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Does the Glass Ceiling for Women in the Workplace Really Exist?

Lakshmi Priya
Lakshmi Priya
Director of Culture and People Development, Barry Wehmiller International Resources
Lakshmi Priya is the Director of Culture and People Development at Barry Wehmiller international ... more>>
Consider the statistics. Approximately 50 percent of the world’s population is female. Yet, the proportion of women in senior management roles is only 21 percent globally, while India reports a dismal 14 percent. 

The responsibility of handling a home and raising children is often cited to explain these statistics, but Yahoo and Marissa Mayer have just laughed away that theory. Various studies have not established a clear correlation between the proportion of women in senior roles and the availability of flexible hours or work from home policies.

There are various cultural, social and economic reasons in India, that make it that much more difficult for women to breach the barrier; however there are still some areas that working women can work on to chart a leadership course.

Many young women managers struggle to strike the balance between being too assertive and risk being labeled as pushy, or retaining their empathetic selves and risk being treated as push-overs. Women also think long and hard about projecting the right office image, plain, nerdy and inconspicuous, or being noticeably dressy. The typical middle-class Indian working woman also does not hang around the television in the pantry watching cricket matches with the guys; neither does she spend Friday evening at the club building networks with bosses. While young male managers can attempt to follow the leadership styles of their chosen role models (almost always male), women managers usually lack role models at the workplace.They may look up to male leaders, but these role models are never adequate to help them navigate the challenges of female stereotypes!

Leadership coaches suggest several strategies for young women managers. Joining professional groups or associations is one of them. These settings give them a chance to find role models, as well as to try out different leadership styles in settings away from the office. Soliciting feedback from a trusted mentor at work on what behaviors they could improve on is also a good plan. In terms of office image, the key words are neatness and elegance. Dowdy clothes are a no-no, and so are dressy, glamorous ones. Women need to be noticed for the right reasons - doing background work and getting a name in a report as one among others will go only so far. There is no substitute for offering to take on additional responsibility that will give greater visibility to one’s contribution, for volunteering to lead that important client presentation or for asking well-thought out questions at meetings.

We need to remember that we are in an age where women are taking the lead in some of the world’s toughest economic and political environments. Christine Lagarde heads the International Monetary Fund. Angela Merkel is the key figure in solving the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Maria das Gracas Foster is the first woman to run one of the world’s top five oil companies, Petrobras. India boasts of women leaders like ChandaKocchar, IndraNooyi, KiranMazumdar… and the list goes on.

So ladies, perhaps some of the answer lies in us women gritting our teeth in the face of cultural compulsions and taking a measure of control over our own careers!
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