Monday, June 5, 2023

Why do we need more women leaders?


By Ankurita Pathak

Women leaders around the world have proved themselves equally capable as their male counterparts, at times even more efficient. It not only promotes diversity and equality but brings efficiency to the social system as well. This certainly makes the case for the need for more women leaders.

When we often say, “Women hold up half the sky.” – it makes me stop and think about what that actually means.  What comes to my mind is a heady mix of power, choices, prospects, persistence, determination, courage, and inspiration.

The rhetoric may sound poetic, touching, and empowering but there is something that is clearly missing. It is an equal representation and equal opportunities. Statistics highlight that women are still not at par with the other half, gender inequality is a grim reality and women are still underrepresented everywhere.

Yes, we cannot deny the fact that the world has moved towards better in many aspects. There has been progress over the last decades in terms of women empowerment. More and more women are ascending to leadership roles, more and more voices of women are getting heard, more and more girls are getting educated, more and more women are representing in politics and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality.

But the change is uneven and incremental, and the gap is still large. With the pandemic, the underlying fragilities have been further exposed and the gap has been further exacerbated. To a great extent, it has also reversed the limited growth that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights. Basically, we are sailing through troubled waters!!!

Here’s what the statistics underline:

  • Very few women are CEOs of the world’s largest corporations. As of the August 2020 Fortune Global list, only 13 women (2.6%) were CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies.
  • According to UNWomen, as of 1 September 2021, there are 26 women serving as Heads of State and/or Government in 24 countries.
  • Just 10 countries have a woman Head of State, and 13 countries have a woman Head of Government.
  • Only 21% of government ministers were women, with only 14 countries having achieved 50% or more women in cabinets.
  • Only 25% of all national parliamentarians are women, up from 11% in 1995.
  • According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity.
  • As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

Gender diversity by definition is “the equitable or fair representation between genders.” The above statistics implies where we actually stand in terms of this diversity.

As a matter of fact, the vast gender divide extends to factors beyond these statistics. The fact that there is an underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in all sectors all over the world is a huge problem in itself.  If the potential of nearly a half of the global demographic is underutilized, how can we expect a fair, equitable and better world!

According to a study by OECD, if better use were made of the world’s female human capital:

  • economic growth would increase in all countries.
  • the number of people living in poverty would decline in all countries.
  • business performance and innovation would be enhanced.
  • the cost-effectiveness of health care and social programs would be raised.
  • government policies would better respond to the needs of all citizens.
  • environmental damage from unsustainable activities would decrease.

In another study done by Gallup on 800 business units from two companies, it was found that the gender-diverse units had better financial outcomes than those dominated by one gender.

UN Women states that there is established and growing evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making processes improves them.

For example, research on panchayats in India discovered that the number of drinking water projects in areas with women-led councils was 62% higher than in those with men-led councils.

In Norway, a direct causal relationship between the presence of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage was found.

Women leaders

Gender diversity is crucial not just because it “looks and feels good”. It opens up the room for balanced and developed perspectives, which could open up newer possibilities and lead to a better future, a better world.

Giving an equal seat at the table is not just a matter of equal human rights but also an economic imperative. It is not just an obligation; it makes good economic sense too. Backed by recent McKinsey research, it can be expected that as much as $13 trillion could be added to global GDP in 2030 by taking gender-inclusive growth agenda.

A Harvard Business School study has also shown women leaders have a measurable impact on the bottom line, with venture capital firms that hired more female partners showing increased profitability.

Beyond business too, women from across generations are making an impact and are working together to find new solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

The presence of women leaders in national, local and community level governance leads to an increase in policymaking that advances rights, promotes equality, and improves the quality of life for those overlooked in society.

Women leaders

Let’s look at how women leaders have demonstrated exemplary leadership in the pandemic response. Countries with women leaders at the helm of affairs such as New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Taiwan and Slovakia have been internationally recognized for the effectiveness of their response to the pandemic.

From a progressive and empathetic leader, a new-age working mom and the youngest female Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern to the ‘connected’ leadership of Angela Merkel as the Chancellor of Germany;  from Tsai Ing-wen, the first female president of Taiwan to the astute leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland; the millennial leaders likeSanna Marin, who became the world’s youngest head of state in Finland and Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg who is known for her innovative style- these names adds a new dimension to leadership.  The humane, empathetic, kind yet assertive leadership is something that makes us believe that there are alternative ways of yielding power for people and progress.

In an endeavour to reconcile the irreconcilable trinity’ of equity, efficiency, and sustainability, it is pertinent that the leadership gap is closed, and the power of women’s collective action is unleashed.

Tapping the massive potential of the world’s female population could increase economic growth, reduce poverty, enhance societal well-being, and help ensure sustainable development globally.

Progress, development, and an equal world will only be sustainable if the table is equally shared, and the benefits accrue equally to both women and men.

For the optimal alignment of people, profits and the planet, the global community must act with urgency and determination to accelerate the emergence and sustenance of female leaders. And this emergence has the huge potential of becoming a centrifugal force for good in the world.

Women leaders

Now how can this be done? First and foremost, leadership should be a gender-neutral zone. But deep-seated barriers, problematic beliefs and perceptions that are held by both men and women make it almost impossible to get away from the gender culture. A combination of structural barriers, institutional mindsets, individual mindsets, and lifestyle choices add to the problem and makes it difficult to address.

Promoting equality and facilitating the balance in leadership is everyone’s business. It is not a battle for the women to fight for themselves. It is a collaborative growth agenda that affects everyone beyond gender. We can’t just think that one gender is the cause of the problem for the other, both are equal partners in finding the right solution for the world. At the individual level, the organizational level and the societal level, a sense of actionable allyship is crucial to reach the desired destination.

It is also important to identify gaps and make policy commitments. It is also pertinent to generate local insight, develop local needs-based action plans and drive their execution.

Right to education, access to healthcare facilities, adequate training, skilling, reskilling and upskilling, mentorship, enhancing social safety nets, childcare support, facilitating equal opportunities, closing gender gaps in remuneration between and within sectors, digital inclusion, and a concerted effort to create an enabling environment for women to be advanced to leadership roles are something that needs to be reinforced time and again.

Hardwiring gender parity and integrating the gender lens at the heart of response and recovery in the post-pandemic world is another very crucial step for overcoming the preexisting as well as the pandemic posed challenges.

This reminds me of what Melinda Gates rightly points out, “women are not just victims of a broken world; they can be architects of a better one.”

Also Read: Women entrepreneurs in a so-called man’s world

(Ankurita Pathak is the Joint Director of FICCI and a TEDx speaker as well.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)


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