By Sneha Battin

In a life filled with meaningfulness and accomplishments, there have been some iconic women who have emerged as leading pioneers in various sectors. By challenging the society’s way of workings, women have established themselves as powerhouses and have redefined history. From aerospace to arts, women have made their contribution by making choices to lead active lives on their terms.

Today, despite there being several regions that have denied women their basic rights, I feel we are quite grateful than those around us. Surely being privileged than some makes us feel blessed, however, we forget that we did not get this easy. Women before us have fought for what we consider is our right today, that we deservedly enjoy and have at times, even taken granted for. I, for one, am guilty of not knowing much about the Pankhurst women before my interest in this realm grew. These women, more than a century ago, were some of the early pioneers of women’s suffrage. They founded the Women’s Social and Political Union and demanded direct actions which in those times were considered aggressive and even illogical. It is because of such foresighted and insightful women that we, on this day, can voice our opinions and are allowed to create our destiny.

The fact that things were unfavourable back then and are better now cannot be denied. But the fact that there still remains scope for improvement cannot be ignored either. I believe that by simply understanding how things could have been worse and how we are doing so much better than the less-fortunate ones should not paralyze our steps to make things even better. The blatant and undeniable truth that despite our half of the world’s population is equally intelligent and committed, and that we have not had enough opportunities to showcase our talents in a way that would benefit the world is something we all know and have even accepted, but have never actually given much thought to. Warren Buffet, speaking about his success, mentioned that his competition had really been against just half of the population. This gives us a glimpse of the magnitude of the problem. It denotes the chances that we have missed or the advances that we as human-kind could have together achieved. Just consider how different our world would be if both genders had had equivalent opportunities to outshine.

Psychologically speaking, women tend to think about the bigger picture. Our actions and decisions are all based on wanting to improve conditions not just for ourselves, but for our family and society. Even in our careers, we tend to think more about our organisation, about wanting to make our team perform better. But when it comes to our workplace, which is usually dominated by men, it is deeply coated with masculine values and expectations that offers us-women, less chance of career advancements. One of McKinsey’s report found out that while men were being promoted purely on their potential and talent, women, on the other hand, were given opportunities to rise based on their past accomplishments. So, the need to be visible to get ahead in the game is extremely high. And in addition to that, due to the pre-existing limitation of resources and opportunities, women have even lower chances when contested with their other female colleagues.

Such constraints are so imbibed in our everyday life, that we have already accepted them. And often, apart from external constraints built by the society, the internal barriers a woman encounters, such as fear of not being able to deliver, not being resourceful enough, is so deeply rooted in our minds, that at times we feel like giving up even before starting. We worry about what others might perceive of us before asking a doubt or even pointing out the obvious. The idea of an idealistic woman set for us is so profound, that we refrain to be outspoken or get into a good debate as we do not want to be labelled as argumentative.

When it comes to leadership (and although the world has made some amazing advancements in different sectors in recent times), women have been at a loss here as they are still lagging. Statistically too, women make just 5.4% of the entire population of CEO-based roles at Fortune 1000 companies, depicting a slow rate of women taking up these high-ranking leadership positions. The variety of challenges that women face as compared to their male counterparts is something every woman would relate to as these issues often start on the personal front and lead to professional barriers.

In health, according to Modern Healthcare, women are passed up for promotions as very few reach leadership positions. Despite several healthcare systems offering varying positions including clinical and non-clinical roles, women are often neglected for managemental positions due to their gender. They are overlooked or at times not even considered for the race, losing crucial opportunities for both the individual and the organisation. One of the studies for healthcare leadership noted that more than 50% of health companies did not have a sponsorship program for women that would help them advance. And although almost as high as 80% of the entire workforce in healthcare is made of women, the overall figure for women in a substantial leadership position is as low as 20%. This shows that although the society has accepted women in the roles of doctors, practitioners and nurses, but when it comes to decision-making and leading an organisation, the generally perceived notion of the society remains largely ignorant. Such blockages have prevented many women in the past from achieving their goals of becoming a leader, which in turn has resulted in reduced ability to get ahead in the game.

Some of the identified barriers that have been major reasons for this decline in leadership have mostly been associated with structural challenges, institutional barriers (often pre-existing) and the daily work environment experience that have not proven to be employee-supportive. Structural challenges that hold women back are usually due to inadequate or misstructured advancement opportunities that do not offer women much flexibility. Besides this, the existing biases and the general notion that women may not be able to keep up with the pace along with the impact of everyday work environment that does not offer a supportive experience for employees are considered as major reasons for reduced diversity. These key challenges should be addressed.

To tackle this, we need to understand the gravity of obstacles women face. From societal peer-pressure to subtle sexism, gender-discrimination, being a woman of colour and sexual harassment are struggles that most women have faced or worse, are still facing. The inflexible work-culture that do not offer women access to child-care or even parental leave, is no doubt changing, but its overall growth rate still remains slow. To achieve an equal footing, organisations need to be transparent to show how the promotion process works and must make effective efforts to evaluate the root cause of gender disparity. Several lopsided barriers such as exposure to finance and operations-related department in early careers for men have given them an advantage when it comes to the race of experience. This often leads to them being easily picked up for leadership roles.

To effectively change such a work culture, management should have leaders who should be believing in the cause of having gender disparity. Not only is having a wider gender-variance a proven way of success, but it also brings fresher perspectives that is a must for our ever-evolving generation. Thus, organisations need to keep track of the number of women in their organisations that are being promoted. And if not, effective strategies should be implemented to find out the cause for it.

This imbalance is not just a woman’s concern. It affects everyone. And although it is undeniable that efforts are made to achieve this, however, to move forward requires effective strategies through legalization and policy reforms on health and childcare benefits, as impacting this will only lead to an impact in the gender gap. Addressing these agendas will lead to organisations having different perspectives and will have a stronger team that does not just have good talent, but also the energy and capability that leads to a stronger economy and a much stronger society.

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