Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. #HeForShe
International Leadership Guru
“Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.” ―Indra Nooyi
With the stepping down of Indra Nooyi as the CEO of PepsiCo, the spotlight is thrown on women leaders in the C-level positions. The number of women CEOs in Fortune 500 has come down from 32 in 2017 to 24 in 2018. Here is a list of six women chief executives who have been replaced by men recently. Indra Nooyi, CEO at PepsiCo has been replaced by Ramon Laguarta; Denise M. Morrison at Campbell Soup has been replaced by Keith McLoughlin; Margo Georgiadis at the toy company Mattel has been replaced by Ynon Kreiz; Sherilyn S. McCoy at Avon has been replaced by Jan Zijderveld; Irene Rosenfeld at Mondelez has been replaced by Dirk Van de Put; Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard has been replaced by Antonio Neri. These developments are shocking to digest; shaking the confidence of women leaders, and causing concern for women leaders globally. They discourage women from empowerment and demotivate women aspiring to reach C-level positions. It is a cause for concern and must be addressed immediately to ensure women’s participation in organizations to achieve gender equality globally. One of the main reasons cited for their stepping was their poor performance. Most reasons are not revealed.
There are several reasons for the low-level participation of women in C-suite positions. Some of them include high pressure and stress levels. Women are more relationship-oriented than men and care for more relations thus undermining their positions as leaders and adversely affecting their career advancement. Women have different biological issues and challenges. They take the break for motherhood and care of their children and spouse. They find it tough to manage board politics and pressures. They often lack adequate soft skills to handle the people at the board. They don’t get encouraging support from all stakeholders. At times, boards don’t support women wholeheartedly leading to their exit.
Women and Boards
The boards that are led by women leaders have less scandals and more transparency. They improve the organizational bottom lines. It is challenging to analyze and understand why boards don’t encourage women at the helm when they know that women lead effectively and improve financial performance. It seems something is wrong somewhere. Probably the boards must change their perception toward women leaders and view them as assets. Most global businesses have had some kind of formal gender diversity initiative in place for several years but they are ineffective. Here are some steps to achieve gender diversity at C-levels.
- Provide a healthy organizational culture. Promote an inclusive culture that encourages diversity.
- Provide flex time, work from home, parental leave, childcare subsidies, and on-premises childcare.
- Apply different strokes to both genders to achieve gender equality.
- Conduct employee surveys to identify the hidden bias and challenges that women encounter and address them earnestly.
- Offer equal access to developmental experiences that would prepare women for senior levels.
- Make HR policies women-friendly. HR feedback helps them assess and improve themselves.
- Encourage mixed-gender management teams.
It is a well-admitted fact that the diversified and balanced workforce leads to better financial returns. The diversity balance in the boardroom produces both financial and strategic rewards. Above all, women-led companies often perform better than C-suites dominated by men.
Smash through the Glass Ceiling
Women must smash through the glass ceiling. They must not shy away from shouldering responsibilities. They must stay in the game by learning and leading. They must break structural obstacles and build connections to fast-track their careers. They must also understand that there is no free lunch in the world. They must slog hard to establish themselves instead of playing the gender card. They must acquire knowledge, skills, and abilities and reinvent regularly to stay relevant and competent to reach top positions.
There is no magic wand to achieve gender equality at C-levels in global organizations. In fact, the journey to the corner office is very challenging for both men and women leaders. But it is more challenging for women leaders with lots of limitations and constraints. It is a long and difficult process indeed! Hence, we must take small steps but firm steps to encourage women to scale the senior positions. Both men and women must collaborate to achieve it. Imagine if women who constitute almost half of the global population contribute with access to education and opportunities, we would build a world full of prosperity.
Note: This article is an adapted excerpt from my award-winning book, “Strategies to Build Women Leaders Globally: Think Managers, Think Men; Think Leaders, Think Women.” URL: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949003108