Despite a strong push for greater representation, women are still a woeful minority in the top echelons of today’s corporate world. Anju Jain discusses strategies that might be able to remedy this situation in her book 'Step Up'.
Despite a strong push for greater representation, women are still a woeful minority in the top echelons of today’s corporate world. Anju Jain discusses strategies that might be able to remedy this situation in her book Step Up.
Much has been written on women leadership in the corporate world today. Yes, there are few women in the workforce, and much fewer in leadership roles. Despite women making up roughly 50% of the working population, this picture remains commonplace. To change this, women have been asked to work hard, persist, network, and maintain unfaltering commitment to their jobs. Despite them doing all this and a lot more, there often comes a point when they give up, either because of their own reasons or those imposed by others in their ecosystem.
So do we conclude this is an impossible situation to be in? That there is no ray of hope in here? The answer of course is negative! Women don’t have to write off their dreams just because they are women, just because they have to bear children, or just because they have to adhere to societal norms. If one so desires, things can be changed, but this needs intentional efforts. These efforts not only have to come from the woman but also from those surrounding her. This environment includes her family, her spouse, her organization, and others.
My recent book, Step Up, offers 4+1 strategies that can turn around the statistics of female representation across the ranks in an organization. The first four strategies have to be owned and worked upon by women. There are no two ways about that. If women want to realize their pursuits of choice, they have to step up.
Women have to own and move their cheese, create domestic career bliss, diffuse organizational perceptions, and manage the pendulum swings of life and work challenges.
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The first strategy – owning and moving cheese – is about making a commitment that “I am going to change things for myself,” and that “I am going to write my own future.” This involves defining my vision, strengthening my efficacy, and engaging to achieve that very vision. Until I am clear in what I want, I cannot get there. Further, if I don’t have the belief in my ability to get there, that too poses a constraint. Finally, without giving it my all, I am likely to fail. This by far is the most critical strategy to work on.
The second strategy is an acknowledgement that women have to align their families to their aspirations. If the spouse, children, parents, or in-laws are not on board, realization of the woman’s vision may be questionable. So women have to intentionally create a domestic-career bliss to move ahead. We have to initiate a conversation with our spouse and others, and share our vision and solicit their support in words and kind.
Ask for help from family members in child- and home-related tasks, and to step up in line with our aspirations.
Diffusing the many smoke screens that organizations are marred with makes strategy number three. Societal culture invariably pervades organizational culture too. The stereotypes and the unwritten rules do not easily portray women as leaders. Needless to say, women need to break these barriers. We need to on-board the organization to our vision by having a conversation with our stakeholders and stating what we want. By aligning them with our vision, we can be better positioned to achieve our goals.
Managing the pendulum swings is the fourth strategy that women need to drive. We need to on-board our networks – family, friends, colleagues, day-cares, cooks, maids, and others – to streamline our lives. Engaging them with our vision will undoubtedly free us from mundane tasks and allow us to focus on the critical ones.
The last and final strategy is what I call the “partner” strategy. Here I acknowledge that women alone cannot change the game. There needs to be an avid support of the majority, of those who hold power. These include the organization, male colleagues, the policy makers, and the media. Organizational support can come in the form of inclusivity, policies, transparency, and leadership commitment. Invariably, male colleagues also have a significant role to play. By acknowledging and reinforcing that women are smart, capable, and can perform as well as anybody else, men can set the tone in their organization.
Male colleagues have to be intentional and open in their actions to convey a message of inclusivity and equal and fair treatment in the workplace.
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The policy-makers – by virtue of elevating the status of women in society – can make a difference too. Whether it is women’s right to education, property, or safety, action on all of these can play a significant role. Policies on maternity and paternity leaves, mandate on childcare on the organizational premises, affordable childcare, or inducting women back after a break can aid in encouraging women to stay in their careers.
The final partner which has powerful reach and impact on our mindsets is the media. By showcasing women in empowering roles and men in nurturing roles and creating a balance in the minds of the viewer, a change can be initiated. Breaking cultural stereotypes and mores can poise everyone towards achieving balanced leadership at home and at work.
It does take a village to raise a child. All of us have to step up to enable a sustainable change.