Women in Leadership: Hidden Hurdles

6 minutes

Imagine a CEO…

Did you think of a man? 

Food for thought, isn’t it? 

Be it in the houses of the parliament or the high-rise buildings of the corporate world, women tend to face many hurdles in the race to become leaders. 

A recent International Business report has found that only 36% of women are in senior management positions. Though there has been an increase in gender diversity in hiring roles, boardroom diversity has progressed at a snail’s pace. A lack of gender-diverse boardrooms seems to be the norm rather than the exception. 

India has made significant strides in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in recent years. However, despite these efforts, women continue to face challenges in leadership roles, including visible and invisible barriers.

This article explores the unseen barriers that hinder women’s leadership progress in India. Understanding these challenges is crucial to creating a more inclusive and equitable space for women’s leadership.


Despite notable achievements, women haven’t found their rightful place in leadership positions. These invisible obstacles are omnipresent, both at home and at work.

Unpaid Care Work

Since ancient times, men were seen as the breadwinners and women as the caretakers or nurturers. This mindset has been ingrained in us and has conditioned our upbringing in homes. Social conditioning dictates that women should prioritize their homes and families instead of careers. This results in a lack of women’s self-esteem and confidence.

In the last few years, according to an Indeed survey, nearly 58% of women have left their jobs due to family responsibilities. With the massive responsibility of caregiving resting on women’s shoulders, climbing the leadership ladder becomes difficult. Marital pressures or maternity challenges can also create breaks in a woman’s career that may not be viewed favourably when considering them for leadership positions. 

Second-generation bias 

Second-generation bias” plays a role in dissuading women from achieving leadership positions. In many instances, bias can be hidden, subtle, and silent. For example, women may be left out of top positions and kept out of the information loop.

Men and women are represented equally within entry-level jobs. Even though there has been a surge of nearly 70% of women entering the workforce in India, becoming a leader is still an uphill task for them. Forbes research demonstrates that organisations with at least 30% women in leadership roles are 12 times more likely to perform better financially. Women leaders are observed to outperform men at all levels and age groups. 


One might wonder what the issue is then. Gender stereotyping is strife in workplaces. It is evident in the language used and how women are perceived in offices. Prescriptive bias expects them to behave in a certain way. When one does not conform to these norms, they are penalized. Men are presumed to be “assertive”,” determined” and “outspoken” whereas women are to be  “deferential”,” caring” and “emotional”.  So when it comes to promotion, these traits are applied to their gender instead of the individual, thus assuming a man would be a better fit for a leader. When a woman tries to claim the leadership spot, she is seen as breaking the norm. 

Non-conducive work environments
In work organizations, women might be in an inconsiderate environment that is not conducive to their work. Lack of opportunities for growth or advancement is the primary reason. With few women leaders in the organization, junior women employees find it impossible to envision themselves in those positions. It is tough to find mentors and a support network in their own office spaces. When women attempt to enter leadership positions, they face numerous microaggressions and marginalizations. Occupational segregation i.e. uneven representation of the female gender in various jobs, can also occur due to an unconscious bias in hiring practices. Inadequate support for work-family balance is another deterrent for women choosing to be leaders.


“We need to reshape our perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead.” – Beyoncé 

Social conditioning at home must undergo a drastic change. Patriarchal notions about restricting women to the home must be discouraged. Equal sharing of responsibilities at home would reduce the burden on the woman’s shoulders, enabling her to focus equally on her career. 

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, one-third of employers believe that pregnant women and mothers are less motivated in professional advancement than women without children or their male counterparts. The discrimination against working mothers must end, to ensure more women stay in the workforce and become leaders.

Organizations must introduce more methods to reduce bias and accommodate working mothers. Flexible work policies, remote work, and childcare facilities ensure a lower attrition rate of women employees. Training programs and bridge courses have to be arranged for the new mothers to get back on track with their colleagues at work.

Women employees must be provided with networking opportunities and professional development programs to develop their competencies and skills. Executive mentorship allows women to rise to higher positions, more effectively negotiate salary raises, and build social capital and confidence in a male-dominated corporate environment. 

To guarantee that women have a voice in decision-making, they must first have a seat at the table. Though this endeavour will take time, organizations can begin a host of initiatives to empower women as they enter and rise in the profession.

Whether it’s the corridors of power, corporate offices, or business leaders, a rise in women’s representation is a must. The lack of women in leadership positions is due to the lack of participation of women. Their diminished participation is due to societal and professional cultures. An equal platform, along with men, is bound to increase their participation in the workforce, therefore increasing the women-leaders ratio. This cannot be achieved overnight. With effective strategies and measures, we can ensure women get the place they deserve. 

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