Gender diversity in business leadership has major benefits for companies, stemming from wider communication and networking skills, new perspectives, improved problem-solving skills and critical thinking.
This is the first in a four-part series showcasing successful female CEOs in India.
A decade ago, it might have been difficult to find many Indian corporations run by women. But now, however, the world has changed. In increasing numbers, women chief executive officers (CEOs) lead groundbreaking enterprises across diverse fields like business, finance, agriculture and technology. The talented CEOs are helping redefine the role of women in India’s future. For all involved, this is a very good thing.
“There is absolutely no doubt that diverse leadership creates value for all,” says Kshama Fernandes, chief executive officer of the innovative financial platform Northern Arc Capital. Corporate boards that include women generate higher levels of financial success than ones that are men only, she describes, and gender diversity in business leadership lays the groundwork for radically creative innovations.
Research supports the idea that empowering women benefits everyone. A 2016 report by the McKinsey Global Institute stated that if every country could enhance the number of women in business leadership, the world could generate trillions of dollars in higher income.
Diverse voices in executive offices also lead to better business strategy, decisions and management. “Even with the very best of intentions, we have a tendency to gravitate towards people who are like us,” said Tessa Misiaszek, a professor at Hult International Business School, during a webinar on women in business. “It takes a real leader to say, ‘I need someone to challenge me.’ That challenge can spawn new creativity, innovation and growth.”
When women assume roles of corporate leadership, they bring not only their own life experiences, perspectives, networks and training, but a unique set of strengths that can benefit businesses of all sorts. In a study by the Hay Group, women were found to consistently score better than men in the highly valuable areas of adaptability, teamwork and conflict management. Studies also show that including women in boardrooms, including in the very top positions, enhances the abilities of businesses to navigate problems and strategize solutions.
Despite such tremendous benefits, women continue to face numerous obstacles as they rise in the world of business. In the workplace, women continue to encounter discrimination when it comes to hiring, pay rates and promotions. Beyond that, it’s both easy and troubling for women CEOs to be mistaken for a spouse or secretary at gatherings, says Fernandes. Women leaders must regularly work harder than their male peers to make themselves heard in meetings overwhelmingly dominated by men.
In the face of gender-based challenges, Fernandes encourages women to “proudly claim their space under the sun” and “continue to be themselves, to continue to feel proud of being women leaders, of their styles of management and their approaches to handling problems and crises.” Fernandes also encourages both men and women in business leadership roles to make gender equity a central topic of discussion and action. “Change will happen only when we feel a strong sense of urgency and a personal sense of responsibility toward addressing this issue,” she says.
Fernandes is one of several women CEOs who are transforming Indian industries through grit, innovation and brilliance, with support from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). The U.S. government’s development finance institution, DFC partners with the private sector to finance solutions to the most critical challenges facing the developing world today. Read more about Fernandes as well as Purnima Khandelwal and Hardika Shah, two other highly successful CEOs in India whose enterprises have received financial support from DFC. Fernandes, Khandelwal and Shah have grown their innovative companies into national or international forces, and are inspiring future generations of female leaders.
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.