It is a known fact that organisations with gender-diverse leadership see significant business benefits, yet, less than one-fifth of all frontline leadership roles in India are given to women, new research has revealed.

When women get the chance to lead, they often lead smaller teams.

Gender should not be a factor in whether or not a person can be a great leader — a person’s leadership abilities should depend on their individual strengths and personality traits.

Origin of the gender gap

The study from leadership consulting firm DDI notes that gender gaps tend to start early, before a woman steps into her first frontline manager role. In many cases, women are not encouraged to take on leadership roles as often as their male counterparts, contributing to the imbalance.

Another study has shown that Canada and France are leading the world in attitudes towards equality in leadership.

A report by Women Political Leaders (WPL), a global network of female politicians, and market research firm Kantar showed regression in attitudes in the USA and UK, while Japan, Germany and Italy were seen to have seen improvements in how equal they perceive women and men to be as leaders.

The 2019 index has been extended this year to also measure Brazil, China, India and Russia.

The Reykjavik Index for Leadership, which was named #BestOfDavos in 2019, measures the extent to which a society is comfortable with women in leadership positions, as compared to men. The Index evaluates perceptions of who is suitable to lead across 22 different industries and public professions, researching the attitudes of more than 22,000 working-age people.

Silvana Koch-Mehrin, President and Founder of Women Political Leaders, said that the launch of the Index in 2018 enabled conversations, “not just on the where and how women are not viewed equally, but on the why.” The continuation of the evidence was provided by the Reykjavik Index.

Michelle Harrison, Global CEO, Public Division, Kantar, noted: “This year’s study reveals that in every country studied, there are significant prejudices against women, and that we have a long way to go until equality is the social norm. The inclusion this year of Brazil, Russia, India and China advances the conversation.”

DDI India's report on First Time Leaders in India revealed similar insights into the path of frontline leadership. The survey integrated data from 2,063 respondents across various sectors pan India.

Data compiled by the firm showed that women are also progressively losing the chance to ascend. Globally, 40 percent of all individual contributor candidates seeking first-time leader jobs are female, dropping to only 12 per cent of C-suite candidates.

Noting that performance does not explain the gender gap, the report showed that women tend to perform equally well as men on the ‘hard skills’ like planning, judgement and decision making.

In terms of ‘soft skills’ women tend to outperform men in both leadership and interaction, excelling in the areas of coaching others, facilitating change and building trusting relationships, showed the study.

Learning leadership

Busting the millennial paradox of preferring digital learning platforms over classroom, the report notes 66 per cent of Indian millennial leaders prefer formal learning in a classroom, suggesting that millennial leaders are comfortable in terms of formal learning and development.

The research highlighted that leaders are not receiving the type of learning and development they need in order to be more effective leaders in their organisation. Half of the front-line leaders said that they wanted more coaching from their current manager than they were currently getting, and 67 per cent said they wanted more external coaching than they were currently getting.

More than a quarter of the first-level managers (27 per cent) believed that their development needs were not getting supported from their leaders.

Apart from formal training, 56 per cent of respondents revealed they have never had a mentor and lacked guidance. At the average age of 36, first time managers tend to find themselves caught in a ‘sink or swim race’ for the first four years, the study showed.