Women Leadership – A Competitive Edge for the future

by September 12, 2018 0 comments

The representation of women in indian corporate boardrooms has increased over past few years but it still remain low. In order to draw more female participation in higher management, corporates need to  develop an internal pipeline and make sure it will be followed for the long run. This can be done by positioning strong individuals to key leadership positions.


Recently, I came across a beautiful advertisement by Mahindra on educating  a girl child — Ladki haath se nikal jayegi. It is an inspiring take on how education can empower girls. But all this joint effort of the Government and corporates would be futile if we do not create a pathway for retention and growth for women in workplace, and elevate strong individuals to key leadership positions.

It is a well-researched fact that having more women in workforce has a direct impact on GDP growth. For example, in the US, since 1970, as much as 26 per cent of growth in GDP has been directly attributed to an increase of women in workforce. According to another study, teams with mixed gender are more productive and creative. In fact, economists found that simply moving from an all-male or all-female office to one that was evenly split could possibly increase revenue by 41 per cent. This is because greater social diversity implies a greater spread of experience, which add to the collective knowledge of a group of workers and make the unit perform more effectively.

However, women around the globe have remained underrepresented at every level in the corporate world. For most women, balancing both home and career takes a toll, and they decide to take a break. It is a huge loss for the company, society and nation as a whole. Although hiring women has been clearly beneficial, the benefits will not accrue with a mere increase in headcount. Women are largely untapped resources that are often not recognised. Hence, increasing the number of women in leadership positions is critical not only to give women a voice, but also because women’s involvement improves the way leadership and decision-making is practiced. As a nation, we should develop strong leadership and succession programmes to mentor or guide deserving women candidates to leadership positions in the country.

Women’s representation in the management pipeline drops substantially as one climbs the higher ladder. The proportion of women in seniormost management role falls to 18 per cent from 46 per cent at the entry level. Apart from some of the challenges that both men and women face in the workplace like work/life balance, parenting, juggling responsibilities and multitasking, there are specific challenges such as wage gap, discrimination and sexual harassment at workplace, that are distinctive for women. Women still earn only 73 percent of what men earn for the same job, and sadly, sexual harassment is still not a thing from the past.

In one of studies of 400 largest companies in California, only 9.7 percent of boardrooms or top paying executive positions were held by women. Thirty-four per cent had no women on their executive board and none of the companies in the study had an all-female board. In addition, none of the companies had a gender-balanced board or management team.

What steps should companies take to improve more women participation in higher management? The first step is to develop the internal pipeline and make sure that it is not choked. Leveraging existing HR information and data analytics can generate important insights about the workforce and help identify high potential women as leadership candidates. Developing the internal pipeline is not solely about the talent process. Workplace programmes and efforts such as work-life integration and pay equity are also important factors to consider in strategies to develop the talent pipeline in the industry.

Opportunities for individual coaching, affinity-based leadership development, executive sponsorship and mentoring are also essential components of the leadership development continuum — particularly for women who may lack access to training and advancement options. Stretch assignments are also effective interventions to develop new skills and perspectives, and including diverse high potential employees in networking events with company and industry leaders is another strategy to build competencies and forge new relationships.

To hire right women talent, organisations should determine the current and future needs. The identification and analysis of critical roles is the first step in developing the pool of next generation leaders and critical talent. Companies should assess the talent pool and characterise necessary skills and competencies needed for success in those roles. Also, companies should determine the mix for filling gaps and the cultural importance of hiring from within for critical roles. An important aspect is to define the pool of internal candidates. Steps are needed to track promotion and turnover rates, and lower-than-expected promotion rates may indicate that development programmes need to be revisited and refined.

Similarly, higher-than-expected turnover rates should drive changes in how the organisation approaches building pipelines for critical positions. Also, define the pool of existing external candidates, bearing in mind the skills needed, competencies, and talent profiles, mine information on past candidates in the organisation’s candidate database to identify matches and assess the potential of external hires to fill critical roles.

Also define and execute campaigns to engage candidates. Identify conferences, industry associations, and social networks that match the critical role profile. Moreover, work with hiring managers and employees for relationship building. In addition, assess and refine current sourcing strategies and analyse sources that have been successful in the past to develop a targeted sourcing strategy for external candidates based on ideal candidate profiles and historical trends. Companies should implement and monitor sourcing strategies to seek talent that can fill critical roles, and capture information about those people’s knowledge, skills and experience in addition to contact information for ongoing communications. Finally, it is crucial to track the overall size and quality of internal and external pools.

Once potential women leaders are identified, organisations should establish a development framework to nurture them. Organisations should actively engage potential leaders by identifying and investing in high performing women with the capacity and inclination to lead, and give them the skills, training and confidence to do so. They should treat leadership as a tangible skill and provide training opportunities and confidence building for women who wish to hone their skills. Networking is the most important skill and organisations should help potential women leaders to establish relationships and networks. They should actively connect junior-level employees with senior female leader mentors and create networking opportunities regardless of level.

Organisations should also  consciously enhance the visibility of role models and highlight female senior leaders. Companies should articulate the steps for career development, starting with employees in their twenties or earliest stages of their careers and combine ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ rewards. It is necessary to reinforce and validate women’s performance with clear and consistent personal feedback, together with the more conventional rewards of raises and promotions.

Several companies have identified the importance to developing women leaders. For example, Sanofi’s ELEVATE initiative was launched as an accelerated, six-month development programme to prepare potential women in the organisation for leadership roles. Participants were nominated based on the existing talent review process, with a target cohort size of 20-25 women. Women were identified from the senior director and AVP level, the natural feeder pool for the leadership level where Sanofi saw the largest gender gap.

Participants represented all lines of business at Sanofi including STEM fields, commercial roles, staff roles and manufacturing. They were split into small teams that worked on projects outside their current business entity. Each team was assigned a senior-level sponsor and executive coach. The six-month action-learning project provided experiences for participants to develop senior-level leadership skill sets while identifying new growth opportunities and building new capabilities for Sanofi.

Leadership competencies developed included cross-functional collaboration, managing stakeholders, negotiation and exercising influence, navigating and influencing gender dynamics, communicating with vision, leading strategic change, and creating a culture of innovation and growth. Of all the women who went through the programme, about 60 per cent had been promoted or had made developmental moves that expanded their knowledge.

Organisations and policy-makers have a responsibility towards the nation to develop strong internal pipelines, which identify and nurture women employees and develop them into strong leaders. This will ensure that the efforts of every girl child to become empowered will have a clear roadmap to succeed in the corporate world.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Amity University)

Writer: Hima Bindu Kota

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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