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We Need Equality in Leadership, and We Need it Now

Human beings have a strange history of following a particular trend right or wrong for as long as they can until an individual or a group of individuals stands up and raise an objection. To put it mildly, each time an individual or group of individuals have fought for something right, it has been met with aggressive resistance, brutal behavior, shaming, name-calling, killings, and only then after the resistance is defeated has change been ushered in. This is how it primarily happened in the past.

Civil rights movement in the United States of America when black American’s fought an unprecedented battle for almost two decades in which black American’s were subject to police brutality, discrimination, killings, and every prejudice that one can think of. Similar scenes were experienced during the Gay rights movement in the USA. Throughout the world, from rights movements in the USA to fighting apartheid in South Africa, fighting against political rights and corruption in China, and many other countries across the world. The most important and recurring similarity has been of the existing leadership resisting change.

Leadership was meant to empower people, not destabilize people.

As Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

Struggle for the right things continues till today. While the violence and killings may have reduced slightly, a new platform for shaming, name-calling has taken over. Social media.

Subsequently, it is ironic to see the same platform of social media used aggressively to spread awareness on all matters important such as climate change, leadership equality, human rights, LGBTQ rights, among many other important topics.

Make no mistake, spreading awareness is definitely the first step. However, the first step needs to be followed by actions. One would find it ironic with the sure aggressive growth of consulting companies, NGOs, and many other rights groups advocating for equality in leadership, climate change, and yet not much of the awareness campaigns transform their words into action. It does help people’s awareness albeit very slowly, but it does not account for the change we really need to see. Sadly, in most cases, companies, NGOs, and consultancies are run and paid for by the elite. Money buys the elite the image they want. The image that they care about, the image that they are spreading awareness, and the image that they pledge to transform words into action.

The American award-winning author Anand Giridharadas explains this exact phenomenon in his book that appeared on the New York Times best seller list, Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of the Changing World. Similarly, another American author Vivek Ramaswamy explains how corporations, NGOs, politicians have ushered in a new era of pretend-to-care in his book, Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam.

Why is this an urgent problem?

First things first, it must be clear to anyone and everyone that a leadership position should be earned not given. Moreover, an individual worthy of a leadership position should be able to receive it regardless of caste, color, creed, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, and or past background. If the individual shows his/her worthiness then he/she deserves it. This ensures equality in leadership, a fair meritocracy-based system, and most importantly, this builds an inclusive society where it's not a matter of exclusivity-based hierarchy. It is a humanism-based hierarchy.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Is it really the case? Of course not. Can we strive towards it? Of course, we can.

The University at Buffalo School of Management released a study in 2018 that showed women only held 26% of executive-level positions in S&P 500 companies. Though the gender gap has reduced in recent decades it still persists and is a recurring problem. The study revealed some similar stereotypical beliefs that since men are more assertive and dominant, they are likely to stand up and voice their concerns, therefore they become natural leaders.

If anything, we need less assertiveness without thinking (the usual male bravado) today and more sensitivity, concern, well-thought-out, and planned leadership attributes in individuals, which coincidentally more women have. Yet conveniently it is a key reason why women were not considered as natural leaders. Ironic. However, we must always bear in mind to not generalize and view every individual based on their mindset, skillset, and contribution.

A similar report by World Benching Alliance which identifies the 2000 most influential companies found that boards and executive teams were dominated by men. On average across the 2000 companies, just 21% of directors and 15% of executives were female. A man’s world.

Another community that is most underrepresented at the executive and senior executive level are members from LGBTQ+. Just in the USA alone, according to a study by Williams Institute, only 0.6% of LGBTQ+ women held senior vice president roles while 2.9% LGBTQ+ men held senior vice president roles in companies. Entry-level jobs, executive positions, managerial positions also accounted for a very low representation with an average of 3% across both communities. Furthermore, a report by McKinsey and Women in the Workplace found that men and women from the LGBTQ+ community were highly likely to experience microaggressions, sexual harassment, sexist comments or jokes on sexuality, obscene or sexually explicit comments and often pressured to play along in such discussions if they tried to voice out against such behavior. This is wrong.

These pieces of evidence come from one of the freest societies in the world, the USA, albeit slowly, the situation is improving in the USA and other emerging countries. But sometimes while things look good on the surface, it may not always be the case. In India, women account for only 11% of leadership roles. In 2018, 30% of women accounted for leadership positions mostly as entrepreneurs. Countries like Brazil and Russia also did not perform very well on equality in leadership. One can only imagine the position and predicament of women, the LGBTQ+ community, lower socio-economic people in under developing, developing, and one-party ruled countries. We have a long way to go. But we can and must start to correct ourselves now.

Taking the first step

The first step towards equality in leadership begins with the word equality itself. As Grace Hopper put it perfectly “The most damaging phrase in the language is “it’s always been done that way”.

We must start seeing and respecting everyone as an equal. Yes, we may have different job designations but we are all equal and deserve respect. We need to look at each other as humans in the workplace. While it is perfectly fine to belong to our communities, religions, sexual orientations it should not be used as a basis of discrimination when judging an individual’s capability to get a job done.

Seeing each other as equals is the first step to building bridges between people from different cultures, beliefs, within a country itself. By now a lot of prejudices in society have already been set, but simultaneously a lot of brave individuals have raised their voice against discrimination against minorities, and other communities. It is of paramount importance to take the first step towards change and make sure that the future will not be as chaotic as it is now. Here are a few things we can work towards when we try to make sure equality in leadership prevails:

  • Level the law. Governments and corporations have the power to prevent all sorts of discrimination enshrined in-laws but prefer to spend more time on a power struggle between themselves. Furthermore, often stone-age mentality leaders are in power and stuck with a belief meant for old age. We can use the power of vote, awareness, and education, taking the first step towards change.

  • Make discriminating punishable at the workplace. Yes. You read it right. But one must remember, punishment does not always need to be like a “punishment” as we know it. Individuals caught in the act of discriminating against others can be asked to participate in social programs, social activities, and other programs that help open their mindsets.

  • Empower the minorities. This can be tricky. It may destabilize the balance. But empowering does not mean one side gets more and the other side does not. In this case, empowering the minorities would mean that women, LGBTQ+ community members, lower socio-economic individuals simply get the same fair treatment and opportunities that every individual deserves. In other words, judge each individual based on their abilities and capabilities and not by their communities.

  • Begin with education. In this case, no doubt education in schools, colleges, and universities is important. But education at home plays an even more important role. Children reflect the behavior and mentality of their parents and it is integral to their development. We can start by teaching our children at home to respect everyone and see everyone as an equal.

I want to leave you with one final thought i.e., while we may come from different countries, cultures, religions, speak different languages, our hearts beat as one. We are all human. We must never forget that. Let us remember that we do not need to have extra expenditure to give people their rights, we do not need to spend extra money to respect everyone in our society, we do not need a political deal in return for giving individuals their freedom. All of these should be basic human rights. Making sure this equality exists in our society is the first step to rebuilding bridges between people, society, cultures, and the pursuit of collective prosperity. As Natalie Portman puts it perfectly, “The future is all of us, we need to add seats to the table. We’re not taking away seats. We need to include everyone. This is for the betterment of everyone’s world”.


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