How to break the Glass Ceiling in Leadership roles?

Mr Gaurav Malhotra was attending a session with future leaders at Management Development Institute, Gurgaon, and during this session one of the female students asked him a very relevant question that does Glass Ceiling still exist for women leaders? This question made Mr Malhotra think and do some research and then he explained that:

That if see the number of Fortune 500 firms then we will find that companies with no female directors are down by 54%, but the progress is still slow. We are already in the 21st century and nearly 5% of Fortune 500 companies are still run by all men boards of directors. It is also important to note that 28% of the Fortune 500 firms listed just one female as the director. Studies have shown that it takes at least three women directors to improve performance and governance and achieve effective critical mass.

If we review this situation in India, then we will find that:

SEBI had asked companies to list at least one woman on their board of directors on the Indian stock markets.  Moreover, the deadline for this exercise was listed for October 1, 2014, and was also extended till April 1, 2015, as India Inc had failed to find 966 women on their board of Directors to fill the seats and be at par with the new Companies Act 2013.

Why do we fail to understand that it is critical for Corporates to actively ensure Gender Diversity for long term sustainable success? They should not just comply with laws but encourage and ensure equal growth opportunities. These are few of the observations that were cited by Mr Gaurav Malhotra from his corporate experience of two decades.

The first observation was that if a corporate team is hiring for important leadership position then generally, they kind of reject female candidates in case they are married and are planning to have a baby soon or if they have young kids.

He even shared his own experience; when he was interviewing a female candidate for a finance director position and when he was about to make her the offer, she said that she wanted to tell that she was pregnant.

To this Mr Malhotra exclaimed that it is good news and should be celebrated; the candidate looked confused and confessed that this was the reason that she was asked to leave her last job where she was unnecessarily pressurised by her boss when he came to know about her pregnancy.  As he was afraid that she would have to be given maternity leave.

But she was hired by Mr Gaurav Malhotra and she proved to be one of the best leaders. He said that a female leader does multitasking as she has to do many roles and balances her family and work requirements equally. Corporates need to be flexible and empathetic to ensure they can perform both these roles successfully. When these female leaders personally are given support then they can mould their personal and professional vision into reality which leads to superior business outcomes.

Also, we need to provide a safe working environment for all female employees. We cannot let the devil of "Sexual Harassment" at the workplace make us lose this battle of inclusion of women leaders. He also shared a very interesting incident from the past where one experienced Human Resource Head was himself the creator of rumours and juicy gossip about the female staff and one day the management had to let him go to send the right message to the entire organisation. All organisations need to have a Zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment, juicy gossip and casual comments at the workplace.

As a family/society we need to change our mindset and encourage women to work and succeed in their professional career. We should give them the required support system and not set them up for failure. Says Mr Gaurav Malhotra that his wife is working in the corporate for the last 18 years and there have been situations where both had to make required adjustments to ensure that both succeed. Women are still the ones who sacrifice their careers to handle work and family ties. The important point is to build an adequate support system which is critical for the sustainability of careers.

We need to provide women with a feeling of safety and security so that they can travel for their work even at late hours some time. This should be one of the priorities of our government too. We should overcome this obstacle as this remains one of the barriers; still, most of our public transport and even radio taxi is not considered safe.

He also reinforced the fact that we will not do anyone a favour by breaking this glass ceiling for all the women leaders; in-fact this will ensure greater sustainable success for community, companies and country. We need to keep these debates going to ensure that this gender bias decreases.

By Mr. Gaurav Malhotra, Medicover Fertility (Managing Director India)