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Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Women, Career and Leadership Over the last 15 years, it's clear that organizations which have been able to create a culture of inclusion have been able to create more women leaders at every level

By Sunil Vishnu K

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So, Black Panther released a few weeks back and is already being touted as Marvel's best superhero film and also the first film to show a black superhero in such prominence. Last year when 'Wonder woman' was released, it also received similar reviews for not just its great storytelling but also having an unlikely hero at the helm of saving the world and box office - a woman!

And this was a momentous occasion, because much like reel life, all these years even in real life, the majority of the female superhero's in corporate world have always been overshadowed by their male counterparts and very rarely when an Indira Nooyi or a Sheryl Sandberg urge us to break the glass ceiling and lean in - we pause and celebrate - for these heroes are few and far in between.

That would be the foremost problem and solution for the dismal percentage of women at the leadership level - not having enough role models to follow and get inspired by. Now that may seem like a chicken and egg situation, but instead of waiting for women to climb the corporate ladder and then being made to stand on a pedestal, what if we really start celebrating success of women at all levels and share those stories and folklores highlighting the 'how' behind the 'what' success - it can be a game changer in pursuit of building more leaders.

But look further and there is a lot more which can be done and is being done to not only increase women's workforce participation but also sustaining and building their confidence to pursue a career towards leadership roles.

What is being Done?

To start with, there are organizations like Vodafone and Microsoft who are not only inducting women employees at the entry level but also running campaigns to create buy-in from the other stakeholders in the woman's journey from her family to her male colleagues to external stakeholders like vendors and suppliers.

Then there comes the role of training. More than functional training, it is behavioural training which can help develop the Emotional Quotient (EQ) which can be used as a tool to navigate through organizational jigsaw from managing the day to day situations with stakeholders to holding your own in a man dominated environment. The EQ based training programs conducted in organisations like GSK and Kellogg's focus on individually handling situations with methods derived from theatre practices of 'improvisational theatre', 'psychodrama' and 'metaphorical solution-ing '- making it a real-time training.

Over the last 15 years, it's clear that organizations which have been able to create a culture of inclusion have been able to create more women leaders at every level. And more women leaders have meant they have performed better as an organisation. The key thing for them was to create a culture of equal opportunity and mutual respect where men act as allies for the journey of women- be it in the form of colleagues, peers, coaches or mentors.

Another powerhouse tool which organisations like Reckit & Benckiser are using is to create a safe environment for women to work. This includes #posh training for all, unconscious bias training and inclusive forums/networks within the organisation which help women to speak out, share concerns, learn from each other and for many times just share and listen -without the fear of being judged because sometimes just listening is what one needs.

What are the Observations?

In conversation with the diversity & inclusion leaders and HR heads, the top 5 reasons why women do not reach leadership positions include marriage, childbirth, lack of family support, non-flexi options for second career and men!! Some of the above concerns are being solved by policy making (flexi timings, an extension of maternity leave, cr?che at the office), some are being addressed by support (networking forums, coaching etc) and the rest by empathy and confidence building.

And of course, then there is the point about many women wanting to be superheroes -wanting to be best at managing their home, being best friend, best spouse, best relative and best performer of the month all in one which is all about expectation setting and expectation management - which can be tackled by experiential training.

And hence there is need to educate and give confidence to women to be able to prioritise and not feel guilty. This would include training second-generation women to be able to emotionally prepare for new expectations in their new jobs. Work-life balance is a myth, but managing and aligning tasks to your larger purpose is a reality for every working woman today.

And so, this journey of creating real-life woman superheroes needs men and women to work together, day in and day out - it's the only way. It can't be 'he' vs 'she', it has to be 'he' and 'she'. And it's a necessity.

Then, maybe inspired by corporates, marvel will invest in an all-female superhero film next which Bollywood will make a remake of surely! Amen. Up, up and away!

Sunil Vishnu K

Co-founder and Director, Training Sideways

A theatre entrepreneur, Sunil believes in the power of marrying creativity into business, performance into strategy, and arts into management. After a marketing communications degree from MICA, and 8 years of running Evam – India’s leading arts management company, in 2011 he co-founded “Training Sideways”.

He was chosen “young performing arts entrepreneur India” and was awarded the “international fellowship in arts management” from John F Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts recently. With over 14 years of work experience, Sunil dabbles as an actor, director, voice over artiste, and CEO – avatars which he brings to training design and delivery on themes like leadership and brand value immersion to innovation and diversity. He has conducted 100+ workshops for over 50 corporates including Accenture, HSBC, Vodafone, Google, UTV and MSM (Sony) among others.


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