The ever-evolving role of women in leadership amidst COVID-19
  • Dr. Vishalli Dongrie, Partner |

Women around the world have constantly been leading the way for an inspiring style of leadership that is proactive, confident and authentic. It is clearly evident that countries that are being led by women leaders seem to have been fairly successful in fighting the pandemic. Whether it be New Zealand or Germany these countries have witnessed not only much fewer fatalities than other countries in their respective regions but also contained the pandemic effectively. These successes are inspiring for women around the world, but what we must also recognise is, these successes have come in the wake of challenges, a lot of them face while progressing towards leadership roles.

According to a 2020 study, there are record numbers of women running Fortune 500 organisations, yet the total of these women is still only 37. What this shows is there is very little movement of women making it to top leadership positions, as organisation leaders, when in reality they (women) do have a lot to offer, owing to certain qualities that make them best suited for leadership roles.

Below are a few qualities that make them best suited for leadership roles and why it is more important than ever to hire women in leadership.

Qualities that make women leaders successful

They are extremely focussed and clear in their decision making and facets such as empathy, humility, inclusiveness, and the ability to communicate well, make them best suited for leading. Basic sensitivity and the simple understanding that if their people are managed well and are looked after, is helping women leaders drive better outcomes.

Quick to embrace technology and balance work from home

COVID-19 has disrupted and transformed the way we work, bringing the need to quickly transition to working from home to ensure business continuity. Technology has played a big role in helping with work from home. Working from home has had its fair share of challenges but at the same time, we have also seen its benefits. Looking at the benefits, it has allowed employees to have flexible work schedules, thereby reducing the time spent commuting to work or meetings. This has led to achieving a better work-life balance and improved productivity. It has also put women in a unique situation. This is because many of them have seen a lot of their personal and professional boundaries blurring, and as a result, have lacked the time and have felt stressed. It has also led to many feeling a sense of isolation at the workplace, impacting mental health and wellness. It is imperative, that organisations support their employees working from home on this aspect. At KPMG in India, we are constantly making an effort at communicating regularly to assure our employees that they belong to an organisation that appreciates and cares for them even if they are at home.

For us, the initiatives and investments that we made continuously over the last several years have helped us seamlessly adapt to working from home with minimum disruption. Also, our collaborative, and social tools, have helped our teams work across boundaries to support effective client outcomes.

Top decision-makers

When women are not part of decision-making teams, it limits the diversity of ideas that are presented and considered during the decision-making process. Gender-balanced leaderships are in a way, less susceptible to issues, that can arise when a group of people with viewpoints make poor decisions because of a lack of diverse thinking.

Growth of women in the professional services space

When one looks at the leadership path for women, it is fraught with many challenges which include a serious lack of equal opportunities, many a time dealing with unconscious bias, working around dual responsibilities at work and home and more importantly a lack of support from other women. But today thankfully there is a growing sense of understanding, of how women leaders can be successful and the future looks promising and good. The professional services industry for example has great scope for a larger representation of women in the wider professional services fraternity. In India, where gender hierarchies are still a phenomenon, professional firms are trying and working towards building a space where gender should not be a restricting factor. This is built on the foundation of treating women equally. We believe—if wholeheartedly accepted and embraced with enthusiasm, this will pave the way for helping to create a more equitable and empowering ecosystem.

A lot remains to be done towards helping unlock the huge potential that women represent in the professional services sector. We need to look at addressing questions like – Do we have ample positions for women at each level? Do women advance as quickly as men? Are women choosing to not advance after a particular stage in their career? Are we hiring as many women as men? If we give due consideration to the above questions and if organisations are able to ensure good progress on these four aspects, I believe, a big advancement of women in leadership roles will happen, but the bigger question is how fast can it happen?

(A version of this article appeared in The Economic Times -HRWorld.com on 11 April 2021)