‘We are long way from a place where enough women will be in workplace for gender diversity to be obsolete’

January 18, 2021 12:02 PM

Only 5.8 per cent of S&P 500 companies have women CEOs. I am sure it is not because there are only 30 talented high achieving women who deserve to reach the top rung. Rather, the cards are stacked in a manner that is so skewed that it makes it much tougher for women to make it till the end and to the top.

The glass ceiling is real and each time a woman shatters it to make it to the top, she inspires a whole new generation.
  • By Nupur Garg

A few weeks back, I came across a fair bit of brouhaha caused by a newspaper article reporting the ascent of a woman to the top position at a large company. Along with the customary congratulatory messages, there were several indignant, and the occasional vehement comments on how the news was reported in a gender-biased manner. Now I think it is a little bit of common sense to say that anything written by a human being will find fault with at least one other human being, and gender diversity is an extremely complex subject that lends itself to a good debate (and headlines!).

Let’s start with the basic premise. What is wrong with highlighting the fact that the new CEO is a woman? Nothing in my view. I think it is a milestone for everyone involved, one that needs to be celebrated. She is a role model for the millions of women who worry about unfulfilled ambitions and aspirations, who dare not dream because the dream feels too far out to be anything but a dream. Her employer is an example for companies that are struggling to get their diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives right. And it is fantastic that in a country where there are still many boards without a single woman director, a board was unbiased and objective in its evaluation of CEO candidates! Only 5.8 per cent of S&P 500 companies have women CEOs. I am sure it is not because there are only 30 talented high achieving women who deserve to reach the top rung. Rather, the cards are stacked in a manner that is so skewed that it makes it much tougher for women to make it till the end and to the top.

I spoke to a few friends and the word on the street is that the woman in question was selected because she was the best candidate for the job. That’s exactly the way it is supposed to be. Success does not come because one is a woman – if that was the case, you and I would not need to remind people about the importance of gender balance.

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We are blessed with a thinking mind that helps us form views and opinions. We are also surrounded by various social, economic, and cultural factors that influence how the thinking mind connects dots – commonly known as unconscious biases. In a world that has become full of D&I tokenisms and terms like ‘diversity hires’ and ‘returning mothers’, women professionals constantly face unconscious biases and the accompanying gender stereotypes. The questions on whether she will be able to balance work and family life. Whether she will be able to hold her own in meetings in rooms full of men. Whether she will be able to lead a team of men. Or whether she can travel for work. The list is endless. So if you come across a woman who has the grit and determination to focus on hard work and performance in the middle of all of this, how could it be undermining to note that she has created an exception to the rule? How does it detract from her achievements to call out her gender – I am a woman and I would say, what the hell if I have achieved something in an industry that has historically been dominated by men, I deserve a double celebration. Because I achieved it not because I am a woman, but despite the fact that I am a woman.

With all this said, I am also mindful of the feelings of the people who felt offended by the ‘gender labelling’. I have been there, where colleagues would look at a woman recently promoted and wonder if it was because she was a woman. It is frustrating and that is why tokenism and quotas are detrimental to any good cause. But the truth is, we are a long way from a place where it will truly not matter whether the person doing a job is a man or a woman. Where people will be seen and judged through their work and performance, only. And where there will be enough women in the workplace for gender diversity to be an obsolete conversation. The glass ceiling is real and each time a woman shatters it to make it to the top, she inspires a whole new generation. Let’s celebrate these wins, these are the ones that will pave the way for a more inclusive future in the workplace.

Nupur Garg is the Founder of WinPE, Former Regional Lead – South Asia for IFC, PE investor, and independent board member. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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