Despite regulatory pressures and a growing recognition of the benefits of gender diversity, systemic issues continue to hamper the progress of women in professional spaces. Data from LinkedIn’s Economic Graph, covering over 1 billion members shows that while women are increasingly seen at entry and mid-level positions, their numbers decrease significantly as they move up the corporate ladder.

This is due to the "leaky pipeline" phenomenon. While women constitute 29% of the workforce at entry-level positions, this figure dwindles significantly at higher levels of management. “By the time you reach vice president, it's 17%, and by the time you go to C-suite, it's about 15%,” says Aditi Jha country head: legal & government affairs, LinkedIn. This drop-off is attributed to a combination of social norms, personal responsibilities such as marriage or childbirth, and the lack of supportive infrastructure for women at crucial career junctures.

Despite legislative efforts like the 2013 Companies Act from SEBI, which mandates at least one woman on corporate boards, the journey to leadership begins much earlier.

As per LinkedIn’s analysis, the percentage of women in senior leadership roles has marginally increased from 16.6% in 2016 to a peak of 18.7% in 2023, dropping slightly to 18.3% in 2024. Over the past nine years, there has been growth in female leadership hires, increasing from 18.8% in 2016 to 25.2% in 2021 but declining to approximately 23.2% as of January 2024.

Although, companies now want to do the right thing as it makes financial sense for them. Generically speaking, women make up 50% of the population, that’s also 50% of the talent pool.

“Plenty of reports say that if your leadership teams are diverse, if your boards are diverse, it actually makes for good business,” Jha notes, emphasising the dual imperatives of morality and business efficacy driving this change.

However, these efforts are often undermined by ingrained biases. "Studies show that people have a more positive perception of men in executive roles versus women. Those unconscious biases are there," Jha says, underscoring the need for cultural shifts alongside policy changes.

"Surprisingly, women in urban areas lag behind rural ones in this regard," says Aparajita Bharti, co-founder, the Quantum Hub, on the disparity between urban and rural women’s labour force participation. This is attributed to factors such as inadequate childcare support, safety concerns in metros, and mobility issues in urban centers. "In urban areas, there is greater need for support and incentives to bring out women from their homes to work," Bharti says.

The female labour force participation rate in India has been low, but improving gradually, reaching 37.0% in 2023.

Moreover, the quality of employment is a pressing issue. A significant portion of rural women is engaged in agriculture, often in informal roles without land ownership or hired as contract labourers.

Interestingly, there's an education-employment paradox gripping the country right now in the midst of the hype around demographic dividend. Post the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, more women are completing their schooling and pursuing higher education. However, the job market has not kept pace with their aspirations. “There is a huge skill gap and also an aspiration gap now,” Bharti says. Despite higher education levels, many women find the available jobs unappealing.

For instance, as per TQH analysis, several states have tried to create jobs in the manufacturing sector, but women are not keen on working on shop floors now that they have invested in higher education.

To address this mismatch, policymakers and organisations need to leverage data-driven insights to align training programmes with emerging job trends. "Reports like LinkedIn’s Economic Graph can help understand what are the new skills and jobs that are coming up and keep up with the demand going forward," she proposes.

Follow us on Facebook, X, YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp to never miss an update from Fortune India. To buy a copy, visit Amazon.