Women Leadership – The Unseen Barrier


Research shows that Company profits and share performance can be close to 50 percent higher when women are well represented at the top and yet Globally, women hold just 24% of senior leadership positions (with an exception of China).

Since 2015 we have seen a slow improvement in the representation of women in the corporate pipeline. Organizations are recognizing that diversity and inclusion are critical elements of their growth journey. 

How do gender equity and inclusion impact day-to-day operations? What are the subtle signs we tend to overlook? 

It is easier to get a better perspective when we imagine a workplace with these challenges as it helps to unravel the real reason behind this gap. So, go ahead and visualize a workplace. 

Imagine a factory environment in a small town, bustling with heavy machinery, both men and women working in shifts. The majority of the workforce are men. 

Imagination makes things more interesting so continue to imagine…

One day, at the end of the shift, few women come and meet the HR Head and discussed a grievance. They complain that their supervisor is always belittling and mocking them through casual throwaway remarks. Although he is fair and easygoing some of his remarks are insensitive. They respect him and appreciate his guidance; however, his behaviour makes them uncomfortable. The HR Head requests some time to resolve the matter. They request not to discipline the supervisor as he probably does not realize the impact. 

The next day the supervisor gets notified by his General Manager, to lead the charge of women’s day celebrations (to be hosted in a week’s time). He had to manage the entire event including the welcome speech. The supervisor gets excited as this is an opportunity to impress the GM and organizes a grand event. 

During the welcome speech, he calls out to individual team members, appreciating the efforts and thanking them for their contributions. He states some personal stories and highlights their efforts despite the challenging circumstances faced by these women.

This inspiring speech gets a standing ovation! The preparation for the event brought him closer to his team and changed his perception. 

He was a changed man and treated his team with respect.

Words have energy and power! You either use them constructively or destructively so choose wisely. 

The following week, the IT Manager meets the HR Head over a drink and requests additional resources for the new project. He proposes only male recruits and these are “Tech Jobs”. 

On the other hand, the HR Head was given a target to improve gender diversity, besides hiring women is good for their business, so gets determined to change the mindset. 

The IT Manager receives an invitation for a show time in their cafeteria. A small screen showcased a video of female CIOs and women working in STEM. An interesting compilation with amazing success stories.  This was an eyeopener for the IT Manager and decides to give it a shot. He recruits 3 women 2 men in his team. 

Inclusion helps to create deeper trust and fosters engaging relationship. Inclusion starts by giving each other a fair chance.

Well, here is the interesting part…

Now ask yourself this question? Have you imagined the HR Head as a male? What about the GM? Could this be an unconscious bias? Stereotyping? If you are reading the scenarios again then let me assure you that the gender of HR Head or GM is not mentioned in the narrative, but what gave you this impression? Perhaps it is a masculine coded language or your conditioning? 

If you have imagined the HR Head as a woman throughout then is it possible that you are a woman reading this, or someone who has come across strong female leaders? If you are agnostic to gender then you have worked in different environments and that is still a beginning. 

Contrary to our conscious intentions, we all hold hidden biases that manifest in subtle and unconscious ways, awareness is the key.

Being critical of your assessment will not help here, but managing bias in the workplace will certainly make a difference.

Author – Sangeetha Ramesh, Global Head of People Planning, UAE Exchange

A people’s person, Sangeetha Ramesh is a Senior HR Leader, thoroughly results-driven with international experience in Global and Strategic HR roles. Sangeetha holds Masters in both Psychology & Human Resources and has acquired extensive HR expertise in different business sectors focusing on people transformation, innovation and organizational development areas.









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