How do we overcome the low representation of women in leadership roles?

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We need to become more proactive about empowering ourselves, equipped with a broad range of skills, actively working on building our self-esteem and helping other women to grow

Despite the fact that the percentage of men and women population in Indonesia is almost equal, it doesn’t reflect the number of both genders in the workforce, especially women’s participation higher in the career ladder.

According to the World Bank data, women’s participation has already at 47% of the entry-level professionals. But the number decreases as it moves to the middle and high-level management positions. In the mid-level management, women have only 20% covered. Meanwhile, there are 5% women occupying CEO positions and 5% of the board membership.

Women participation in management roles of Indonesian corporates is the lowest across the region

We saw a similar observation in the specific industry in Indonesia. A recent study has found there is a lack of women participation at the highest management levels of Indonesian e-commerce market.

Despite 65% online shoppers being women, only 31% women occupy the top management of 13 e-commerce platforms with strategic capability to conquer online consumers. The study also found there is a wider gender participation gap in higher level management. Only 36% in the Head level and 21% of women occupy the CEO and VP level.

The same study has shared its finding across the region. The lack of women participation in the e-commerce industry is also still found in Singapore with 34% participation, Vietnam at 37%, Thailand at 40%, and Malaysia at 42%. The Philippines is the country in SEA that has highest women participation at 55%. Meanwhile, unfortunately, Indonesia is the lowest with 31% participation.

Based on the World Economics Forum index, Indonesia is in the 10th position in the Gender Gap index. This means Indonesia is still far behind other developing countries such as The Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand in gender equality. This dissatisfactory rank is due to the small women participation in overall senior and managerial positions.

The opportunities are available, but what factors that hold women back?

Indonesia has a huge potential to increase the GDP of US$135 billion in 2025 if we can encourage more women participation in the productive sector, according to McKinsey & Company.

Also read: 4 reasons why startups should recruit more women than ever

It means there are actually a lot of potential and opportunities for women to pursue career growth. But what factors that hold women back from corporate success? I have highlighted two challenges that we need to overcome:

Lack of support networks

A report from Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), there are several reasons that bring constraints for women to pursue a higher career, i.e being a mother (41%), having responsibilities in their family (41%), unsupportive environment (31%), and gender discriminations (24%).

With these findings, we can see the main reason why there is a lack of women participation isn’t because of the lack of opportunities, but rather the mindset of portraying women in leadership roles. Managing Partner Grant Thornton Indonesia, Johanna Gani stated Indonesian culture is still strongly influenced by hierarchical structures and dominant of patrilineality. This collective mindset believes that any leadership roles should be ruled by men because they are still considered more competent.

As reported by Tirto, 30 million Indonesian women haven’t decided to pursue a higher level in their career. Shinta Kamdani, CEO of Sintesa Group stated that being in the higher roles at the company is considered having a bigger responsibility that will disrupt their work-life balance and marriage life.

It’s no wonder if a woman who has a successful career tend to be considered incompetent in taking care of their household and neglecting their family. This observation shows many Indonesian women are afraid to pursue a higher career due to the social norms.

Lack of confidence

Another factor holding women back from pursuing their true potential is fear and a lack of confidence. Women often undersell themselves, underestimate their potential, power, and influence in the workplace. In contrast, men are typically quite confident in themselves and their capabilities.

The Bain & Company survey of over 1000 women found a loss of confidence amongst women in middle management positions that they could rise to the top. At this level, some respondents noted political imbalances that were difficult to overcome, while their male colleagues had access to a mentor from the same sex to help navigate these issues.

Mentoring and a supportive environment are the keys to change

Empowering women has long-term positive socioeconomic impacts. Mentorship is a crucial component of career success, offering both mentor and mentee opportunities to learn and grow. With mentorship and training, women can actually pull out some strengths they possess which they may not be aware of.

Women also need a supportive social environment that allows them to perform in various spheres of their lives. Director of PT Marga Mandala Sakti Wiwiek Santoso emphasizes women can’t be separated from their nature to have children and are preoccupied with household affairs. Therefore, there is a need for cooperation with husbands how they can take care of children while achieving a successful career.

Besides, women need to become more proactive about empowering themselves, equipped with a broad range of skills, actively working on building their self-esteem and helping other women to grow – both personally and professionally.

Also read: How Anna Haotanto battled pressure, self-doubt so she could help women become financially savvy

A study performed by MSCI says there is a positive correlation between the presence of women in corporate leadership and performance. Companies in the MSCI World Index with strong female leadership generated a Return on Equity of 10,1% per year versus 7.4% for those without.

Considering the research concluded gender diversity on the board has significant benefits for both productivity and profits, Indonesian enterprises need to become more proactive about supporting gender diversity on their management board to optimize its growth potential.

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Indah Mustikasari is a senior content marketer at iPrice.

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