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Posted by Alolika Dutta

Where is the female representation in corporate leadership?

The world is moving towards equality. Education has become accessible and education systems across the world have adopted gender-sensitive measures to ensure inclusivity within curriculums and classrooms. The representation of women in the fields of STEM has increased. The mainstream media, private corporations, and communities have begun acknowledging the unpaid labour contributed by women. The political landscape has changed with an increased number of women participating in active politics. Young girls and women are engaging in the formulation of public policy and women’s voices have found a place in the mainstream discourse; women are voicing their opinions, questioning the establishment, and actively communicating their ideas.

Image Source: U.S. Department of Labor Blog

In 2016, a Peterson Institute for International Economics survey over 21,000 firms from 91 countries found that increasing female leadership representation in profitable firms from 0 to 30 percent is correlated with a 15 percent increase in net revenue margin.

Image Source: U.S. Department of Labor Blog

With an upsurge in the representation of women in positions of power, development of communication skills for leadership has become more important than it ever was.

Also read: What It Means To Be A Dalit Woman In Corporate India

Listed below are some of the skills that women can either develop or that women already possess and can adequately take advantage of.

1. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and manage emotions in order to communicate effectively. Emotional intelligence primarily consists of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Women tend to have a higher EQ, which gives them an edge over men. If deployed correctly, emotion can be a useful tool for negotiation.

2. Articulation

A sign of good communication is clear, cohesive speech. It is important to be concise. One way to achieve this is to know the intention and direction of a conversation or an address. There has to be an understanding of ‘why’ you are saying something and what you intend to achieve through it. There has to be a certain structure to what is being said.

3. Approachability

It is necessary for a leader to be approachable. The approachability of a leader depends upon their openness to questions, feedback, and criticism. It depends on how cooperative an individual is. Additionally, a leader needs to be available. This often acts as a hindrance for women, since they tend to be occupied with other activities. Women need supportive work environments that are task-oriented and have specific deadlines, so that mothers can work as freelancers and complete such work within the given time frame, according to the hours that are convenient for them.

While it is necessary for any individual to be forthright about their opinions and ideas, for women, assertion is crucial.

Men can support women by dissociating from toxically masculine behaviour, gender roles, and conventional norms. Men need to counter their implicit and explicit biases, that act against women and actively advocate to erase gender gaps. “Men can support women by insisting on women’s rights and taking paternity leave, thereby leveling the playing field that penalizes women when they take maternity leave”, says Rachel Beider.

4. Assertion

It is necessary for any individual to be forthright about their opinions and ideas, to speak without hesitance, to not question the validity of their own decisions, and to not place their stance at a position lower than that of others. For women, assertion is crucial. Conventionally, women have been placed at a position below men. Women need to evolve through these stereotypes and ensure that their gender does not determine the value of their ideas. However, the responsibility of achieving this should not rest solely on the woman’s shoulder. In order for women to be assertive, men need to respond positively to their assertion.

5. Active listening

Listening is as much a part of communication as speaking is. Active listening involves listening twice as much as you speak. It involves summarising and clarifying what someone has spoken by positive reinforcement, questioning, paraphrasing, and mirroring the speaker. The most basic of all human needs is to understand and be understood, and listening is a glaring necessity in corporate as well as political organisations.

6. Modulation

It is important to understand that ‘how’ you say something matters almost as much as ‘what’ you say does. Your voice and command determine the reception of your content. The tone of your voice depends on the amount of emotion that you’d like to induce into a conversation. Tonality also plays a crucial role in persuasion. You can adopt different tones depending upon what your ultimate goal is. According to Colin James, there are four vocal roles:

Motivator- inspires others
Educator- informs others
Coach- issues instructions
Colleague- tends to be chatty and casual

In professional environments, it is important for women to choose which vocal role is most suitable.

7. Non-verbal communication and body language

In any form of communication, information is transmitted through words, gestures, and body language. Non-verbal signals not only include tone of voice, but also include eye contact, facial expressions, silence, and hand, arm and leg postures. It is important for women to understand that verbal communication might not lead to direct results, if their body language is not in accordance with what is being said. Body language performs some basic functions within communication, such as:

  1. Regulating verbal communication through physical cues
  2. Substituting body language in place of verbal communication
  3. Conflicting messages, when body language does not complement what is being spoken
  4. Moderating verbal communication and accentuating what is being spoken
  5. Complementing and supporting words with gestures in order to add credibility to your message
  6. Repeating what is being said by performing an action

Men need to counter their implicit and explicit biases, that act against women and actively advocate to erase gender gaps.

Hence, if verbal and nonverbal communication are used in coordination, the listener will respond more affirmatively to the message being conveyed.

Image Source: U.S. Department of Labor Blog

Women in the Workplace

In leadership positions, women struggle with being taken seriously; science has provided a number of justifications for this. However, the principal reason why women are not “taken seriously” has to do with how we convey what is to be taken seriously.

Image Credits: Ashley Lukashevsky

Academic and corporate spaces have always had a reputation for being sexist. The sexism arises from an implicit bias against women. I’ve been a part of academic institutions that covertly practised sexism. This makes leadership tougher for women, particularly within such institutions. One of the easiest ways to combat such a bias, is to ensure better communication. Communication is what forms judgement. Within debates and discussions, it is necessary for women to ensure that they are not being sidelined. In male-dominated spaces, women have a contrasting perspective to offer. Women can utilize this to their benefit.


Image Source: The Print

Developing effective communication has helped me feel empowered. I have struggled with a pathological stammer, which made communication difficult for me. Being a woman, only toughened the journey further since most schools and educational institutions are complacent about their sexist methods. As a young woman, my political opinions were undermined and often, dismissed. In such situations, it is necessary to understand that we may have implicit biases against ourselves as well and the process of improvement is much easier when you have faith in your own abilities.

In conclusion, it is crucial for all organisations and institutions to ensure that communication and public speaking is addressed within school curriculums and business training programmes. There have to be systems and mechanisms to ensure that women receive appropriate training to develop and enhance their communication skills. Special facilities need to be provided to women with different needs. Organisations should regularly assess their internal communication strategy and be aware of the company culture. An ‘open door’ policy has often helped women feel safer and communicate more freely in the workplace; companies can adopt such a policy considering the increase in female representation in the workforce and the need to render according to the needs of women employees.

Also read: #MeToo And The Corporate Sectors: We Need Long Term Solutions, Not Quick Fixes

In the end, it is necessary for women to develop a positive attitude towards each other, even if they find themselves in positions of competition. It is necessary for us to support each other and grow together.


Alolika Dutta is a progressive libertarian who believes in intersectionality. She is an activist academic, and she’s trying to make a change one step at a time. She can be followed onFacebookInstagram and her blog.

Featured Image Source: In These Times

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