What, in your view, are the primary perceived barriers that deter women from pursuing leadership roles in various professional fields?
Kareena: Stereotypes regarding gender roles and abilities constitute the fundamental reason that dissuades women from assuming leadership roles in professional domains.
Surakchya: Firstly, ingrained gender stereotypes that associate leadership with masculinity contribute to biases in recruitment and promotion processes. Issues such as unequal pay, limited access to mentorship, and a lack of representation in leadership positions further hinder women’s advancement. The lack of representation of women in leadership positions also contributes to a scarcity of role models and mentors, further dissuading women from aspiring to leadership roles.
The challenge of balancing work and family responsibilities adds a layer of complexity, often making it difficult for women to prioritize career growth. Addressing these barriers requires comprehensive efforts to challenge stereotypes, promote diversity and inclusion, and create supportive workplace policies that facilitate equal opportunities for women in leadership.
Ava: Gender Bias and Stereotypes: Traditional gender roles and stereotypes can influence how people perceive leadership qualities. Deep-seated beliefs that associate leadership with masculine traits may result in bias against women seeking leadership roles.
• Workplace culture: Some workplaces may have a culture that is not supportive of diversity and inclusion. Discriminatory practices, a lack of flexibility, and an unsupportive environment can discourage women from aspiring to leadership positions.
• Work-life balance challenges: The perception that leadership roles demand excessive time and dedication may discourage women, especially those balancing family responsibilities. The expectation of constant availability and a lack of flexibility can be particularly challenging for women.
• Networking opportunities: Informal networks and mentorship are crucial for career advancement. If women have limited access to these networks, they may miss out on valuable opportunities for career growth and mentorship.
Rachael: I think women in general tend to undervalue themselves and not try for things unless they are sure to achieve them. I think the biggest barrier is not putting yourself forward. To be in a leadership position, one should always be open to rejection. You will not be promoted if you don’t try, so just try.
When women are at in top positions, they are constantly judged and scrutinised – do you agree?
Kareena: People offer different judgments based on their intellectual capacity and understanding. In my view, a well-educated and informed person would not assess individuals based on gender.
Surakchya: Various studies suggest that women in top positions often encounter increased scrutiny and criticism compared to their male counterparts. Whether it’s in politics, business, or other professional fields, there are instances where women leaders find themselves under the microscope, facing additional pressure and judgment. This emphasises the ongoing necessity to confront gender biases, advocate for diversity, and cultivate an atmosphere that assesses leaders based on their skills and achievements rather than their gender.
Ava: Fortunately, in the whole span of my career I have found everyone around my professional workplace very supportive, whether male or female colleagues. I have received full support and cooperation from male colleagues as well which in return has encouraged me to work hard and reach where I am today.
Rachael: Yes, I did feel judged, but in my case, I wasn’t sure whether because I was a woman, a foreigner, or just because I am in leadership. Globally, even BBC News has done articles on women’s leadership, and they come up with, “Can they do it?” I believe once you are successful, people are always looking for your mistakes. You should create a support system, be it friends or family, who appreciate and celebrate you.
What strategies or initiatives can organisations implement to empower women and encourage them to pursue leadership positions?
Kareena: Organisations have the opportunity to organise diverse mentorship and training initiatives focused on leadership and development. Acknowledging, promoting, and celebrating the accomplishments of successful women across various fields is crucial. By publicizing these achievements, upcoming generations can find inspiration in these role models, encouraging newcomers to pursue leadership positions.
Surakchya: Firstly, establishing mentorship programs that pair aspiring female leaders with experienced mentors can provide valuable guidance and support. Creating a workplace culture that actively promotes diversity and inclusion is crucial, ensuring that women feel valued and included in decision-making processes. Implementing leadership training and development programs tailored to address gender-specific challenges can equip women with the skills and confidence needed for leadership roles. Additionally, fostering flexible work arrangements and family-friendly policies can help women balance professional and personal responsibilities, mitigating barriers to career advancement. Recognising and addressing unconscious biases within the organisation is also essential for creating an environment where women are evaluated based on their abilities rather than gender stereotypes.
Ava: A few strategies that should be implemented are: diversity and inclusion programs; leadership development programs; equal pay practices; and recognition and visibility.
Rachael: For my organisation, I always look to see how people can develop skills and give them more opportunities to do so, but it depends on the individual whether they can grab onto it or not. I believe that people should be constantly learning, so I find ways to upscale skills. If I have a project coming up, I give opportunities to a junior with a little bit more of a lead so they can slowly step into leadership and be part of the learning process. So, in an organisation, you have to be a part of the learning process.
How did you navigate power structures early in your career versus later when you had a more formal leadership role?
Kareena: In the early stages of my career, I spent most of the time learning, building relationships, and proving my capabilities. I sought guidance from the senior female leaders. As I progressed in my career and assumed more formal leadership responsibilities, my approach evolved. I became more intentional about cultivating a leadership style that embraced collaboration and inclusivity. I recognised the significance of not only understanding power dynamics but also leveraging them for the collective success of the team. Communication became a central focus, ensuring that my vision was effectively communicated.
Being a young female leader, I faced unique challenges, but I turned these challenges into opportunities for growth. In my formal leadership role, I have learned that true power lies in empowering others.
Surakchya: In the early stages of my career as a startup women entrepreneur, I focused on building relationships, expanding my knowledge, showcasing skills, and adapting to the dynamic startup ecosystem. As I assumed a more formal leadership role, my approach evolved to emphasise clear communication, transparent decision-making, and fostering a collaborative team environment.
Navigating power structures shifted from proving myself in a fluid environment to shaping the organisational vision and ensuring inclusivity. The journey involved a blend of resilience, adaptability, and strategic leadership to effectively navigate the evolving dynamics of startup growth.
Ava: While I started my career in the education sector most of our colleagues were men. We had more men in the decision-making position when compared to women. Women had minimal roles in policymaking. As time passed by, organisations started trusting women equally based on their experience and qualifications. As I progressed from working for an organisation to independently running my own business, I initiated a biased-less working environment. All of my subordinates are given vocal rights and have their say in any decision-making to make them more accountable and also to develop them as future leaders.
Rachael: I was always into leadership, although I had a few basic jobs that required no leadership, so I just showed up and worked. When I opened my restaurant, I felt a lot of pressure as a foreigner and a woman to achieve, lead well, and prove myself to people. I felt the implication of succeeding heavier than a man would because I felt I needed to prove them wrong. Good days and bad days are normal, but I think they are perceived differently by men and women. I remember I was always surrounded by men in leadership, but by doing my own thing that fit in with who I am, I was able to find my voice.
Looking ahead, what changes or initiatives do you believe will be most effective in breaking down the barriers that lead to women hesitating to take on leadership roles?
Kareena: Breaking barriers for women in leadership involves challenging stereotypes, promoting education, implementing flexible work policies, ensuring equal pay practices, and fostering mentorship. Individuals contribute by challenging gender biases, advocating for diversity, promoting equal pay, and participating in mentorship programs. Achieving gender equality in leadership requires a cultural shift, inclusive work environments, and continuous evaluation of initiatives to address evolving challenges. Finally, but equally important, women supporting women stands out as a significant factor that can contribute to this transformation.
Surakchya: Looking forward, implementing a combination of systemic changes and individual initiatives is key to breaking down barriers that hinder women from pursuing leadership roles. Organisations can foster inclusivity through targeted policies such as gender-neutral recruitment, transparent pay structures, and mentorship programs. Encouraging workplace cultures that prioritise diversity and work-life balance can also play a pivotal role. Individuals can contribute by challenging stereotypes, advocating for equal opportunities, and serving as mentors or allies to aspiring female leaders. Creating awareness about unconscious biases and supporting initiatives that promote gender equality are crucial steps.
Ava: Several changes and initiatives could be effective in breaking down barriers that lead to women hesitating to take on leadership roles. Integrate education on gender equality, diversity, and inclusion into school curriculum and workplace training programs. Promote policies that ensure equal access to flexible work options for both men and women. Encouraging open conversations about gender equality and diversity.
Rachael: Initiatives that should be regulated to break the barriers in an organisation are that it should have a culture of equality. In work, it’s not about men or women but about who is the right person for the job. We need to make sure that people feel that they have a voice and that they are free to apply for roles. I think we can be hesitant when we are not confident, and the way to overcome this is through constant hard work. When you fail to do things, you should keep learning and building your capabilities, knowledge, and talent. I would conclude by saying to stop assuming what the other person is thinking because, most of the time, it’s wrong and it doesn’t exist. You cannot do everything and you cannot be everywhere, and you have to decide whether it’s for you or not.