Women in Leadership : Enablers, Barriers & Way Forward. The Male Perspective

It is now 1 year since we rolled out the Women Lead Initiative and it has been a very eventful year.

As we went through the journey of conducting depth interviews with senior women professionals and validating the veracity of international research through their experiences, one objection emerged.

The objection was that we might be in an echo chamber where we hear only the voices of women.

We had our doubts about being able to get into an echo chamber. We have too many male influences in our lives – clients, colleagues, friends, and family. But it did intrigue us.

It would certainly be worthwhile to obtain the male perspective beyond informal discussions with friends and family.

And thus came about the Women Lead – Thought Leaders Discussion (The male perspective).

So on the 3rd of February, we got a very illustrious mix of men from varied backgrounds and age groups to gather and discuss over a cup of coffee on Women in Leadership – enablers, barriers, and way forward.

The quorum consisted of Dr. Aquil Busrai : Ex- Executive Director, Human Resources IBM Corporation & CEO Aquil Busrai Consulting; Prof. M M Pant : Former Pro-Vice-Chancellor IGNOU & Next Generation Learning specialist; Vijay Kumar : Ex- Global Director -HR India, Avantor Performance Materials, Inc. & MD at FlexyManagers; Shailesh Tewary :President Hriday & Ex- Regional Director Human Resources – South Asia G4S Corporate Services (India) Pvt. Ltd ; Deepak Bharara : Chief Human Resource Officer at LANCO INFRATECH LIMITED ; Kartik V : Co-founder Juxt-Smartmandate analytical solutions & Ex Associate Vice President Hansa Research Group ; Rohan Arora : Ex- Business Head – Digital OOH and CMO Times Group & Founder & CEO of Bueno Foods ; Anoop SEHAN : Founder at Ready Steady Go; Amit Mukherji: CEO at KapsPro; Gautam Vijh: AVP – Talent Management at CPA Global;  Akshay Chaturvedi: CEO, House full International Ltd & Ex Business Head, ZigWheels.com & Vivek Gupta: Ex- Principal Consultant, Tech Mahindra & Co-Founder at Storecheq.

The first thing that struck us was that despite looking at the issue from 2 different perspectives the action points suggested were broadly the same.

Secondly, work could be redesigned to accommodate women’s requirements and when applied equally to men could actually be better for all. After all, men too require family time.

Third, clarity in what you want and asking for what you need without fear of being seen as “asking for concessions” is required.

Some snippets:

 “In organizations, we celebrate the wrong things. Diversity is not only about having more women in the workforce but also seeing where in the hierarchy the women are.”

“In our organization, we ensured that all meetings ended at 6 pm because we understood that women need to leave then. This applied even though people may be in different time zones and may have to wake up early to make it.”

“Despite policies for maternity leave (paid), then unpaid leave for 6 months and then reduced work hours many women decide after approx. 18 months from delivery that they are not rejoining. Time and money (capital) need return.”

“No special concession for women but equal to all. Create policies that enable work-life balance.”

“Realise you are not a superwoman and you do not need to be one.”

“Everybody regardless of men and women has domestic issues and professional issues. While men are able to outsource domestic issues to women. If women are able to outsource their domestic challenges, they would be able to make it. The load has to be balanced.”

“Even women don’t want to take senior jobs as they entail high responsibility, accountability.”

“There must be some inherent qualities as women become leaders once they get married. But the same qualities are not seen when they enter corporates.”

Will quickly share the action points that emerged:

1.    Focus on future skills. Leapfrog into leadership positions by skilling yourself in areas that are becoming more important.

2.    Ask for what you want at home and at work. Be clear in what you want and ask.

3.    Ensure that management walks the talk. HR policies exist, get them implemented. This advice is especially for women in the C-suite. Today technology ensures that you do not need to be physically present to make things happen.

4.    Ask for support from family. Create systems like shared calendars (This advice I had heard in a video by Indra Nooyi too)

5.    Acquire business acumen. Understand how business works. Nobody enters a senior leadership position without that understanding.

6.    During maternity, breaks keep abreast with what is happening. (PS- maternity breaks can’t be 8-10 years as by that time everything has changed.)

7.    Prioritize networking but do it innovatively like breakfast and lunch meetings

8.    Deliver the goods and do not misuse the flexibility given.

The final take away for us was that together we can create an equal playing field.