is needed. Additionally, the study recommends establishing industry-led diversity councils to track progress, share best practices, and create a forum for dialogue and collaboration.

3. Appointment of more Women on the Board: While the number of women on boards of listed companies has seen a rise in recent years, the white paper proposes further steps. The suggestion includes raising the minimum mandatory number of women on boards and expanding the pool of qualified women by considering individuals from diverse backgrounds, including academia, the social sector, and the arts and culture world.

4. Promote Sponsorship and Allyship for Career Advancement: One of the major roadblocks identified is the lack of active support from the senior leaders for promoting women’s leadership. The white paper emphasizes the need for a shift from mentorship to sponsorship. While mentorship provides guidance and advice, sponsorship involves active advocacy and support by influential individuals, which can significantly impact career progression. Additionally, the study proposes the establishment of industry or government-led initiatives to connect qualified women with potential sponsors.

5. Systemic Changes in Expanding the Talent Pipeline: Recognising the need to broaden the talent pool, the white paper recommends addressing societal biases and promoting equal opportunities for women in all sectors, including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. This could involve initiatives such as offering scholarships and internships for girls pursuing STEM education and challenging traditional gender roles in various professions.

6. Strengthening the Support Infrastructure: The lack of childcare, eldercare facilities, and flexible work arrangements are identified as significant hurdles for women in the workforce. The white paper proposes solutions like offering accessible and affordable childcare and eldercare services, adopting gender-neutral parental leave policies, and providing support for “returning mothers” through reskilling programs and facilitating smooth reintegration into the workforce.

7. Fostering Public-Private Partnerships at the State Level: The white paper highlights the need for collaboration between companies and state governments. Inconsistent laws and regulations regarding women’s night work in different states can create challenges for organizations. Working with state governments to create a safe and enabling environment for women workers could significantly encourage their participation in the workforce.

8. Implementing Gender-Specific Hiring Mandates: The white paper acknowledges that drastic solutions might be necessary in the interim to address the existing gender gap. It proposes implementing temporary quotas for gender-specific hiring at various levels to ensure women are adequately represented. Additionally, it suggests adopting blind hiring practices, where candidate identities are masked during evaluations for promotions or role changes, to mitigate unconscious bias and ensure selection based solely on merit. Finally, the paper advocates for the use of gender-neutral language in job applications and forms to further promote inclusivity and remove any potential language-based barriers.

Collective Endeavour for More Equitable Future

This white paper, ‘Women Leadership in India Inc.’, serves as a valuable resource and a call to action for stakeholders across various sectors. By implementing these actionable solutions, companies can create a more inclusive and equitable work environment for all.

This not only empowers women to reach their full potential but also unlocks the collective potential of the Asian workforce, contributing significantly to the nation’s economic and social progress. The journey towards achieving greater gender diversity in leadership is a collective endeavour that requires sustained commitment and collaborative action from policymakers, businesses, industry bodies, and individuals alike.

By breaking down barriers and fostering an environment that actively supports and empowers women, the East can unlock its true potential and become a global leader in fostering inclusive and sustainable growth.

IANS

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