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Broken Rung

We all are aware of Glass Ceiling. The number of women making it to the boardroom has always been under scrutiny. The Indian corporate law mandate has significantly contributed. As a result, women's representation on boards has increased from 6% in 2013 to 18% in 2022. According to the recent EY report 2022, nearly 95% of the NIFTY 500 companies now have women on the board of directors. However, less than 5% of companies have female chairpersons; hence there is still scope for improvement. While the glass ceiling will take time, let's look at a critical phase in a woman's career. The first and foremost Rung of the management ladder, and woman getting her first promotion as a people manager.

As per McKinsey and Report 2022, for every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level to managers, only 87 women are promoted. As a result, men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, and women can never catch up. There needs to be more women to promote to senior leadership positions. Because of the broken Rung, as per Mc Kinsey's study in 2021, men end up with 62% of manager jobs while women hold just 38%. It is also important to realize that this broken Rung would be pivotal in having lesser women representation at the top of the pyramid. As per research, some organizations are biased against appointing women as managers and leaders, which can adversely impact self-confidence and conviction. Therefore, fixing the broken Rung to break the glass ceiling is imperative.

Fixing broken Rungs can lead to repairing the glass ceiling. Women are no longer second-earning family members doing a job. Instead, women aspire to learn and grow within the organization. Broken rung becomes the biggest obstacle to women’s careers as they find it challenging to get their first promotion. Previously this term was coined as "sticky floor," this allegory used to describe women getting stalled at the lowest levels of the corporate hierarchy. Sticky floor research suggests that women are less likely to be promoted from entry-level jobs and receive less post-promotion pay than their male counterparts.

At a macro level, organizations are making diversity and inclusion a strategic priority by strengthening inclusive policies and practices. At a systemic level, organizations can enable women to grow by emphasizing on the following nuances-

  1. Developmental Initiatives: As per the KPMG report on Women's Leadership Study 2015, 67% of women said they need more support building confidence to feel like they can be leaders. It is instrumental for organizations to invest in the career development of women in their twenties and career advancement in their thirties. The developmental needs of women are different; hence in a time of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, it is pivotal to offer what women want. As per the KPMG report of 2016, women need leadership training, confidence building, decision-making, networking, and critical thinking. The developmental initiatives should be integral to the organization's DEI agenda. It should be holistic and customized to the needs of women. The developmental initiatives should combine experience, exposure, and education. The developmental interventions must encompass stretched assignments, challenging workplace projects, shadowing, and visibility to the leadership team.
  1. Mentorship and Sponsorship:Women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. Research suggests that women are not even comfortable seeking sponsorship. There is a difference between mentorship and sponsorship. Mentorship focuses on offering guidance to develop skills of a mentee. It is a personal relationship with nothing at stake for the mentor. On the other hand, sponsorship is external because it includes the protégé and the organization. The sponsor utilizes professional influence to advance the career of the protégé by amplifying achievements, providing opportunities, expanding networks, and even covering for missteps. Therefore, sponsors spend personal capital in advocating for the protégé. The sponsor needs to be a person of influence. However, sponsorship benefits the sponsor since the protégé also has responsibilities. The protégé needs to show high performance, be trustworthy and develop competencies that add value to the team. Structured sponsorship becomes even more challenging because the organization asks the senior leader (the sponsor) to spend personal capital. Sponsors aren't necessarily your managers or existing mentors but can be others aware of your work and in a position to help you achieve your personal goals.
  1. Networking:We women are always in a rush. We make it to work and rush back to the family. As per the KPMG report 2016, 67% of women reported they'd learned the most important lessons about leadership from other women. 82% of professional working women believe access to and networking with female leaders will help them advance in their careers. Organizations should also offer high-potential women the exposure to various networking forums and opportunities to interact with senior leaders externally. Women should also seize the opportunity and be a part of multiple knowledge-sharing forums to build a brand.
  1. Supervisory Support:The supervisor is indispensable in facilitating a career and strengthening the confidence of team members. A supervisor managing women's direct reports should be wary of unconscious biases related to gender and their influence on decisions. The supervisor should be objective in assessing and evaluating the performance of women. They should look at both performance and potential of women while assessing their readiness for the next level role.

Often it is difficult for supervisors to give candid and open feedback, especially when it crosses gender lines. Researchers have coined "benevolent sexism" to describe behaviors safeguarding women from complex information. In a work context, male supervisors may avoid giving women negative feedback because they don't want to hurt or upset them. Women receive less specific feedback than men, which has profound outcomes. Studies show that women receive ambiguous feedback and are likely to be assigned lower performance ratings. This kind of feedback does tell a woman that her performance is not meeting expectations. However, she cannot identify the behavior that isn't serving her, so she doesn't know what to do differently. Therefore, specific feedback on behavior will help women identify their development areas and help them focus on improvement.

These are a few enablers that can help fix the broken Rung. Building diversity and creating inclusion needs several positive affirmations around policies, practices, and initiatives.

Women must also hold the fort and own their careers to fix the broken Rung and reach the top of the pyramid. They also need to realize that they are the owners of their careers and work on their confidence and conviction.

Fixing the broken Rung is just the beginning of resolving the glass ceiling and having more women representation across the levels within the organization.


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