India ranks 12th in female representation on company boards, according to this report. It shows that 55 percent of 628 listed companies that were surveyed have women as directors on their boards, which is 14 percent higher than last year. This is an encouraging sign that organizations are committed to prioritizing gender diversity in the boardroom.

This could not have been possible without the focus on diversity and inclusion within organizations and the many conversations around them. More often than not we underestimate the power of communication. But conversations make us think. And act. One of many such conversations at the workplace revolves around the action plan to hire, leverage and promote women leaders. As each year brings new challenges, here’s how leaders can broaden the conversation around women in leadership.

Show empathy, not sympathy

Empathy should be embedded in an organization’s culture. However, a lot of us unconsciously slip into sympathy mode when it comes to female employees. Consider a situation where a female team member is facing difficulty at home trying to manage the pressure of board exams of her teenager along with work demands.

At this time, if the manager just lends a listening ear, it would be sympathy. What’s needed here is empathy, where the manager looks at the problem from the woman’s perspective and provides solutions to her for managing the situation. This could mean anything from giving her time off without judgement to flexible working conditions that allow her to deliver her best. Thus, empathy leads to problem solving, whereas sympathy is merely a placebo.

Set targets and take action

A lot of conversations and decisions on women's leadership need quick action. This includes mandating women candidates in recruitment processes, women-specific leadership development programs and managing gender ratios at work, to name a few. This is where leaders at all levels can step in to drive the conversation. When we talk about something constantly, diligently, and keep working on it, it eventually becomes a habit. It becomes normal.

What leaders can also do is mix and match teams and create a buddy system where they consciously match different genders for projects, coaching and mentoring, training and workshops. It sets an example for future leaders and all employees in the team.

Let women mentor other women

Women leaders who have paved their way to prominent positions in an organization are an inspiration to a lot of other women. Women leaders should definitely be included in coaching and mentoring programs within their organizations. The reason why this is important is that these women understand the struggles associated with gender and it will be possible for them to guide their mentees positively, thus creating women leaders of the future.

Acknowledge and eliminate bias

We all have unconscious biases. Acknowledging these biases is the first step to removing them. Look for the blind spots and help your teams become aware of their biases. Speak openly about them so that people recognize these biases, understand them and overcome them.

Harness the power of women’s networks

Most organizations have a women’s network. However, many times it’s not leveraged as it should be. Leaders need to be active members of these groups. Taking the lead on initiating activities and events will give space to have more conversations with people in and outside the team. It will inspire more and more employees to enthusiastically work for such resource groups. As they do this, perceptions break down to give way to new thoughts and ideas that can help promote women leaders.

Normalize a non-linear career

A lot of women quit the workforce right at the cusp of entering leadership positions. This may be due to multiple reasons—childbirth, family, taking care of aging parents, illness, among others. It may take a couple of years for them to be able to come back to the workplace. Leaders must recognize the gap as productive and give opportunities to women to return to work. It is also important to utilize all platforms to normalize conversations around this.

While organizations are taking the right steps to bring more women to leadership positions, we still have a long way to go. The onus lies on the leaders of today to make way for future women leaders and to drive the conversation around women in leadership. After all, "the more we talk, the more we think, and the more we do."

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