Women’s leadership in organizations has become a regular topic of discussion since the dawn of the new millennium. At present, whether women should at all be in organizations is not the issue. The moot issue is whether women should don the mantle of top leadership in organizations. This is of course directly related to the evolution of women’s leadership over time.
Evolution has not taken a linear path. Initially, the rise of women on the organizational ladder was resisted with suspicion. Women were supposed to be good for the lower rungs of the organizational hierarchy and any instances of them making it to the top were seen as “pure aberrations”. Even today in many organizations in the western developed world women find it hard to reach the position of vice president. In the developing world, the scenario is obviously more exclusionary for women aspiring for the top positions.
The scenario remains true even if for decades there are instances of highly successful women being at the top of the leadership in different states around the world, and in the supremely important agencies of economic governance such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the European Central Bank. It seems that in corporate organizations in particular there is less conviction about the efficiency of women in the highest leadership positions. This is despite the fact that women have reached the top straight in such giant firms as IBM and GM. According to PwC’s 2021 Annual Corporate Directors Survey, when respondents are asked about the importance of gender, racial and ethnic diversity for reconstitution of the board gender diversity gets a lowly 14 % while the racial and ethnic diversity enjoys a high of 25%. Women entrepreneurs also face the same discriminatory situation. Even though there has apparently been an exponential rise in their number when it comes to facing some inevitable issues, like the much-awaited call from venture funds, they face a lot more hurdles than their male counterparts.
The scepticism about women leaders’ capability vis-à-vis vision, strategy, tactics, and courage in particular and the decision-making in general remains despite a number of cases in which women have shown much better forecasting capacity. Be it in the case of the fall of some of the top Wall Street firms in 2007 or be it the possible disaster of subprime lending was concerned the accurate predictions were done by women. It is also worth noting that the whistleblowing act regarding the possible subversion of aircraft rentals, which would eventually have a link with 9/11, was done by a woman who, however, had failed to convince the FBI.
Why is it that despite regular affirmations of gender diversity, the corporate world falls short of the expected percentage of women at the top? At one point there was this idea in circulation that with the coming of the digital world gender diversity would be much more extensive. But it was not so. It would be wrong to ascribe any one factor as the prime cause for such bias. There is a constellation of social, cultural, political, economic, and psychological factors at work. Facing the challenges for decades women have surely become more confident in their abilities and they are also ready to work with men shoulder-to-shoulder in the organizational setting, ready to share equally both power and responsibility. But it is also true that ‘normalized traditions’ with patriarchal bias are not easily removable.
We must come to terms with the fact that gone are those days when an excellent woman leader would be at best praised for ‘acting like a male leader’. Women have now come up with their distinct behavioral patterns and style to contribute to the organization from the top in a highly competitive environment. With continuous engagement with workplace challenges, robust assertion of skill and competence, and having empathy for other women at work, women leaders can surely reach new heights in greater numbers to put to rest any doubt about them.