Q: Today top executive positions are still mainly held by males. As a consultant/coach, what are some of the unique challenges that you think women executives are facing in career advancement?

Manisha: Women executives often face unconscious biases in the form of others’ beliefs and attitudes about them that can create roadblocks to career advancement. As a consultant/coach, I have often seen women executives ‘doubting’ their own abilities and not showcasing their talents effectively. Networking – post work hours or during coffee/smoke breaks – is another aspect that is a challenge for women executives. Women also face challenges in landing a “hot job” (high visibility, mission critical roles) that are important to reaching the highest levels of leadership.

Shalini: As much as women executives aspire to climb the corporate ladder, the climb will go on until it reaches the ‘glass ceiling’ – then the climb stops. Based on my observation as a consultant/coach, stereotyping is one of the challenges faced by women executives in regards to career advancement. Women are perceived to act ’emotionally’ rather than ‘rationally’ in some instances at work. It is said that women are bound to feel ‘sorry’ easily – which would impair their judgement and decision making. Hence, it is commonly heard that women executives stand a lower chance in attaining top executive positions due to the overall ‘stereotype’ of them being ’emotional’. Life-style conflicts could also create the struggle for women executives to grow in their career. These women are needed to juggle their work, family needs, personal needs and health – all at the same time. When women are seen to take time-off or their ’emergency leave’ seems to be higher than their male colleagues, their capabilities to perform at work will be questioned. Consequently, their career growth would be slower.

Q: What are some of the ways that leaders could proactively address the issue of gender bias to narrow the gap?

Manisha: First, leaders need to become aware of their own biases and take steps to eliminate them and be fair. They need to develop a comfort in starting a dialogue on gender sensitization, encouraging their teams to examine their biases and counter them. Being open to feedbacks and learnings, addressing harmful behaviours rather than ignoring them, building trust, confronting inequities head on through organization-wide strategies would be some proactive steps for the leaders to address gender issues.

Shalini: Leaders themselves need to believe in all their employees regardless of gender differences. It is when leaders ‘walk the talk’, it helps to create a culture of ‘equality’ as leaders are said to have the power to influence the behaviour and mind-set of the employees. Leaders could also make flexibility and work-life balance as part of the wider company culture. Too often, employees have to specifically ask to work part-time or work from home, which can be awkward. Companies should instead offer a broad range of different options such as work from home (without having to seek approval), time off and flexy working hours – such support is vital to smoothen the work experience which could narrow the gap in gender biases.