Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Women in Leadership roles in Corporate India

I had the opportunity to interact with a group of 150+ women leaders in various roles and at different stages of their careers at the WILL conference in Mumbai last week.

I now understand how it feels to be one of 3 women surrounded by suited, stuffy, macho, aggressive, loud men in a typical corporate meeting!! Here I was in a reverse situation... I was one of 3 men… you get the picture!

Very lively debate on mentorship…It was a much talked about and much researched topic. A common view was that every company should have a program that has some sort of broad mentorship objective.

But in my view, as you go to more senior levels, it’s not so much about mentorship as it is about sponsorship. The key is - do you have sponsors? Is there someone who will bet on you to do the critical and visible role? This is needed irrespective of gender for sure. But does it happen as easily in the case of women?

My experience and data suggests that it happens less for women. There will be lots of people who will mentor and coach but much fewer who will take that big swing and stake their reputation on that person’s performance.

We need more "sponsors" for women, just as every successful male leader will tell you that they have always had one or two leaders who have visibly bet on them

The question to answer and worth debating is why don’t women have enough sponsors? Maybe it is biases, maybe it is an assumption that the person is not ready for the next big job, maybe some people view it as higher risk. Whatever it is, it has to be fixed. There are no silver bullets… but I think visible sponsorship at leadership levels may be one!!

What do you think?