Levelling the playing fields: Women equality in leadership roles
It has been just a hundred years since the first female voter whose choice shaped the future of her nation and just 60 years since a woman assumed the presidency of a country of her own merit. While the subsequent years have illuminated through numerous examples, the potential of women to match shoulders with men as leaders, mentors and guides in various professional facets, the acknowledgement of the same is hazy at best. This is further cemented by the worrisome statistics as represented by the World Economic Forum’s report on the Global Gender Gap. The report claims that the probability of achieving true equality at the workplace will be at best possible only by 2234: a whopping 216 years from today. Moreover, over the past ten years, the proportion of female leaders has increased by an average of just over 2 percentage points across 12 industries studied. Makes one wonder at the pace of the so-called “progressive mindset” of today, doesn’t it?
Historically, female-dominated industries tended to pay less than those with higher male representation and women represent fewer than 50 per cent of leaders in every industry analyzed. These alarming statistics begs the question as to why this is so. And more importantly, how did the successful ones do it?
As Forbes rightly put it, Women’s careers are often in direct conflict with motherhood and other familial responsibilities that are imposed upon them, leading them to prioritize the responsibilities over themselves and their career goals. It is distressing that most of these responsibilities which are gender neutral and can also be performed by men are sidelined for women.
The fashion industry is not exempt from the gender bias in leadership roles. A very surprising fact considering that the arena was ruled by Anne Klein, Chanel, Von Furstenberg and Mary quant once upon a time. The lack of aspiration gap between the sexes to work in the industry also adds to the curiosity. As it happens, Dior appointed its first female designer in 2016 and Givenchy in 2017. In conclusion, fashion: an industry dominated by women’s wear propelled by currency from women, with an image sold by women to women is run by men. The reason for this lack of representation can be tracked to the appointment of C-suite executives (the highest paid representatives of an organization) and their decisions in shaping the organization. If it wasn’t obvious enough, most of these executives in the industry happen to be men.
The biggest reason for the lack of conversation about the gender gap is because of a general assumption that everyone knows about it. But sometimes, it’s necessary to eliminate every pretence of ignorance.
Taking a cue from women who have contested for the upper segments of the gender pyramid, there are a few things that may accelerate the acceptance of women as leaders. Their two key points of advice to the male higher-ups to better disintegrate barriers are:
A) Focus on the overall contribution of a female employee to the team/ organization instead of assuming the extent of their capabilities
B) Maintain objectivity: Recognizing the work done by them objectively as an employee and not as a female one.
The one statistic that is a ray of hope amongst these dark revelations, points toward a potential solution. When women are better represented in leadership roles, more women are hired across the board. Studies have found a direct correlation between the recruitment rates of women in position leadership and the number of existing women leaders in that given industry. Ergo, women leaders make more women leaders. As promising as that is, wouldn’t it be even better if women didn’t need the support and acknowledgement of a fellow woman to occupy seats they are clearly capable of handling?
While changing mindsets, supportive organizations, and family play a major role in encouraging women to lead, the decision to strive to access the seats in an equitable workplace is ultimately in the hands of the woman. It is impossible to be a leader when one is not proactive. In this age and time, no opportunity begs to be taken. It also goes without saying that no effort unless truly worthwhile will be acknowledged.
All said and done, it is encouraging to see the likes of Chanda Kochhar, Indra Nooyi, Anna Wintour, Hillary Clinton and many more who have been juggernauts in levelling the professional playing field. They have been beacons for women everywhere to rise up and aspire to lead corporations, governments, academic institutions and myriad organizations to greater heights. One can only put hope in the words of Sheryl Sandberg: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders”
This international women’s equality day, JD Institute of Fashion Technology celebrates the power of an empowered woman and toast to the pioneering women of today and tomorrow.
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