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The Vicious Cycle Of Women Leadership

Both genders have to work together-Men need to make way and women need to step forward to take up leadership roles.

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More girls are going to school, more girls are topping crucial exams, more women are employed outside the home and more women are challenging the last few male bastions of employment. However, when it comes to leadership positions, the story is still dismal for women in India.

Only 14% of Parliamentarians are women and barely 5% of the top 500 companies have women as CEOs. In the course of my work in leadership development for over 20 years, I have barely seen an increase in the number of women participating in senior-level leadership programs.

Though we offer equal opportunities and believe in the capabilities of women, research has made a strong business case for greater representation of women in leadership, why don’t women make it to the top? 

The reasons are both institutional and individual. Together these forces trap the women in a vicious cycle.

Our culture perpetuates the idea of women as submissive and subservient. The 

Manusmriti says of women-‘Her father guards her in childhood, her husband guards her in youth, and her sons guard her in old age. A woman is not fit for independence’. These mindsets are entrenched deeply in our patriarchal society. The institutions are powered by men with this mindset, who naturally prefer to promote other men and hold on to power. 

There are women too who believe in traditional gender roles. They feel that their career needs to be subordinate to those of the men. They do not opt for leadership roles due to a confidence gap or ambition deficit.

The systems and processes in organizations are not conducive to balanced lives- Long working hours, intense competition, after-hours networking and frequent travel affect both men and women. Women carry the additional domestic and childcare load which puts even greater pressure on them.

Many women, especially mothers, choose not to deal with this pressure. It is smarter and easier to quit than deal with daily exhaustion and energy drain. I have heard many women say that the additional responsibilities that come with a leadership position are ‘just not worth it.’ 

As a result, there are not many women in leadership roles. Therefore, the decisions that get made are the same old ones perpetuating male dominance. This reinforces all the biases against women leaders. See- there are so few of them. Maybe, women really can’t be leaders. So, we don’t have many women leaders.

Is there a way out?

Vicious cycles need to be broken with clear intentionality and concrete actions. 

Hiring and promoting women to leadership positions has to become an intentional business decision not just a checkbox on the Diversity agenda. According to a Linked In research, when women hold leadership roles, it leads to more women employees across the board. It also ensures better systems, governance and inclusive policies.

Parallelly, we need to proactively change the mindsets of both men and women-through dialogues, workshops, coaching, story sharing and experiential learning. Showing women in leadership roles in films, OTT media, television serials and books is also a way of initiating and normalizing this change.

Both genders have to work together-Men need to make way and women need to step forward to take up leadership roles.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Nirupama Subramanian

The author is a Consultant, Facilitator and Coach in the area of Leadership Development, Change Management and Personal Transformation with over 25 years of work experience.

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