• Shreya Sinha


Updated: Aug 28, 2020

By- Rugma S 3rd Year B.Com LLB (Hons) Student at TNDALU School of Excellence in Law, Chennai


Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes’. They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes’.
~Clare Boothe Luce

Women are the influential agents of change and the mind-boggling benefits of diversity and gender parity in leadership and decision-making are progressively recognized in all spheres of society. However, women still continue to be greatly marginalized and underrepresented in positions of organizational, managerial, and political power due to discriminatory laws, institutional and societal barriers, and disproportionate access to equality in education, healthcare, and other resources.

To reason out the limited presence of women in prominent echelons of leadership and the invisible obstacles they face to attain management positions, concepts such as the “glass ceiling”, “glass cliff”, “labyrinth” have come into widespread use.


Eagle and Koenig’s Social Role Theory[1] helps us understand a deeper motive as to why women to some extent are underrepresented in leadership positions.

The social role theory suggests that people’s beliefs about social groups in their society is influenced by the association of specific behaviors to their normal social roles. Thus, individuals of a particular social group have a particular social behavior which in turn leads to the constituted social group’s identity. Among different social group identities, gender is a prominent and potent one. One such notion of the theory emphasizes that women are communal, in the sense, they are helpful, kind, and emotional while men are agentic, implying that they are controlling, assertive, and ambitious. These gender stereotypic aspects of society divide the roles of men and women in family and work and also responsible for the difference in their behaviors. Stemming from this stereotype is the assumption that men are more likely to occupy roles in athletics, business, construction, engineering, and other jobs that demand assertiveness while, on the contrary, women are more likely to take up occupations that require helpfulness, like nursing and teaching. Owing to their occupation, men tend to occupy a high status in the hierarchy both at work and at home. A number of studies place an emphasis on the think manager-think male syndrome to explain this stereotype. The result of these gender-stereotypic roles of men and women lead to unequal distribution of, access to, and progression to leadership and power positions. This phenomenon also explains the reason as to why some companies and organizations still actively defend blatant sex discrimination. In a recent case[2], the employer acknowledged the fact that female executives in his organization were paid only half as much as male executives even though the primary determinant of salary was the sales numbers thereby proving the glaring presence of sex discrimination in companies and organizations.

Embracing leadership positions becomes even more difficult for women when they face the burdensome task of balancing work and family responsibilities. The existence of the assumption that women with children don’t tend to be on the “fast track” also reduces their chances of attaining leadership positions to a very grim amount.

Further, gender-based violence also contributes to the underrepresentation of women's leadership. Threats, disparagement, and sexual harassment discourage women’s engagement and close pathways to leadership positions.

Another significant roadblock that exists for the women in this journey is the “old-boy network” that shuts women out from the top management. The men who have been educated at the same institutions or who have climbed up the corporate ladder together have an inclination to promote individuals who are like themselves or then they look to their colleagues or their friends to fill those top decision making positions thereby causing blatant sex discrimination. Additionally, women executives also face the issue of being excluded from informal social gatherings which is the place where the groundwork for corporate advancement is laid down.

The aforementioned reasons clearly explain why India occupies the third lowest rank with 2% female CEO representation, ranks the second-lowest for female CFO representation with a mere 1% and has secured the 23rd rank out of 56 countries with 8.5% of women occupying senior roles according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute Report.


Women’s leadership, despite facing a lot of backlashes has been repeatedly shown to have several societal benefits, such as inequality reduction, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines and increased prioritization of social issues like health, education, parental leave, and pensions[3] in addition to causing a “role model effect”. Apparently, a 2012 study conducted in India stated that an increase in the number of women village leaders closed the “aspiration gap” between girls and boys by nearly 25% and had ultimately obliterated the gender gap in educational outcomes.

Additionally, a 2007 Catalyst report on S&P 500 Companies found a connection between women’s representation on boards and a noteworthy high return on equity, sales, and invested capital. Further, a positive correlation was also obtained between layoffs and female CEOs. A study of businesses operating during the Great Recession found that female CEOs were less likely to lay off staff when compared to their male peers and the difference between these both genders was significant (14% v. 6%)[4]. Researchers also found that women have a tendency to adopt a transformational leadership style typical of charisma, intellectual stimulation, and consideration of the individual, a style that is most likely to positively motivate the followers[5].

Further, women’s representation in positions of organizational or managerial power will positively provide for enhanced social networking and mentoring opportunities that will indeed increase women’s career prospects thereby leading to lowered gender segregation in addition to reducing gender-linked stereotypes about a woman’s abilities in the organization. This change will have a far-reaching effect of creating better-integrated workplaces by influencing the judgments, principles, and practices of the organizational decision-makers.


To ensure that women are equally represented in leadership positions and the benefits of women’s leadership are reaped, successful measures like funding incentivized party quotas[6], support to women’s leadership development programmes and creation of a gender-responsive policy environment would be worth a try. To guarantee women of their share of organizational power, corporations need to make sure that their recruitment, appraisal and career management systems are gender-impersonal and only performance-focused in addition to enabling business practices that permit men and women to balance demands of leadership and family responsibilities.

The draft for the National Policy on Women 2016 placed an emphasis on increasing the participation of women in various fields such as civil services, local governments, and corporate boardrooms. Therefore, the draft policy still fails to address the blatant gender leadership gap. Hence, there is a pressing need to establish a specific committee or agency, similar to the Juvenile Justice Board which will address the gap in organizational, managerial, and political leadership and will be accountable to the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The Ministry meanwhile needs to make the much-needed changes in the law for women and set up proper grievance redressal mechanisms that promote gender equality and send a positive message to women and girls about their role and place in society.

Eventually, given the barriers to women’s advancement, the currently exercised classic leadership style which emphasizes patriarchal values and perpetrates injustice has to be questioned thereby forcing us to look into alternate modes of leadership i.e. a contra-bureaucratic model or communicative leadership which is truer to a woman’s style of leadership and focuses on communication and participation at all levels as the groundwork of its existence in addition to being egalitarian and democratic.


Achieving gender parity in leadership and lessening the gender leadership gap primarily is a matter of fairness. When women are restricted from obtaining top leadership positions, they are prevented from making a difference in the world in addition to enjoying other perks of leadership such as high status and privilege and various rare opportunities. Greater gender diversity has been proven to spark creativity, development and use of diverse knowledge and perspectives to foster new ideas[7]. When women are deprived of the financial benefits that come with leadership, the aftermaths are not only felt by individual women and their families but also in the field of philanthropy, politics, venture capitalism, and a host of other unexpected places.

However, inroads have been made in addressing this evident problem by the Apex Court of the country which recently took a stance that women also could serve as army commanders thereby establishing gender parity in a traditionally male bastion. This incident hence proves that our country is on the right path to achieve women's empowerment.

Women empowerment is a multi-dimensional process involving transformed ideas, norms, relationships, and structures of power and resource allocation. Progress in any field is never linear and free from impediments. However, progress in women empowerment and women leadership can be and has been achieved in most of the countries. Hence, by making progress in leadership positions, women can achieve positive changes in women’s rights and gender relations in countries around the world even though such a change was considered unthinkable, let alone achievable.

Shoes are just a pedestal. What interests me is the power of the woman who wears them.
~Christian Louboutin


[1] Koenig and Eagly, 2014, 'Extending Role Congruity Theory of Prejudice to Men and Women with Sex-Typed Mental Illnesses', Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 36(1): pp70-82.

[2] King v Acosta Sales and Marketing, Inc., 678 F.3d 470 (2012)

[3] Susan Markham, 2013, Women as Agents of Change: Having Voice in Society and Influencing Policy. Women’s Voice, Agency, and Participation Research Series, No.5, The World Bank.

[4] Matsa & Miller, 2013, A female style in corporate leadership? Evidence from quotas, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 5(3), 136–69, (2014), Workforce reductions at women-owned businesses in the United States, Industrial & Labor Relations Review, 67(2), 422–52.

[5] Bass & Riggio, 2006, Transformational leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Psychology Press.

[6] Political parties were considered as a major influencer of the society and hence funding incentivized party quotas were regarded as a viable solution by the UNDP in its report titled Gender Equality Women’s Participation and Leadership in Governments at the Local Level Asia and the Pacific, 2013, Bangkok.

[7] Opstrup & Villadsen, 2015, The right mix? Gender diversity in top management teams and financial performance, Public Administration Review, 75(2), 291–301.

(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Child Rights Centre.)