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Women as Leaders

While growing up, my parents constantly reminded me that the only way to get noticed in the boys world was to ace the grades. I nailed that briefing, performed well in academics throughout school and college and graduated from one of the top institutes in the country. I entered corporate life dreamy eyed and with a lot of enthusiasm, determined to see myself on the cover of a business magazine one day!!!. Corporate life was very different from academic life and I soon realized it takes more than “just” IQ to succeed. I was often the only girl in the team and had to constantly conform to the “boys club” rules. What I lacked in awareness of the political landscape at work I “overcompensated” with sincerity and hard work (read putting in late hours!!!). The strategy worked quite well till I became a mom and became responsible for a lovely tiny human being (so far the best project “go live” I had , faced loads of post production issues but I pulled through 😀 ) . Why we don't have enough women leaders?I soon started losing it to the invisible barriers of the corporate world because “time” and “emotional bandwidth” became a luxury. I started facing a lot of challenges which earlier I was somehow was capable of handling or was just blissfully ignorant!! There was a time when I thought I was the only one facing these “unique” challenges. After talking and interacting with some amazing women in the past couple of years I realized they were not so unique after all.

  1. Working mothers are trapped in a cycle of guilt where they feel they are bad mothers for leaving their child behind and bad employees because they put their child first as a top priority.
  2. Occasions of self doubt and fear of “rocking the boat” while gearing up for a new role or challenge at work.
  3. Career women are constantly subjected to unwanted judgment by family, friends, peers, bosses and at times absolute strangers!!!.Women leaving on time are perceived as “non productive” and the ones working late as “negligent mothers” or “over ambitious”.
  4. Women are still playing catch up with their male counterparts in terms of salary, promotions and roles. The stakes of getting it right all the time is high and take failure/feedback to heart.
  5. Women often do not spend time on socializing at work or outside because of lack of time and hence are unable to build an emotional/professional support network which can help them overcome a personal or professional crisis.
  6. A “soft spoken” woman is expected to become “aggressive” and an “assertive” women is tagged “too aggressive”. The pressure and expectations to conform to the male leadership style is very high. Lack of female role models at work further reinforces the belief that you have to adopt the male leadership style in order to succeed at work.
  7. Most women assume that doing “good work” is enough to be recognized. They are uncomfortable promoting or marketing their work and feel discouraged when someone else walks away with the credit.
  8. They are typically given less responsible roles or smaller roles in the organizations with the underlying assumption that they are not fit to take up challenging roles since she is a mother.
  9. The breaks in the career are the biggest hurdle for women, especially maternity breaks. There is little or no support extended to women who come back from maternity breaks to integrate them back to the workforce. No expectation management is done with line managers and HR when women leave and are back from the break.
  10. Lack of alternate career options for women in the organizations when they have challenges on personal front. Availability of challenging yet achievable roles for women in organizations.
  11. Women availing work from home or other flexi-time options are passed on for promotions when compared to employees who come to office.
  12. Women are reluctant to network because either they see it as time consuming, see no value or simply have no clue how to do it.
  13. Most women fail to give voice to their wants. They don’t ask for promotions, projects, roles and salaries.

The number of challenges increases as you grow higher in the organization but to be fair to organizations, they are trying to do their bit by having diversity groups in place whose sole agenda is to retain and hire women at mid and senior levels. But still there is challenge of retaining women at the mid level because there is no “one size fits all” kind of a solution. Since most of the women drop out of the race, the pipeline for women leaders is also small. Most of the successful women today have either had great mentors or coaches. I am thoroughly convinced that women can be retained and groomed for the next level by mentoring, sponsorship and coaching. If women are not getting adequate support from the organizations they should take charge of their careers by hiring a coach for themselves.

Images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. Parul Gupta says:

    Very well written. I whole-heartedly agree with most of the issues you have identified and that mentoring/coaching will have a big role.

  2. Vijaya says:

    Superb Article.. It is soo true and insightful.

  3. Anupama says:

    Nicely summed up. The point is for every woman, every action involves a ‘choice’. “Important meeting or unwell child”; “day care or part time job”, “party with friends or attend five year old birthday party”, “travel internationally or continue to drop kid at bus stand”. While the men may be called upon to do any of these things too, they dont constantly feel that they are making a choice. Infact whenever they make a choice for the home or kid, its them ‘prioritizing OVER their work’ and of course, we know how its viewed when we do it.

    Remember another aspect – any guy who does anything to shoulder his fair side of responsibility gets a lot of compliments about ‘pitching in’ including from his spouse. How often do we hear from the wife and us – wow! you’re so lucky, you have nice guy for a hubby and he actually doesn’t mind helping you. GEM!!! LOL!

    And when we do everything that needs to be done, we are merely doing what’s expected!

    BTW – Im not even a feminist in the primitive sense of the word. I revel in being female and feminine. I want to be warn hearted and sensitive to people, because thats who I naturally am. I want to tough on deadlines because thats how I naturally am. Not because Im feminine in the former case or getting in touch with my alpha side in the latter!!

    • Sujata Barla says:

      Thanks Anu for sharing your thoughts. I totally agree with you that the expectations are much higher from women. And i believe that we often look outwards for validation whether it is trying to become a good mom, good wife, good employee, good leader and zillion other hats which we don every day. If women can take the validation inside and figure why,what,for whom and how i believe one can lead fullfilled personal and professional life. The clarity which you mentioned in the later part of your comment exactly demonstrates that. At the end of the day, one should do what they want to do and believe in.

  4. Mellissa Ferrier says:

    Great article Sujata! I certainly think the line manager needs to play an active role in finding organisation ‘sponsors’ for their women as well as role model flexibility so that others see it as the norm. Like you say organisation policies need to be less rigid and tailored to individual needs and circumstances to ensure talent is not lost!

  5. Pritika says:

    Very well written.. You have summarized all the points very neatly.. I am sure almost all mothers will be able to connect with this article.. I was recently talking to this female, who was able to climb ladder fast. She told me she never let her motherhood come in path of her career.. how she was more of man like..She made me think.. why she wants to be man like… I am a female..I have my own unique characteristics… Why should i try to change.. instead why should i not try to manage both… I am glad that these days they talk about ‘diversity’ in corporate world rather than ‘equality’… It’s a touchy topic.. we can go on for hours on it.. But yes this one area where mentoring is definitely needed..and can do wonders… Looking forward for more on this…

    • Sujata Barla says:

      Thanks Pritika :). I agree women already are “super achievers” who balance career, domestic responsibilities and child rearing. Mentoring will take women a long way !!!!

  6. Sumita says:

    This is absolutely true – I can very well relate to it and feel trapped in a similar situation.