Women around the world are paving the way for an inspiring style of leadership that is confident, authentic, and highly effective. It is evident that the countries led by women leaders seem to have been particularly successful in fighting the Coronavirus. Whether it be Germany under its pragmatic Chancellor Angela Merkel or Finland PM Sanna Marin who helms a coalition government of five parties (four of which are led by women), their countries have witnessed not only much fewer fatalities than other countries in their respective regions, but also effectively contained the pandemic. These successes are inspiring for women, given the challenges many of them face while progressing towards leadership roles.
However, things are different in the corporate world. Only 26 women are in CEO roles at Fortune 500 companies, making up 5.2% of the companies on the list, according to a 2015 report by Pew Research. While that number hit a high of 37 CEOs this year, women ran only 7.4% of the companies on the list. This shows that there is little movement of women making up these high-ranking positions as company leaders, when in fact they have a lot to offer, owing to certain qualities that make them well suited for leadership roles.
Qualities anchoring the success of women leaders
In addition to being focussed and clear in their decision making, qualities such as empathy, humility, inclusiveness, and the ability to communicate effectively make women leaders well suited for leading the way and inspiring people. Across organisations, when employees feel supported and are seen by leaders who are empathetic, they’re twice as likely to be productive and satisfied with their jobs. To come up with effective crisis response strategies, leaders need to exhibit humility and be willing to surround themselves with those who know more about various subject areas and listen to them. Sensitivity and the simple understanding that if their people are managed well and are looked after, is helping women leaders drive better outcomes.
Embracing technology and transitioning seamlessly to working from home
The pandemic has been disruptive and transforming, introducing the need to quickly transition to working from home as an essential element of ensuring business continuity. The transition to working from home has been enabled using technology. Working from home has its pros and cons. On the positive side, it has allowed flexible work schedules with the availability of more time that was earlier spent commuting to work or meetings. This has not only enabled achieving a better work-life balance but has also led to improved productivity. At the same time, it has also put working women in a unique situation, many of whom have seen the personal and professional boundaries blurring, and as a result, felt stretched and stressed. Equally important is the fact that a feeling of isolation at the workplace has also impacted mental wellness. Recognition of mental wellness is an important aspect for an organisation, and it has become imperative for organisations to support its employees working from home on this aspect. Constantly engaging with and communicating with everyone across the firm is very important and critical to assure employees that they belong to an organisation that appreciates and cares for them even if they are at home.
For us, the investments that we made continuously over the last several years has helped us seamlessly adapt to working from home with minimum disruption. Also, collaborative, and social enterprise tools have helped teams to work across boundaries and share information to support effective outcomes. Such platforms help leaders connect and align, in a top-down and bottom-up approach across the organisation and enable their people to pursue and deliver any missions that are outlined. Online chat tools and virtual meeting platforms not only enable an exchange of vital information but also encourage camaraderie that remote-based teams can often find difficult to cultivate and nurture.
Growth of women in the legal domain
The path towards leadership is fraught with many challenges for women, some of which include the lack of equal opportunities, dealing with unconscious bias, balancing dual responsibilities at home and work and even potential lack of support from other women. Thankfully, with a growing understanding of how successful women leaders can be, the future looks more promising. For instance, there is tremendous scope for a larger representation of women in the wider legal fraternity, judging by the statistics. A World Bank report entitled “Women, Business and the Law” show that in 153 economies with constitutional courts, 122 have at least one female justice, and women are chief justices in 26 economies. India ranks the lowest in terms of the number of female judges among countries which do have a female judge on a constitutional court. However, on the other hand, the progress of women in prominent law firms appears much more encouraging. For instance, among lawyers in our firm, the men to women ratio is at a very encouraging 51:49. In India, where very, very strict gender hierarchies appear rooted, the top law firms are trying to cultivate a space where gender should not be a constraining factor. The belief is very much grounded on treating women fairly as equals. I find this perspective—if embraced with a lot more vigour—can help create an equitable and empowering ecosystem.
Actions for accelerating progress of women at work
The glass is half full and a lot remains to be done towards helping unlock the huge untapped potential that women represent, for the legal profession and other sectors. Tangible action around four key areas can help accelerate progress. These include addressing (i) representation—do women have equal opportunities at each level?; (ii) promotion—do women advance as rapidly as men?; (iii) attrition—do women choose not to advance at a certain point?; and (iv) external hiring—are women hired at the same rate as men? I have no doubt that if we can ensure ongoing progress around these four considerations, a significant advancement of women in leadership roles is not a question of if it will happen, but more a question of how fast it can happen.
Views are personal. The author is managing partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co.