The Economic Survey 2018 had some startling data on the gender gap in labor force participation. The gap in India is more than 50 percentage points. This is much higher than in many other countries, including Rwanda, which has faced civil war.

Despite educational gains, the labor force participation rate for Indian women in 2017 was 28.5 percent (compared to 82 percent for men). By 2027, the working-age population in India will be almost 20 percent of the entire global labor force. Reaching gender parity would therefore have a bigger impact in India than in any other region in the world.

In reality, the pipeline for women starts small and continues to shrink. Only 140 women held 12.4 percent of board seats and 3.2 percent of board chairs in 2017.

At the entry level in any organization, the gap is not conspicuous. One can see as many women as men. But, as we move higher up the corporate ladder, the gap widens. Middle and senior management is where the gap is the widest.

Why does this happen when both men and women are equally qualified, started out at the same time and were given equal opportunities?

The steep drop in women’s participation is mainly attributed to motherhood, where managing childcare along with work becomes a big challenge. Women who decide to take it slower on the work front owing to small kids or elder care responsibilities feel the pressure of spending as much time in office as they used to do in the past and they also fear asking for remote working or flexi working schedules.

While organizations have the responsibility of creating a conducive environment in which women can thrive, it is also up to the individual to be resilient and not give up, especially not after working so hard for 7-10 years when it is time to reap the benefits of the efforts put in.

Here are a few tips on how women can continue to work in the long run, own their careers and become inspiring leaders.

  1. Be passionate. Only when you love something so much, will you be ready to walk that extra mile and not give up. Don't treat your job only as a means of livelihood; find something exciting in your daily job that propels you to move forward. Read about inspirational women leaders, their journey and how life has changed post the elevation to C-suite, and you are sure to have found your inspiration.
  2. Find a good mentor. It’s always great to have someone around whom you can look up to and confide in without any inhibitions. To make the most of the mentoring relationship, it is important for the mentee to take the lead and decide in advance the agenda of each meeting, and also make sure the actions assigned in the previous meeting are complete.
  3. Do not hesitate to ask for flexible work arrangements. This can include and need not be limited to working some days or some hours a week from home. One should not hesitate to ask for flexi working hours and neither should one be under the misconception that working from home can amount to working part-time. At the end of the day, what matters is whether the work was of high quality and accomplished in time.
  4. A career development plan is key. Talk about your career development with your supervisor, have frequent one-on-one meetings where you discuss your goals, the steps needed to achieve them and detail the help you need from your manager on this journey. Do not be apologetic or think of this as asking for a favor—have a professional, mature conversation.
  5. Build long-lasting relationships. It helps to talk to other women who are going through a similar journey—share your struggles, dreams and stories and cheer for each other. Take the lead to form a network of women with similar experiences who are facing similar situations, if your organization does not already have one. These kinds of networks help you get to know more people in the organization and boost each other's confidence.

There is no sure shot way to success. Take charge of your career and envision yourself in that corner office—this is not a distant dream but can become a reality one day, so keep going and do not look back.

How can we inspire women to break barriers and enter the boardroom?

The steep drop in women’s participation is mainly attributed to motherhood, where managing childcare along with work becomes a big challenge.
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