Are women their own glass ceiling:50% of women miss leadership opportunities because of their own self-limiting biases, reveals ILSS Survey
New Delhi, 6th March: A recent survey by India Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS) with women professionals in the social sector who have 8-15 years of experience, reveals that more than 50% of respondents feel, at times, slowed down by their own self-limiting biases.
At a time when there are global conversations about increasing the representation of women in leadership roles, the report presents an insightful perspective on factors that are holding back progress. The survey endeavors to understand the complexity surrounding women’s leadership in the sector by examining the gaps and challenges, capturing best practices, exploring the scope of positive interventions, and identifying possible support structures to build leadership capacities. The report, a product of conversations with leaders across the social sector, captures an overarching image of these critical dynamics.
Self-limiting biases often stem from social & cultural conditioning women experience, which can shape a sense of inferiority. These beliefs lead to “self-limiting” behaviour that often leads to women having stereotypes about their own abilities, talents, opportunities, and goals that could end up holding back one’s careers.
The survey highlights the prevalence of socialized beliefs, such as imposter syndrome, which limit one’s leadership vision, with 50% of women leaders experiencing this. The cumulative effect this can have on individuals & the wider workforce is significant. This phenomenon undoubtedly contributes to the ‘leaky pipeline’ we see, where there is a disproportionate lack of women leaders at levels of senior management, relative to the number of women in entry-to-mid-level roles. The study also suggests that there is a predominance of women in ‘Program specific’ roles, as opposed to strategic, organization-building roles. These roles are often relegated to women, as they are perceived as more suitable to be doing ‘care work’ of this sort. In this, women are less likely to be selected for overarching management roles, including in the spheres of fundraising, strategic management, and operations. This experience is critical in advancing into senior leadership roles, as in CXO positions. These are broader structural conditions that shape the world of work, and to be able to support women’s leadership, there must be a concerted effort to dismantle these dynamics.
The survey highlights that women constantly feel the desire to build crucial cross-functional&management skills, including negotiation, conflict management, and effective communication. There is also a desire to build a personal leadership style, where 75.6% of respondents cite the desire to build their own based on the attributes of empathy, collaboration, and inclusion. Supporting women leaders by providing them spaces to learn, grow, and challenge dominant narratives of leadership is crucial.
“Women constantly grapple with unique challenges on their career front, that are created by various external and internal factors and circumstances. It is important to build conducive pathways for more women professionals to reach leadership positions, helping them overcome their limitations and see them thrive in successful careers. Our recent study on ‘Emerging Women’s Leadership in the Indian Development Sector’ highlights the issues and proposes solutions, especially to reduce the current gap in the leadership positions in the social sector,” says Anu Prasad, Founder & CEO, India Leaders for Social Sector.
According to the report, 84.1% of respondents believe that a tailored capacity-building program would enhance their leadership journey. This could be something that specifically speaks to their journeys, as mid-to-senior career women professionals in the Indian social impact space, and provides guidance on adapting it to their career path.
Mentorship has always been a crucial element to amplify one’s leadership path, as it gives clarity of thoughts and structure to one’s goals and ambitions. The ILSS report states that respondents feel men have clearer access to cross-sectoral networks & mentorship opportunities with senior leaders. This has led to 84.7% of respondents believing that building pathways to match emerging women leaders with senior women leaders may play a crucial role in supporting their leadership journeys. Nearly 73% of emerging women leaders in the social sector also believe that continued mentorship and networking support would boost their leadership ambitions. These are critical support structures that all professionals need access to, to be able to accelerate their leadership journeys. To be able to effectively support women’s leadership, we need to support women to access these spaces and networks.
There has been a constant imbalance in opportunities for women versus men. Multiple factors, such as family, societal perception, lack of opportunities, and exclusion, have often prevented many women from building senior leadership careers. The ILSS report highlights the structural changes required to systematically support women’s leadership journeys. Building an ecosystem of support is essential, and urgent. This includes working with organization leaders to build inclusive leadership pipelines, platforming women leaders and giving them opportunities to showcase their skills and talents, embedding flexible working policies favouring women with familial & childcare responsibilities, and creating a safe environment for women to succeed. The social impact space is based on ideas of equality, inclusion, and justice; therefore, the sector has a responsibility to adhere to those very values to support its people and create supportive environments for women’s leadership journeys to thrive.