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Empowering Women

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For far too long, society was in blissful denial about the state of the well-being of nearly half of its population. Whether it’s the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution or more recently, the technological revolution, women have got a smaller piece of the pie all along.

But today, relentless activism and a strong reaffirmation of human rights have enabled an awakening of sorts in the society about women’s fundamental rights and their role outside the confines of the household.

Despite that we see that women contribute only approximately 17% of the entire GDP of India, which is ironic because they end up taking the maximum load of running families, households and in general, caregiving responsibilities, irrespective of whether they are employed or not. Even so, the economic achievements of India have not commensurately encouraged women to join the workforce. Only 25% of the Indian workforce is female, giving it a rank of 121 out of 131 countries when it comes to female participation in the workforce.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot of under realized potential in the corporate sector in India. According to a report by McKinsey, a higher participation of women in the workforce, raising the number of hours spent by them on the job, and including them in higher-productivity sectors could help add up to $770 billion in the GDP by 2025.

Even for the women who are in the corporate sector, it’s not a cakewalk by any standards. A Dale Carnegie India research found that female workers in the Indian workforce were significantly more disengaged than their male counterparts. While just 39% of women said that they felt fully engaged, Indian male workers were way ahead with 50% feeling engaged with their work.

For many years now, studies have confirmed that women have equalled men when it comes to education but still lag behind in pay and benefits. The Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey notes that women are staying in the workforce and doing their part. Women are not leaving their companies at higher rates than men. Moreover, the vast majority of women who plan to leave their company actually intend to stay in the workforce. Women are also asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rates as men, and this has been true since 2015.

So if women are stepping up, what is the issue that is at the core of the skewed gender balance in the corporate sector?

The Dale Carnegie whitepaper on Engagement points to the fact that women’s working conditions have been steadily improving over the past decade, with more child-care support, better benefits like flexi-time, etc. But these perks are still available only to a small section of the working population.

 The type of work women in India have the opportunity to do, their career prospects once they enter the workforce, and the expectations from them when it comes to family life are still governed by traditional attitudes in many regions. As a result, they tend to take home smaller pay checks as they end up investing less in their work lives.

It is also often observed that women employees find enough mentors to help them excel at their job but too few sponsors who will help them grow on the corporate ladder. Lack of sponsorship is one of the pivotal reasons that women cannot easily break the ‘glass ceiling’.

Another obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership is at the first step up to manager. The Women in the Workplace report suggests that for every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. This ‘broken rung’ results in more women getting stuck at the entry level and fewer women becoming managers. Not surprisingly, men end up holding 62 percent of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38 percent. Women who are pushing to reach to the top face a range of challenges that their male counterparts don’t have any exposure or understanding about.

It is fascinating to note that if and when this ‘glass ceiling’ is broken, women employees become more engaged at the workplace. The Dale Carnegie Research confirms that women at the C-suite level are the most motivated with 63% reporting as being fully engaged.

How can we tackle issues such as the broken rung or the lack of sponsorship?

Turns out, there is a lot that is in the hands of the women themselves.

  • Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome:

The Imposter syndrome is living with the tugging feeling of inadequacy despite evidence of success. Women who tend to dwell on negative thoughts, do not give themselves the chance to celebrate their success and use it as a springboard to growth. Moving past the guilt of leaving families and households or the fear of sounding boastful will help women take credit for their multifaceted talents and their immense contribution at the workplace.

  • Building a Sisterhood:

Women who are already in the corporate sector and successful at their workplace have a responsibility of garnering support for other women who might need it the most. A sure way for women to be fully engaged at the workplace is if they feel that their values, morals and integrity are celebrated. When women emulate fairness, togetherness and empathy, they can help become sponsors and advocates for other deserving women.

  • Onwards and Upwards:

Gender equality depends as much on women as it does on men. When women go for what they want, without being deterred, they pave the way for not just themselves but even for other women. Women should also focus on honing the skills required in the job market in order to get more job opportunities and fix the broken rung that prevents them from being promoted. When in meetings, in order to be heard, it is important for women to express their opinion and stand up for what they believe.

  • Financial Independence:

A woman who is financially independent automatically feels more empowered and liberated. Women who work towards earning even a meagre income to begin with, end up having far more freedom of choice compared to those who don’t. Many women choose to run their own small businesses from their homes in their spare time, giving them the extra income and sense of independence. These businesses often have much more scope for success if the women running them have the right entrepreneurial skills and capital investments. Women entrepreneurs should not be shy of seeking investors and the right kind of talent that is needed to grow their business.

  • Being Confident & Speaking Up:

On the journey to success, women and often men encounter people who may derail or dislike them for no apparent reason. As simple as it might sound, there’s merit in finding comfort and confidence despite these obstacles and staying focussed on what you have set out to achieve. Clarity of purpose and good people skills will help remove many impediments to success. Overcoming the fear of being ostracized and speaking up when it most counts can truly be the game-changers for women. Building relationships, communicating with confidence and working on your personal brand are crucial if you want to move up the ladder and past the bias.

Women as well as men tend to give in to gender stereotypes and can become perpetuators of cultural norms. For any big change to take shape, it is important that it begins with us. Questioning your choice of words, steering away from loose judgements on others, forging alliances that work in your favour and taking command of your own destiny are some of the things that will go a long way in fighting the gender bias.

When it comes to the workplace, people who are in senior leadership positions must model the right behaviour in order for it to trickle down to the entire workforce. When managers actively fight pre-programmed biases within and around themselves, they not only help deserving minorities shine, they also mould the path of equal opportunity and fairness in the culture of an organization.