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'Half Of The World's Population Are Women And Not Even One-eighth Make It To The Leadership Roles'

In a candid conversation, Marshall and Anju discuss her new book and challenges women face at home and work

Photo Credit : Photo Courtesy: Twitter

BW Businessworld recently caught up with two imminent scholars to understand gender diversity at work. Marshall Goldsmith is a globally recognised business educator, coach and author of international bestsellers like 'Triggers' and 'What Got You Here Won't Get You There'. He speaks with Anju Jain, author of recently published book Step Up, which focuses on gender diversity at work and how women can break the glass ceiling. A PhD in Development Psychology, Jain is the HR Lead for infrastructure major Caterpillar India and founder of Chai Pe, an organization that focuses on developing women professionals.

In a candid conversation, Marshall and Anju discuss her new book and challenges women face at home and work. They explore why women have a poor representation in leadership and how friends and families can make a critical ecosystem for them to remove or circumvent many of those challenges.

Marshall Goldsmith: When we first talked about the project, I started with a simple question: "Why write a book about this subject?"

Anju Jain: It is needed. Half of the world's population is women, yet not even one-eighth of them make it to leadership roles. Why is that so? Aren't women capable? Don't they have aspirations?

We all know the answers. While we recognize the importance of women in the workforce, we now need to talk about how to make that a reality. The book offers practical solutions for women, men, organizations, government and the media to step up in this conversation and change the face of women in leadership.

MG: In the book, you talk about women "aligning their circles." What is that about?
AJ: Actually, this is the crux of my book. As aforementioned, I posit that women are surrounded by an environment - by their families, organizations and networks. I refer to each of these units as circles around the individual woman. To succeed in any of her pursuits - at home or at work - she has to align each of these circles to her aspirations. If she can do this, she can pave the path for her success. In the absence of this alignment, her goals will remain farfetched.

MG: What do you think are the biggest challenges impeding women's growth?

AJ: There are multiple issues in the works. There are societal expectations, organizational barriers and self-imposed constraints. And as you know, all these are interrelated.

Because of societal norms and stereotypes, we form an opinion on what women and men can and cannot do. These teachings form the basis for our behaviour. Women see themselves as primary caretakers and not as primary breadwinners. Social expectations condition behaviour in specific ways. And not surprisingly, these internalizations manifest in professional settings and elsewhere too. Relatedly, we have also witnessed how marriage, maternity and mobility impact women's careers. A lack of a supportive infrastructure at home, work or outside, can make women exit their professions too early in the game.

But this is not to say that women cannot overcome this. There are many success stories around us. Women can do a lot to take control of their lives- by aligning their circles.

MG: Are the challenges among Indian women similar to those women are facing in the West?
AJ: Yes, I believe so. At the end of the day, women are women, and men are men. Human behaviour is consistent. The only difference I would say is that the regions may be at different points on the same continuum. And that is because of the external support and focus this issue gets in their specific region. The representation of women in the workforce is higher in Europe and North America. Within Asia, China takes the lead.

However, even in regions where women are ahead, similar challenges prevail. They are less represented in the senior ranks and the underlying reasons remain the same too.

MG: There is a lot of talk on mentoring among women. What is your view, and do you think mentoring is critical to advance their career?

AJ: Any interaction - formal or informal - can add value. You would agree that, as in the coaching realm, it is up to the seeker to leverage it. Mentorship within the corporate context can also do the same. But it cannot be directly linked to women's career advancement. It is an enabler. So to place undying emphasis on mentoring isn't going to directly change the representation scorecard. In fact, women who are mentored are not necessarily making it up there. There is enough evidence to validate this.

I believe mentoring is nice to have and can be handy during the early phase of one's career. At the time when one is trying to navigate the maze and keen to figure out the protocols and norms of interactions to play the game right. It is less of a value add when you have already crossed the big challenges and may have made irreversible mistakes in the process.

And this is true for both women and men.

At the same time I also am of the opinion that we need to move away from reinforcing the idea that women need to be mentored. Why instill a belief that they absolutely need guidance without which they cannot succeed? I would rather they recognize that they control their future and enlist it as and when needed, without 'calling' it out as a key driver The biggest help women need is a hand at home so they have some actual undivided time to focus on their work and their career. Given that breather, women can figure it all out. They can find a mentor or any other enabler should they want to.

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