Gender diversity has become the mantra for an organization’s productivity and success in the past few decades. Several domains that were once biased and considered suitable for only men have embraced diversity, witnessing women folk entering them without hesitation. Aspirations of women are soaring high, and both in the corporate and non-corporate world, there is a significant number of women in mid-management, and statistics back this claim.
Having established this, it is also vital to look at the diversity statistics, i.e., the number of women in high-level management and board rooms. Unfortunately, gender diversity in the top management in any field, be it in politics, corporate, manufacturing, or even the civil services, is not convincing. There is a bias, a glass ceiling, that stops women from realizing their true potential in the higher levels of management.
India is ranked at 140 in the global gender rank report, considering its cultural diversity, diverse population, and gender. This conveys an undeniable message that despite several sectors welcoming and encouraging women to seek career opportunities with them, there exists a glass ceiling. There may not be explicit biases towards women in organizations, especially at management levels, but they are prevalent in several subtle ways.
In discussion with Viji Hari, CEO of CecureUs, in light of Womens’ Day and to break the bias in the organizations, IAS officer, Priyadarshini Bhattacharya, currently serving in West Bengal, Bipin Reghunathan, Vice President of DHL supply chain in India, and Ms. Siji Varghese, founder of ‘Leaders In Lipstick,’ have shared their invaluable inputs on,
- Different forms in which biases, the glass ceiling exists in various sectors,
- The importance and role of gender diversity across all levels of an organization, and
- How organizations can break the bias and shatter the invisible glass ceiling that hinders women from venturing into and taking up roles in top-level management.
Gender Bias – the starting point!
In Indian society, gender bias, the invisible glass ceiling, begins at home. For centuries, Indian households have been absorbed into notions that men are the primary breadwinners of the family and women are best suited for only some roles, with caring for the family being the predominant one. It had become next to impossible for society to see women in leadership and management roles and in positions of power, and even today, this clash of ego exists in several teams. This puts a cap on their aspirations from a very young age, offering just a handful of careers considered best-suited for women. The glass ceiling in the form of these regressive thoughts has made it challenging for women to venture into several fields. But thanks to the current widespread awareness about gender bias and the need for gender diversity in recent years, women can have much higher ambitions and career goals, shattering this glass ceiling.
Glass Ceiling in various sectors
In sectors like civil services, this glass ceiling, the biases at various levels are inconspicuous and subliminal. Statistics reveal that the average age at which women crack the UPSC exams is 26, while men, at 32. This clarifies that there is no lack of talent in women. But it also raises a question as to why gender diversity in management and administrative departments is not up to the mark. Right from the preparatory stage, there is a substantial bias regarding sending women away from home for coaching, their training programs and placements happening far away from home, the insecurities of the family members about women interacting with their male educators, their prospect of embracing a marital status being delayed, not having time to care for the family, etc.
This is true with women who aspire to have careers in aviation, automobile, manufacturing, and a few other male-dominated sectors, although the past decade has witnessed an increased number of women entering the manufacturing and supply chain sectors. In retrospect, these industries remain male-dominated partly because women are not passionate about having careers in these fields. And the only way to bring in gender diversity in these sectors is to provide a courteous and respectful working environment with benefits for achieving work-life balance and exciting roles for women.
Women and leadership
For women to take up leadership roles and excel in them, there is an immediate need to shatter the glass ceiling. The existing biases need to be nipped in the bud. Organizations must nurture a work culture enriched with diversity, where talent is valued over gender. Women bring perspectives and balance into organizations, and those organizations that value women power and talent have achieved excellence and promising results, simultaneously tapping a diverse customer base.
Tips to organizations for breaking the glass ceiling across all levels of the corporate ladder
To shatter the glass ceiling and provide opportunities for women to be on par with their male counterparts, every organization should embrace diversity and bring about a few changes in its policies and practices.
- Offer special training programs for women leaders in mid-management to shed their inhibition and apprehensions about management roles and realize their true potential to climb to the top of the corporate ladder.
- Remove names of applicants from CVs to cater to a gender bias-free hiring process that values merit and talent.
- Paid leave for women to focus on family and children.
- Employ women in challenging management roles and provide assistance for women-folk to sail through such positions and operate with ease.
- Train employees to follow the chain of command irrespective of the leader’s gender.
- Offer flexible working hours for work-life balance and retain talent by allowing hybrid working modes.
- Women-friendly workspaces with day care/creche facilities to care for infants and toddlers.
- Provide medical assistance for women by employing doctors and nurses in the workplace.
- Intervention programs for women empowerment, training for financial management, and independence.
- Motivational talks and training by existing women leaders to shatter the glass ceiling, inspire and pave the way for more upcoming leaders.
- Create a nurturing work environment by implementing Diversity and Inclusion across all organizational levels.
- Bring cognizance in the entire organization of the benefits of having a diverse work culture.
- Implement PoSH laws and strict measures against sexual harassment to cater to a safe work environment.
What can families do to break the bias and bridge the gender gap?
The change to shatter the glass ceiling must begin at home. Families must embrace progressive thoughts and let go of the bias about women being the weaker gender.
- Nurture and support the ambitions of young girls.
- Introduce girls to various management professions and allow them to choose their careers.
- Ensure that marriage and child-rearing do not stop women from letting their careers take a back seat.
- Allow daughters and daughters-in-law to pursue studies, irrespective of family commitments and age.
- Ensure men of the house share the family responsibilities and workload so that women are not overburdened or overwhelmed by multitasking.
- Value women’s inputs on the financial and other family responsibilities.
- Allow women to step out of their comfort zones, find a mentor for themselves, and pave the path to shape their careers and families.
Bridging the gender gap, breaking the glass ceiling, and achieving gender diversity in every possible sector is a dream that cannot be achieved overnight. However, with every measure implemented at familial and organizational levels, we, as a society, are taking one step closer to a bias-free future! This Women’s Day, let us take a pledge to gift women in our lives a bias-free and safe society. Cheers!