Pilots, doctors, scientists, engineers, and corporate professionals: Women have permeated and excelled in all these sectors and so much more. We are inspired by women like Indra Nooyi who became the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PepsiCo in 2006. We are in awe of women like Prithula Chowdhury, who gave her life in an attempt to save 10 Nepali nationals in the recent US-Bangla airline crash in Kathmandu.
In spite of these amazing examples and so many more, why do women comprise only 19% of C-level executives? What can the organizations do to help women rise to the top and help bridge the leadership gap?
During my long professional life, I have seen many of my female colleagues -- be it juniors, seniors, newly married ones, or expecting ones -- not leave their work until and unless they have wrapped it up to their satisfaction. I can even give you examples of pregnant women who worked until the very last day of their childbirth.
It is my firm belief that women are far more invested in what they do. According to a research in 2015, not only did companies with strong female leadership have 2.7% higher return on equity but also, those companies were connected with fewer governance-related controversies. This is exactly the reason why organizations should focus on delivering diversity strategies that will ensure real progress in dealing with gender imbalances in the workplace.
The responsibility lies on companies to foster an environment of transparency which will help both men and women to reach their true potential. Employers must realize that flexibility benefits are not asked by only a particular gender or at a particular junction in life
A report published by PwC on the occasion of International Women’s Day this year, based on a survey of over 3,600 professional working women from across the globe, revealed that women around the world did not completely trust their bosses on matters related to promotion and/or salary and feedback regarding their career. The report brought to light a phenomenon called “the motherhood penalty” -- 42% women believed having children could adversely impact their career and 48% new mothers thought they were passed over for promotions and high-profile projects.
Moreover, owing to work pressure and fearing repercussions affecting their career, 37% women did not take full advantage of maternity/adoption leave. Many organizations may have flexibility policies in place but whether they can be easily enjoyed is another matter altogether. Reality is, people who opt for flexibility benefits are often viewed as less committed to the organization and a significant number of women feel availing such benefits hampers their career in the long run.
Today, millennial women are changing things in the workplace. They are ambitious and determined to achieve success while remaining true to their priorities. They are confident and have full faith in their ability to lead. Instead of shying away from self-advocacy, more and more women are having discussions about promotions, raises, and scopes to advance their career. These talented women need support network and advocacy. They need to look up and see faces like their own at the top.
The responsibility lies on companies to foster an environment of transparency which will help both men and women to reach their true potential. Employers must realize that flexibility benefits are not asked by only a particular gender or at a particular junction in life; rather, these amenities are demanded by everyone and it is high time that everyone gets the opportunity to enjoy such benefits in peace.
Organizations ought to value and recognize stellar performance as opposed to carrying on the traditional belief that presence means everything. Only through these efforts can the fantastic women around us excel and advance to leadership position which, in turn, will ultimately benefit the organization and the community.
Mamun Rashid is a partner at PwC Bangladesh. This is the excerpt of a speech made at a program on International Women’s Day.