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The Labyrinth of Career Growth - A Woman’s Perspective
My reporting manager in his email used to address us as “Gents and Rajalakshmi”. I respect his choice of words, but this is also significant considering he is the CEO of our company. Fortunately, now we have our HR head who has now let him address his key leaders as Gents and Ladies!
But there is nothing strange about this. He at least gets to address his emails with ladies now. There are many companies out there – if we go take a look at their website and into the leadership pages, we will not find a single lady’s photo.
Women in Tech numbers are hovering around the late 20s or 30s in terms of percentage. And as we go up the ladder, we find fewer women. Many companies seem to have spruced up the gender representation by hiring a reputed woman leader for their independent director position. People who understand Corporate Governance’s practicality will understand how this works as well! But this is not surprising. A Deloitte research points out that – Women hold only 12% of seats worldwide but in that only 4% of them chair boards. Also, only 8.2% of women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. So, it all adds up.
As a post COVID-19 phenomenon, with some success of Work from Home – we saw companies fight to recruit talent across all spectrums and locations to meet the surging demand for technologists. But even in that fight – companies were and are dramatically trying to woo women from other companies as more and more companies had an objective of increasing the number of women in their workforce across levels.
As I spoke to my HR friends, I realized that – wooing women to switch is very difficult. And that could be a reason attrition among the women is low. But let us take a step back. Understanding that demand and supply is not balanced- isn’t it time companies look at building a talent pipeline internally to fill mid manager and leadership positions with women from their own pool? And how can we do this?
That is where sponsoring and mentorship programs come in beyond planning, identification of roles and hiring. An HBR article last year pointed out that there is a difference between mentorship and sponsorship. We need to identify sponsorship as an act of branding and publicizing the identified protégé. Mentorship involves the areas of guidance, feedback, and coaching mechanisms. Now that we have an understanding how both are unique – we can look at how these could help a workplace to truly improve gender diversity.
Let us take from the moment a woman enters the workforce in an organization. Let us assume that the freshers/trainees batch consist of 50% women and 50% men. But why do the numbers keep falling as years pass by? It is easy to say social context – a woman leaving for the sake of her family. But what about others who wanted to continue but did not have support? An organization needs to first look at what are the formal programs in place to match mentors with mentees and protégés with a sponsor. How are the professional and personal aspirations identified? Once these programs are put in place its effectiveness can help improve biases across the organization, improve employee engagement and experience. Mentorship plays a key role to broad base initiatives to improve skillsets and thus help more women to be part of the next level comfortably, while sponsorship will help nurture protégés who can climb the ladder quickly and help an organization build its future around them as well. Sponsors usually are senior leaders with power and influence and hence the acceleration. Women advocating for women is usually reported and celebrated in the media and it makes sense considering the challenges can be easily understood. But when men advocate for women – it means there is an organization where unconscious biases have been identified, worked on and are still being challenged. It will also build the culture of allies. These policies also will help a woman have confidence in the fact that, there are people in the organization who understand her strengths and challenges at times and will help her grow.
When an organization gets both these programs ready – we have a structure in place that will help improve the gender ratios holistically and not just with a mad scramble for talented women.
And I hope my leadership team is able to find a huge success with its program as well, that will help us boast of the diversity numbers specifically as managers and leaders!