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"Empowering Women: How to Close the Leadership Gap in the Workplace"

Updated: Apr 25

"Empowering Women: How to Close the Leadership Gap in the Workplace"

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.



Ensuring women's representation in leadership is crucial for fostering diverse perspectives. With nearly half of the global population being women, their absence in leadership roles limits viewpoints and perpetuates inequalities. Although leading corporations are trying to achieve gender parity, women today account for merely 16% of directorships of NIFTY-500 companies in India. Moreover, India faces a significant challenge with one of the world's lowest female workforce participation rates at 27%. Studies indicate that gender parity in the workforce correlates with improved GDP, and in leadership roles brings multitudinous advantages.

2.Challenges, Current Status and Gaps

The lack of women's representation in leadership roles stems from multifaceted challenges of which the three most prominent are: Maternity leave policies, the gender pay gap, and social conditioning. In the following sections, we will explore each challenge, detailing its current status and identifying existing gaps

2.1 Maternity Leaves

“The biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other,” as quoted by the CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, highlights the perpetual struggle women face in balancing professional and familial responsibilities. Women often prioritize non-job-related aspects like proximity to home, flexible hours, and remote work while undertaking challenging job roles, while men tend to prioritize professional development. This discrepancy in caregiving responsibilities contributes to the "maternity penalty", resulting in limited representation in leadership positions, reflected in pay disparities, and hindered career growth.

Current Implementations by the government are

● The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, now incorporated into the Code on Social Security, 2020, mandates 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, ranking among the longest globally.

● The statute also requires organizations with more than 50 employees to provide mandatory creche facilities, either separately or as part of common facilities, within a specified distance. Leading companies like Adobe, UHG, and HUL comply with these regulations, but smaller firms often face financial constraints in offering creche or daycare services.

Despite the existence of maternity leave policies, the challenge lies in encouraging equal responsibility-sharing between working parents rather than solely burdening mothers with childcare duties. Some corporations are embracing gender-inclusive approaches and promoting equal responsibility-sharing, as depicted below.

The numbers are astonishing for creche facilities, with 21% of companies yet to even consider setting up such facilities. Notably, leading organizations like Adobe, UHG, and HUL provide creche facilities, but smaller companies often face financial constraints in doing so.

2.2Gender Pay Gap

Despite legislative efforts, the persistent gender pay gap remains a stark reality both globally and in India. Studies uncover substantial wage disparities, reflecting pervasive discrimination against women across industries and regions. India ranks poorly in gender parity, with statistics indicating up to a 37% wage gap between men and women in urban and rural areas combined.

It is observed that the gender pay gap widens for women as they advance in their careers. While women at an individual contributor level only earn 2.2% less than men working in similar roles, the gap widens for managers/supervisors, directors, and executives.

However, there is no legal mandate for pay transparency in India. This effectively limits the ability of appropriate authorities to hold establishments accountable for gender pay disparity. Unconscious bias continues to influence hiring, promotion, and compensation decisions, perpetuating the gender pay gap.

2.3Gender Stereotypes and Social Conditioning

Women leaders confront persistent gender bias and stereotypes in the workplace, hindering their advancement. The Glass ceiling along with the notion of women being too emotional and lacking assertiveness fuels unconscious biases affecting hiring, promotions, and leadership opportunities. Limited access to challenging assignments and gender stereotypes in work evaluation impede their representation in senior roles. Additionally, social conditioning fosters imposter syndrome among women, hindering their professional growth and leadership potential.

Current Implementations by the government and organizations are

● Under the Companies Act of 2013, listed and public companies meeting certain criteria are required to appoint at least one woman director to their board.

● Corporations have implemented various initiatives to foster gender inclusion, such as Mentorship and Support Networks, Leadership and Personal Development Programs, and Corporate Wellness Programs.

Although policies mandating the appointment of at least one woman director have increased women's representation on boards, their effectiveness in challenging gender stereotypes is limited. Gender stereotypes continue to exist from selection till retirement. Biases persist in board appointments, with 75% of NIFTY-50 companies meeting only the bare minimum requirement. Further, disparities in the selection of females as board-committee leaders and as members limit their representation and effectiveness as leaders. To exacerbate the situation, only 22% of women complete their tenure or retire from directorship roles, highlighting ongoing challenges in achieving gender parity.

Family and societal norms fuel gender biases in family business boards. Despite families occupying 21% of seats, only 2% are held by women, as per the EY and St Gallen Family Business Index, 2021. Succession planning often favors male heirs, sidelining equally capable female counterparts. Valli Arunachalam's legal battle for gender equality in the Murugappa group highlights this ongoing challenge.

3.The Way Ahead: Recommendations

In light of the challenges outlined above, proactive steps towards women's inclusivity can significantly impact our journey towards gender parity. However, without intervention, it is estimated to take us 149 years to achieve this goal. Here are some recommendations to accelerate progress

3.1Gender pay transparency reports

Mandating companies to disclose gender pay data on platforms like Glassdoor will foster transparency and accountability in pay practices. This enables employees to make informed decisions about their careers and puts pressure on companies to address gender pay disparities and promote equal pay for equal work.

3.2Performance evaluation with gender-wise and maternity-wise reports

Implementing performance evaluations that include gender-wise and maternity-wise metrics helps identify and address biases in the workplace. By analyzing performance data based on gender and maternity status, organizations can ensure fair treatment and equal opportunities for women in leadership roles, ultimately promoting gender diversity and inclusion. Additionally, organizations should amend their policies to mandatorily implement performance evaluation before the female employee undertakes maternity leave to address the concerned biases in assigning job roles, and promotions when she returns to work.

3.3Addressing Gender bias at the level of Company Boards

Gender bias at the board level requires multi-faceted intervention. Legislative provisions to appoint one independent female director should be implemented in letter and spirit. Companies should amend their policies to achieve representation of women in committee membership and as chair, rather than leaving it to the executive’s discretion. Furthermore, introducing a progressive quota system for gender representation on company boards is essential. Beginning with a one-fourth of female directors requirement and incrementally increasing every five years until achieving one-half representation, this phased approach facilitates a gradual yet significant shift toward gender diversity in corporate governance.

3.4Promoting Equitable Parental Involvement: Enhancing Paternity Leave

By implementing extended paternity leave and offering flexible work hours, organizations can ensure equal parental involvement in childcare. Combining a four-week paternity leave with a three-month flexible work-from-home option facilitates the integration of childcare responsibilities with the birth of a child while maintaining organizational productivity. It's essential to recognize that paternity leave is not exclusive to male caregivers, embracing a gender-neutral approach to caregiving responsibilities. This inclusivity extends to all new parents, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation, recognizing the diverse ways in which families are formed, whether through birth, adoption, or surrogacy and fostering equal parental engagement in childcare duties.

3.5Mandatory creche facilities at affordable prices

Accessible, and affordable childcare options enable women to return to work and advance in their careers without compromising their family responsibilities. Large corporations can do this in the form of shared services with neighboring business parks, or flexible funding models such as pay-per-use, by small businesses in the form of child care stipends, or by implementing employee-sponsored concierge services as affordable options. Additionally, the government can bring amendments in policy allowing small businesses/ MSMEs to partner with Anganwadi centers, Civil Society, etc. to provide child-care facilities along with subsidies or tax incentives.

3.6Creating Inclusive Workspaces to address Imposter syndrome

Establishing a regular feedback mechanism where employees can anonymously report instances of bias, and discrimination, and share experiences with imposter syndrome will promote the creation of safe spaces to raise individual and work-culture-related challenges. Organizing panel discussions featuring diverse voices and perspectives to foster understanding and empathy among employees (both male and female) can address such issues. In addition, inclusive language guidelines by the corporates to promote respectful communication and avoid unintentional stereotyping of imposters along with initiatives like Mentorship for future leadership roles, Networking, and Employee Resource Groups (ERG) go a long way in bridging the gender gap in leadership roles.


“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders”

As articulated by Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook, the vision of a world where gender discrimination no longer exists requires us to take proactive measures to close this gap. Providing women equal opportunity to express their opinions, and ensuring their voices are heard will allow us to shape a world that is equally hers. In today’s era when women are highly qualified and skilled as their male counterparts, they deserve equal representation not only at the entry level but also in leadership roles. Corporates attracting the best talents from the available workforce are best suited to adopt, and inculcate this change and move towards Gender Equality, which is also one of the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations to be realized by 2030.

Meet the thought leader

Vamsi is a mentor at GGI, and has a diverse background that includes being a former McKinsey employee and a graduate of IIT Madras. He possesses a broad skill set encompassing strategy and operations, gained from his various roles and industry exposure.

Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)

Aakanksha has graduated from ICT (UDCT) Mumbai. She has three years of experience in digital transformation and data analytics at a leading supply chain consulting firm. Her passion lies in problem-solving and strategy consulting, where she leverages her analytical skills to drive results. Additionally, she hosted a podcast show on Spotify and served as the president of her organization's Toastmasters club.

Shivangni, based out of Patna in Bihar, has a non-linear journey. Currently working in the Education sector, where she deploys analytics and people skills; she had her stint at UPSC Civil Services Examination and had worked earlier as a software developer in a leading health insurance organization. A graduate of NIT Warangal, she is passionate about Emerging Technologies, Data Science, and Business Strategy, and aims to utilize these skills in an impact-driven ecosystem to create value in people’s lives, and businesses.

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.



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