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Nearly 76% women in social sector believe networking will help leadership ambition, survey finds

The survey also found the predominance of women in ‘program specific’ roles which lowers their possibility of getting management roles – a critical requirement for advancing into senior leadership posts.

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New Delhi: Nearly 75% of emerging women leaders in the social sector share a desire to build a leadership style based on empathy, collaboration and inclusion while 76% respondents believe that networking support would boost their leadership ambitions, a survey by India Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS) revealed.

The study titled ‘Emerging Women’s Leadership in the Indian Development Sector’ highlighted that 50% women felt slowed down by their own self-limiting biases at varying points while 84.1% of respondents stated they believed a tailored capacity-building programme would enhance their journey to top posts.

By looking at careers of women with 7-15 years of work experience, the study endeavoured to understand the complexity surrounding women’s leadership in the sector.

The survey found the predominance of women in ‘program specific’ roles, as opposed to strategic, organisation-building roles, which lowers their possibility of getting overarching management roles – a critical requirement for advancing into senior leadership posts.

“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,” said Urvashi Butalia, founder of the publishing house Zubaan Books.

Personal-style leadership

The report found the desire for building crucial cross-functional/management skills as well as a propensity to build a personal leadership style. A total of 75.6% of respondents cited an urge to build their own leadership style based on the attributes of empathy, collaboration, and inclusion.

The need for a peer-community also came up in the course of the survey, with 76% of participants saying they believed their journey would benefit from having access to a
network of like-minded women and impactful leaders.

Need for mentorship

The report stated mentorship to be another crucial element to “amplify one’s leadership path” and respondents felt their male counterparts had clearer access to cross-sectoral networks and mentorship opportunities with senior leaders.

Nearly 85 per cent respondents felt that building pathways to match emerging women leaders with senior women leaders may play a crucial role in supporting their journeys.

Ecosystem of support

There was also a focus on structural changes needed in the sector, which ranged from working with organisation leaders to build inclusive leadership pipelines, to embedding flexible working policies to support women with familial and childcare responsibilities.

“An ecosystem of support first and foremost starts with giving women leaders a space to voice their needs,” stated Tara Singh Vachani, executive chairperson of Antara Senior Living and vice chairperson of Max India Limited.

“The 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 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,” said Anu Prasad, founder & CEO of India Leaders for Social Sector.

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