The lack of representation of women in leadership positions in both public and private sectors or gender leadership gap is a subject of research. In the United States, women hold only 19 per cent of board seats, 15 per cent of executive officer positions in Fortune 500 companies. The number of female CEOs at these companies is just four per cent. While many diversity experts think poor policies and work culture have been a constant struggle for women to fit in, progress, and thrive, some blame it on the rigid social gender norms and psycho-social patterns of women. All of these might attribute to the fact that women don’t feel included and face gender bias, stereotypes at work, especially when competing for a leadership position with a man.
I often wonder why experts and policymakers view one’s personal and professional life as independent of each other. How do we expect those responsible for raising children, cooking, doing domestic chores, helping the children with homework to compete with another group of individuals who do not necessarily have to do any of these?
Unequal Distribution of Unpaid Work-at the Core of Gender Leadership Gap
Gender roles in all the societies were traditionally based on caregiving and money-making where men had the economic, social, and decision-making power, allowing women fewer opportunities to flourish and making them more vulnerable to oppression, abuse, and exploitation. Thankfully, women gradually started stepping out of their traditional roles of homemaking and caregiving and joined the workforce. By the 1970s, many women started pursuing careers, competing with men. Unfortunately, that didn’t create as many male caregivers, and domestic workers as it should have been! Women had to figure out how to pursue careers, chase professional dreams without neglecting any responsibilities at home.
‘Superwomen’ and ‘supermoms’ were born.
I remember my male colleagues would often remind me that I should not worry about promotion as much as they should as I had young kids. My children should be my priority. Sometimes, my relatives would remind me how lucky I was as my husband had allowed me to work the evening shifts. In my attempt to prove that my kids were not neglected or I was no less deserving of promotion than my male colleagues, I had to work extremely hard both at home and at work.
Societies take on a woman’s career has always been – she chose to have a career despite being a woman, it’s her responsibility to figure out how to balance family and career. Women are primarily responsible for their children’s behaviors, academic performance, and the health and well-being of the entire family.
Women work much harder to prove their worth – to be considered as capable, competent, and confident employees, ideal mothers, and wives. Men, on the other hand, don’t have to go through this ordeal and struggle to prove their worth as men. As a result, women often look for professional roles which are less stressful, more flexible, would allow them to reach home early, make dinner and help the kids with homework. Societies continue to take it for granted.
Let’s Fix the System, not Women
I wonder, can we expect to have women CEOs and VPs or address gender leadership gap in leadership ONLY by providing leadership training to women? Also, by doing that, are we not trying to prove that women are less capable and need training and support, while completely ignoring a critical piece of this entire issue? Somewhere I feel, by trying to fix women without fixing the system, we put the onus of this disparity on women.
How long should we ignore the need to train men to take greater responsibilities at home? Organizations do have the responsibility in closing the gender leadership gap by holding male CEOs and VPs accountable for maintaining more work-life balance.
What if the companies encourage and ensure employees to have more balanced roles and responsibilities outside the workplace, as a part of their social responsibility? What if corporates have a more human-centric rather than completely profit-driven business approach, where performances are not just numbers but a more holistic way of looking at one’s work and life, where employees are held accountable for their behaviours both at work and outside of it? I feel this would create not only more women CEOs but also a more sustainable society where women and men would have equal opportunities to flourish and grow. Women’s leadership gap can not be explained or addressed without addressing the gender gap in unpaid domestic and care work.
Important resource: Unpaid care work – the missing link in the analysis of gender gap in the labor outcome by OECD