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One Approach for Women to Level the Playing Field Is to Choose a Boss Over a Job

Forty-nine per cent managers say choosing a male over an equally meritorious female candidate is better strategy…Fifty-four per cent say women should take a career break

Forty-nine per cent managers say choosing a male over an equally meritorious female candidate is better strategy…Fifty-four per cent say women should take a career break when work-life integration turn demanding…Forty-nine per cent say managing teams with women is challenging.’

Bias and scepticism among managers is a key barrier to the success of any gender-inclusion initiative. It is especially important, considering a manager’s role in shaping careers. They hire employees, are responsible for their ongoing work profile, coach them through career development and manage appraisals. While the top leadership may have a vision and the HR department policies in place, there are always unsaid micro-policies that an immediate boss encourages. These may differ from one manager to the next, but they impact hiring and promotions. Given the importance of their roles, people often follow the adage ‘Choose a boss, not a job’. A great boss can help you unlock untapped potential,
while an average boss can demoralise you.

Learning and development

Payal Gupta, director and CEO of the consulting firm Celebratory Network, shared an instance during our discussion which aptly demonstrates how sensitisation through learning and development (L&D) programmes is crucial for managers:

“We consulted with a company where a chairperson, who had called a meeting of all the senior MDs, asked the only woman present in the group to take notes, not acknowledging the fact that she was the business lead of the largest line of business. He just assumed that the woman would take notes. Sensitisation through L&D programmes to stop such behaviour is essential and all managers should go through it.”

While most HR teams focus on sensitisation of managers through training and development
initiatives, it is equally important to ensure real implementation of some of the learnings. One aspect which is criticised by some business heads is that most training sessions tend to be clichéd, irrelevant to their job, with little focus on business. For a more suitable engagement, the HR team must engage with department heads and work together to create business-specific training programmes.

Beyond training in soft skills like empathy and understanding comes the aspect of mentoring and creating leaders, which needs the time and attention of managers. While most managers do take some time out to mentor their juniors, it is limited to a performance discussion and a goal-setting exercise. Having a formal mentoring programme with direct bosses and other group heads can be impactful, if done right. Different organisations do it in different ways. An effective programme would be the practice of sponsorships, which are quite common in the consulting industry. Rightly implemented, sponsorships can prove to be a powerful tool. A mentor (usually not the reporting manager) represents their mentee on important platforms, gives them exposure to their own network, presents their case during appraisals and promotions, and gives real-time feedback on both performance and soft skills. This requires regular commitment on the part of the mentor to see their protégé rise through the levels, not just by giving advice, but by allocating one’s own time and effort to the cause. Some companies promote this system by encouraging networking events that help their employees interact with members of different teams, clients and industry leaders and, in the process, find their respective mentors informally.

Another aspect of L&D is to coach employees in softer skills such as public speaking and critical thinking, and conduct mentoring sessions to provide appropriate career guidance and counselling. Had Kalpana Morparia’s bosses not believed in her capabilities and pushed her to go beyond her comfort zone, she may not have been able to achieve the heights of success she has seen. Like Kalpana, many more women will be able to polish and enhance their skills and move ahead in the corporate world if they find supportive bosses.

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Rajesh Tamada