May 19, 2024


Technology and Age

Women Leaders Are Still Fighting Tiring Battles At The Workplace

Women Leaders Are Still Fighting Tiring Battles At The Workplace

When one of the country’s most successful lawyers, who featured on an international 50 Greatest Leaders of the World list in 2018, said that the more women advance in their career the greater the discrimination they face, it made me pause. This discrimination manifests in the form of “exclusion”, Indira Jaising told journalist Namita Bhandare. “As working women we don’t really believe in all-male networks,” she said. “I’m vested in my work but I’m not networked in my work.”

McKinsey’s annual Women in the Workplace report for 2022, in partnership with LeanIn.Org., surveyed 40,000 employees in the U.S. to reveal a “Great Breakup” was underway.

“Women are demanding more from work, and they’re leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers to get it. Women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rates we’ve ever seen—and at higher rates than men in leadership,” the report said, adding that for “every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave their company”. 

The reasons are worrying and any woman who has been in a leadership position will find it easy to relate. In my years as a woman leader, I often found myself dismissed as an outspoken contrarian in a roomful of suits who knew their careers depended on how closely they toed the line. They’re still working those jobs, while I quit to go independent eight years ago. 

“…at many companies, they face headwinds that signal it will be harder to advance,” the McKinsey report said, citing one such reason why women leave. “They’re more likely to experience belittling micro-aggressions, such as having their judgment questioned or being mistaken for someone more junior.” 

Women’s leadership is trivialised across professions. A male reporter thought it was okay to ask New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden whether a historic meeting with Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin happened “just because you’re similar in age and, you know, got a lot of common stuff there”. Arden was forced to correct his sexism

Even when their work is lauded, women continue to fight to be treated on equal grounds with their male counterparts. 

Amita Major’s mandate at the Mumbai branch of an advertising multinational, where she was vice president and strategic planning director, was to make her company think digitally. She conducted workshops and built a framework that the company still uses across its offices. Alongside, she did the bread-and-butter work of retaining brands and growing business. “The key brand I worked on remained one of our main revenue drivers,” she said, adding that she brought other leadership skills to the table too. “Flexibility, collaboration, listening, understanding, a complete focus on getting the job done rather than getting into ‘he said, she said’.” 

It wasn’t enough. “Despite all of this, there was a rude awakening that there is no reward at the end of all these efforts. My remuneration was even below what other people in my designation had,” she says. “The time finally came to have a blunt conversation.” 

She asked for a raise but instead of addressing her concerns her boss changed the conversation and didn’t offer any clear response. “Tired of the gaslighting and the egos of men, finally, I sent a resignation email,” she says. 

She said her boss had “one last power play” when she told him she wanted to buy out her notice period. He said that was at the employer’s discretion. The company policy stated otherwise, and she won that last face-off. 

Ironically, one reason women don’t get the recognition they deserve is because they take on extra work that doesn’t lend itself to quantitative number-crunching. The McKinsey report cited “critical work” that women did and which went “mostly unrewarded” as a reason women leave. “They’re doing more to support employee well-being and foster inclusion, but this critical work is spreading them thin and going mostly unrewarded,” it said.