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Women in Business: Breaking the Glass Ceiling

“Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.” – Quotes from Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”   

Historically, the cultural inheritance of business is only of male leadership, something that made sense in another time, when the cultural dynamics for women was different and far fewer were engaged in the business of business. But with Janet Yellen’s nomination to lead the Fed’s top job, business leaders and women’s groups alike started an unprecedented series of discussions on the incredibly overdue topic: women in business (unconventional roles). Although the majority of the world organisations may just finally be touching the tip of the iceberg of this crucial question in the development of gender equality, for many grassroots organisations, it is old news.

In the last few decades, women have made significant mark in the business world and are breaking the so called ‘glass ceiling’. This active participation of women, one can say, is because of emerging multi-nationals and increasing contribution of the private sector. Most of the studies depicts that the number of women taking active role into business and leadership are growing impressively.

The Grant Thornton IBR survey, which includes both listed and privately held businesses, shows a three percent increase in the number of women in senior management positions from 2011 to 2012, with 24 percent of businesses with women in senior management roles globally in 2012 (compared to 21% in 2011). The proportion of businesses employing women as CEOs has risen from nine percent to 14 percent.

But still the questions linger: In a society where women are ostensibly given the same professional opportunities as men, why do they still fall behind significantly in both rank and pay? When every statistic points to the fact that today’s young women are equally educated as their male counterparts, why have we not yet seen this advantage translate into the workplace?

Although women comprise significant percentage of the workforce, their presence falls off the ladder rather quickly as roles become more senior. In the year 2012, though women consist of over 1/3rd of the workforce in the US, they held a mere 14.3 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies and only 8.1 percent of executive officers at top-earner positions. Of the FTSE 100 companies, women held a mere 15 percent of board seats and 6.6 percent of executive positions in 2012. In the Asia Pacific region, the percentage of women in C-suite positions was about half that in Australia, Europe and North America.

Leadership Challenges for Women

According to a Mercer survey, the biggest challenges women face in their development as leaders related to work-life balance, lack of women role models, not having opportunities for career advancement and a lack of support from top management. According to professional networking site LinkedIn’s recent survey, majority of working women in India prefer greater flexibility at workplace and they define professional success as the right balance between work and personal life. Going to the findings of this survey, for professional women in India, 48 percent respondent thinks lack of investment in professional development is the major challenge that affects their career, followed by the absence of a role model (43%). Additionally, juggling between work and family life (36%) and inequality in pay (25%) were perceived to be major inhibitors of professional success, the survey said.

Women Leadership: Setting the Stage for Growth

Women empowerment would be in the front in 2014 as more companies, communities and countries are investing in women leadership. Organisations around the world are committed to develop future leaders and enhance diversity in order to attain better results for employees, customers and stakeholders. Lloyds, the taxpayer-owned bank, is aiming for 40 percent of top 5,000 roles to be women as chief executive.

However, when it comes to offering development programmes to help women advance as leaders, the solutions provided by organisations do not always address the core issue. Leadership development is a multi-phase process that goes beyond flexible work schedules and basic supervision; it must include opportunities to attain leadership experience, and more importantly, it must have support from top management.

Many organisations, all over world, have talented women in leadership pipelines, but there is a need of strategy to successfully advance them into leadership roles. In addition to programmes to develop women leaders, the strategy should also outline how to change the organisation’s corporate culture to identify the business value inherent to diverse leadership. Developing leadership skills for the next phase of business growth is a key productivity challenge, 49 percent of corporate India said in a Randstad workforce survey. As for women in leadership roles, 43 percent of organisations in India feel this will be a critical success factor, the survey revealed.

Additionally, more and more companies are taking note that gender diversity at board and top management positions promotes corporate growth. Going to the findings of a McKinsey review of 100 companies against the Organizational Health Index (OHI), it was revealed that companies with three or more women in senior positions – on the executive committee or board – scored higher than their peers.

Rise of Indian Corporate Women

Women have always worked in India, but the rise of the Indian corporate woman in the last few decades has been phenomenal. India remains a largely conservative society, with traditional attitudes about the role of women in many regions. But in spite of the major social challenges the country faces, the corporate world seems to have set its own progressive standards, particularly in banking and financial sector (that were once the inheritance of male leadership).

In the banking sector, dominated by men for long, India has no fewer than eight female banking bosses. In fact the appointment of Arundhati Bhattacharya as the first chairwoman of the country’s largest bank, the State Bank of India, came days before the announcement of Janet Yellen as the new Federal Reserve nominee.

According to Grant Thornton IBR study, 19 percent women are in senior management positions in India. In spite of negative press coming from India with respect to gender diversity, the country might prove to be the next leader.


Women breaking barriers was in the conversation in 2013 – from Janet Yellen’s nomination to lead the Fed’s top job to much-discussed piece in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” by a Princeton professor and former US State Department official, Anne-Marie Slaughter, to Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’ book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, which addresses how women can succeed in the face of gender barriers. But with companies recognising that women leaders see the world through a different lens and, in turn, do things differently, this would again be the front and centre in 2014 and the years to come.

And the ultimate winners would be companies and countries who recognise and leverage all of the women talent, innovation and ideas available to them.




By Aamir H Kaki


Grant Thornton International Business Report 2013‎














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