Just about three months into 2023 and we have already witnessed some of the most prominent female leaders globally take a step down – from Marne Levine of Meta to Susan Wojcicki of YouTube to the inspiring New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Be it in the corporate, political, or social spheres, the reasons women leaders are stepping away are telling. The 2022 "Women in the Workplace" report by Lean In and McKinsey shows that women leaders are leaving their high-power jobs in large numbers due to burnout. The report indicates that 43% of women leaders experienced burnout in 2021, compared to 31% of men. It suggests that women have to overcome more obstacles than men to achieve the same level of success.
This trend is referred to as the "Great Breakup." As per another McKinsey report, over two million women are contemplating leaving the workforce as they step over invisible threads of societal roles, expectations, stereotypes, and belittling microaggressions to constantly prove themselves.
The case for a more diverse and empathetic culture of work has never been stronger, and yet, it often gets slotted in the ‘good to have’ folder of company cultures rather than at the front and centre. It is important to acknowledge that diversity’s true essence lies in embracing different perspectives and ways of thinking in order to nurture a culture of inclusion and respect.
But, for diversity to make its way to the top of the corporate agenda and for it to be an intrinsic part of organisations requires creating a bias-free environment since inception and not as an afterthought. And this is a change that women leaders and entrepreneurs must lead from the front. As women, it’s time we played our part in fixing the broken rung. One of the key ways to do that is through the power of role models. Seeing a woman in a place of accomplishment plays one of the most critical roles in inspiring young girls to pursue higher goals.
My mother was a producer at Doordarshan and the best part of my day as a child would be to hear her talk about all the interesting things she did at work. I'm proud to have carried that torch of inclusivity forward at Byju's where we have 33%-woman representation on the board, 50% representation on the top management, and 40% representation of women overall, across levels.
The effect of being the only woman in the room is exhausting. Yet, the "solutions" to diversity today often focus on training women to behave and act more like men. This cannot and should not be the answer. Women need organizations that not only recognize their skills as different but celebrate them, for it is this different approach to leadership that gives diversity its power.
For diversity to be a seamless part of work ethos requires some definite steps that leaders can imbibe into organizations: Action over culture Diversity is about action and less about abstract terms of ‘culture’. As women leaders and entrepreneurs committed to empowering the women behind us, we must evaluate cultural aspects of work, but also ensure that the march towards equality is data-driven and procedural.
No amount of cultural work or ideas will compensate for an organization that doesn’t actually have equality in place. Equitable flexibility All employees require flexibility in role adaptation and working patterns throughout their careers. Considerations such as parental and childcare leave should be accommodated for all, but there is no escaping the fact that women often do the majority of the work.
Women are not looking to work less or commit less, but managing work and life challenges is a two-way street, and organizations can play a significant role in creating a supportive culture to enable this balance by providing flexibility to their employees. Weed out unconscious biases While organizations are steadily adapting bias-free recruitment procedures, retaining their skilled women employees requires continuous efforts to ensure that the various skills and behaviours that women bring to the table are appropriately credited.
Unconscious bias remains a significant barrier for women who feel their voices are not being heard and who are denied opportunities for advancement. Gender bias is a significant waste of human potential. Our capacity to utilize all available talent to foster game-changing concepts, technologies, and solutions that will revolutionize the world will determine our ability to build a sustainable and innovative future.
By denying women equal rights, we deny half the world a chance to live life at its fullest, and that is unacceptable. A World Economic Forum pegs that gender parity may not be achieved for another 132 years. We cannot and will not wait that long! It’s a bumpy ride, but with a strong support system of both men and women, and the will to invest in ourselves and the women around us, we can blaze a trail and tip the scales.
There's nothing quite like the impact of women supporting women. When we lift each other up, we create a powerful and enduring force for change. Let's celebrate and honour strong women everywhere - may we recognize them, nurture them, and become them ourselves.
Divya Gokulnath is co-founder of India's most valuable startup, Byju's, owned by Think and Learn Pvt. Ltd.