75% of emerging women leaders in the social sector share the desire to build a leadership style based on empathy, collaboration, and inclusion, reveals ILSS survey

75% of emerging women leaders in the social sector share the desire to build a leadership style based on empathy, collaboration, and inclusion, reveals ILSS survey

Nearly 73% of emerging women leaders in the social sector believe that continued mentorship and networking support would boost their leadership ambitions, shows a recent survey by India Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS).

The survey endeavors to understand the complexity surrounding women’s leadership in the sector by examining the gaps and challenges, capturing best practices, exploring the scope of positive interventions, and identifying possible support structures to build leadership capacities. In surveying women with 7-15 years of work experience, from fields across the sector, the survey captures an overarching image of these critical dynamics.

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The survey highlights the prevalence of socialized beliefs, such as imposter syndrome, which limit one’s leadership vision, with 50% of women leaders experiencing this. Phenomena such as this are a critical contributor to the ‘leaky pipeline’ we see, which is a disproportionate lack of women leaders at levels of senior management in the sector, relative to the number of women in entry-to-mid level roles. Similarly, there is a predominance of women in ‘Program specific’ roles, as opposed to strategic, organization building roles. These roles are often relegated to women, as they are perceived as more suitable to be doing ‘care work’ of this sort. In this, women are less likely to be selected for overarching management roles, including in the spheres of fundraising, strategic management, and operations. This experience is critical in advancing into senior leadership [generalist] roles, as in CXO positions. As stated well by Urvashi Butalia, Founder, Zubaan books, “This report opens up some of the questions that arise in relation to women’s work, their continuing precarity because of the social and economic context in which they are placed, their relative absence in leadership positions, and in doing so, allows us to also look at the challenges women are confronted with and what may be done to overcome these.”

·  84.1% of respondents feel that capacity building programs would enhance their leadership journey.

·  50% of respondents feel, at times, slowed down by their own self-limiting biases.

·  61.4% of women believe that lack of adequate family and childcare support is a key barrier to achieving their leadership goals.

The report also outlines some key support structures that can be implemented to support women’s leadership journeys. Critically, 84.1% of respondents stating they believe a tailored capacity building program would enhance their leadership journey. A [key want] is the knowledge of leadership frameworks which specifically speak to their journey’s, as mid-to-senior career women professionals in the Indian social impact space, and guidance on adapting it to their career path. Similarly, there is a desire for building crucial cross-functional/management skills, including negotiation, conflict management, and effective communication. There is also a desire to build a personal leadership style; 75.6% of respondents cite the desire to build their own leadership style based on the attributes of empathy, collaboration, and inclusion.

Other takeaways include the importance of having access to a peer community network; 76% of respondents believe their leadership journey would benefit from having access to a network of like-minded women impact leaders, who can freely share their experiences & collectively strategize on how to navigate, and succeed in, the social impact space. Further, there is a clear [statement] that mentorship is a crucial element to amplify one’s leadership path; as the report states, respondents feel men have clearer access to cross-sectoral networks & mentorship opportunities with senior leaders. Building pathways to match emerging women leaders with senior women leaders may play a crucial role in supporting their leadership journeys, as 84.7% respondents state. As Tara Singh Vachani, Executive Chairperson of Antara Senior Living and Vice Chairperson of Max India Limited, states, “An ecosystem of support first and foremost starts with giving women leaders a space to voice their needs.”

Finally, the report considers what structural changes need to occur in the development sector to systematically support women’s leadership journeys. By building an ecosystem of support, ranging from working with organization leaders to build inclusive leadership pipelines, to platforming women leaders across the sector, to embedding flexible working policies to support women with familial & childcare responsibilities, the sector can become a model for gender-balanced senior leadership.

“The ‘Emerging Women’s Leadership in the Indian Development Sector’ study highlights the unique challenges that women constantly grapple with and proposes solutions to reduce the current gap in the leadership positions in the social sector. We, at ILSS, believe that this study is an important step to build conducive pathways for more women professionals to reach leadership positions, and for social sector organizations to emerge as spaces where we see inclusive leadership thrive,” says Anu Prasad, Founder & CEO, India Leaders for Social Sector. 

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