Why do we see fewer women at higher levels of hierarchy?


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The last decade of the very new 21st century has witnessed a great deal on feminism and career-oriented women. We are being encouraged to pursue our careers, to reach for the stars and to not fear anyone. This is reflected in the attitude of a lot of women towards their work and their families which seem to be receiving an equal amount of attention. However, one question looms large- why is it that women are still so grossly underrepresented at high-level positions even today?

1. Project Male

Studies have shown that in most companies, even among high-potential employees, projects which can greatly advance one’s career are still handed out to men. The percentage of men working on game-changing projects with high stake is always at least 20-25% higher than that of women. As long as this gap and bias towards men exists, women are always going to come second.

2. Women leave, and here’s why.

Yes, a lot of women end up having to give up a plush job that they’re excelling at. We know this. But do you know that in a study conducted by Pamela Stone, a professor at Hunter College, it was found that high-achieving women worked well past the birth of their second child. They did well in spite of babies. But, over 90% of them left because of the frustration and unsuitable conditions at their workplace. Working part-time left them tired and underpaid and because their work-hours and income weren’t prorated, they decided to leave.

3. Bias and moms.

Women are discriminated against. Period. They get fewer opportunities than men, that is well-known. But working moms tend to receive lesser than childless women. Working moms are seen as less committed and hence are not given any attention. By a stroke of luck, if working mothers do get rave performance reviews, then other female raters perceive them as less likeable when compared to fathers and childless women and make fewer offers and raises to them. It’s a tough world for moms really!

4. Government regulations- a ray of hope

In a passage of the Companies Act in 2013, all listed companies now must have at least one woman in the board of directors. This has caused a lot of companies to hire bright, young women who have brought about significant upliftment in the return on equity.

In fact, India has done the best in representing women in the board in the entire Asia Pacific region. We have the largest number of women CEOs in the region especially in the finance sector- one that a lot of women shy away from.

A lot more needs to be done. There needs to be a larger pool of women at higher ranks and at senior management roles. At present, a lot of developmental programmes are still being targeted at the senior-most level which continues to be male-dominated. Women also need leadership programmes to help them rise up the ranks in a seamless fashion. That’s when we can say, “India has arrived!”

Sources: Women in the Workplace: A Research Roundup- Harvard Business Review

Korn Ferry Diversity Scorecard 2016