Nearly 73% of emerging women leaders in the social sector believe that continued mentorship and networking support would boost their leadership ambitions, according to a recent survey by India Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS).
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.
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.
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.
The report also outlines some key support structures that can be implemented to support women’s leadership journeys. Critically, 84.1% of respondents stated 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 journeys, 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.
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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. Building pathways to match emerging women leaders with senior women leaders may play a crucial role in supporting their leadership journeys, as 84.7% of respondents state.
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.