Written By: Ms.Sreya Mazumdar, Sr. Manager Programmes


The statistics tell their own story. Only 5% of working women in India make it to senior leadership positions in the corporate sector, says a research carried out following the Companies Act 2013 that mandated public and private companies with a given yearly turnover to have at least one woman Director. The Chairman of Nasscom admitted that out of the 23% of women employees in the IT sector, only 3% are in top management positions. Globally, India ranks third lowest in the proportion of business leadership roles overall held by women, only after Japan and Germany, at 15% (2015 Annual Survey Grant Thornton). Significantly, research also says that hiring practices, from men and women manager’s perspectives, are more or less based on merit and competency and to that extent, are gender neutral. Of these managers, only one third feel that organisations actively look for ways to increase the numbers of women in senior management roles.


In 1993, a constitutional amendment in India mandated that a third of village council positions would be reserved for women. In March 2010, many had celebrated the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament, which sought to amend the Constitution to reserve one third of seats in Parliament and state assemblies for women. There can be many arguments against this affirmative reservation to promote women’s leadership in governance; however, research has proved a definite voter bias against women candidates. In the 16th Lok Sabha, the number of women MPs stands at 62 out of a total 543, the highest ever representation since Independence, though by a small margin. In 2013, there were 1,364,154 women in the Panchayats – a significant fillip to women participation in governance. Naysayers would still argue that mere participation is inadequate and that the impact of such women leadership is often thwarted thereafter by other social processes.


It is time for a new discussion on women and leadership. One that moves away from the rhetoric of gendered inequality and victimhood and focuses on the intrinsic value that women leadership adds to businesses workplaces and homes. One way of changing the tenor is to challenge the very ‘male’ notion of leadership as being naturally associated with the public and the professional and reclaim the legitimacy and worth of leadership within the domestic and the private as well.


What are most of our early memories of leading from the front based on? For many of us, it is our mothers who have been steering us through our childhood, taking care of our needs at home or outside and later, as we have stepped out as individuals in our own right. Displaying a stewardship and resilience through the many daily rigours of living. For some of us, it has been our mothers and other female family members who have stepped out themselves for work, setting an example in many ways. Assuming, as they have, leadership roles against all odds. 


How do these positive associations fade away? They are replaced by essentialist notions of gender that have always portrayed women as being nurturing and emotional and by implication the very antithesis of what it would take to succeed in roles aside from the domestic. Then again, even in the domestic, through the systematic undervaluing of unpaid work, despite its significant economic and social contribution to the care economy. And also at the workplace, through the stereotyping of women’s contributions, due to a difference in communication styles, career cycles and ways of performing.


How do we reclaim this discussion? By analyzing what is right with companies or organisations which have greater gender balance in senior positions and how they tap into more sustainable and performance oriented ways of functioning. By calling out those who do not demonstrate the same commitment.  By creating awareness, consistently, on the advantages of promoting women leadership – and there are many. By supporting progressive legislation that supports a working woman and mother’s right to work. And also by creating allies, in men, in spaces both personal and professional. Even as we do so, to turn the spotlight back on the many women who are steering their homes, away from the public eye. And celebrating the extraordinary leadership being quietly and consistently demonstrated in such spaces day after day.