Women in Leadership: 4 Ways of Navigating Gender Biases at Workplace

It has been almost ten years since this incident happened. I had just started a professional journey with a job in a media firm. One day our team lead called for an informal meeting to discuss office facilities. My team leveraged this platform to pull his legs and started giving hilarious suggestions. Suddenly, a senior-level manager got up and put a demand for a ‘better-looking’ receptionist. I could not understand whether he was joking or meant it. His statement was inappropriate and misogynistic but I could not say anything in that forum. Later, I expressed my displeasure to some of my teammates. Forget about my concern, they ridiculed me for taking his comments out of context. “It is normal in this industry. Don’t overthink, let it go”, one of my female colleagues advised. I felt terrible and decided not to pursue the matter further. When I look back, I regret I could not protest the guy for his absurd opinion about women.

Casual sexism is a harsh reality at workplaces. Women face unfair judgements for their physical appearances and choices. There is also a practice of typecasting women in specific jobs and denying them managerial positions. Such prejudices often stem from unconscious biases. As a result, very few women break the glass ceiling and land in leadership positions. Public Relations is one of the professions where women head strategic roles in decent numbers. However, when it comes to the ratio of women in boardrooms, there is still scope for improvement. GWPR – India chapter organised a thought-provoking session recently in Mumbai to brainstorm how women can navigate the challenges of workplace harassment, and gender bias and make their way to leadership roles. Participants shared their experiences and feedback on creating a level playing field for women aspirants.

Here are some key takeaways.

Stand up against harassment: We ignore demeaning remarks (often disguised as humour) from fellow team members because we do not want to hinder our career growth by spoiling relations. This approach is dangerous as it may give strength to serial abusers. Call out unruly behaviour and demand action on it. It is better to discuss directly with the concerned person. If you face misconduct from someone in a senior position, talk to HR or take up the issue with the women’s cell. Do not let such people get in your head and distract you from your career goals.

Learn to say No: Women often prioritise their responsibilities over their physical and emotional well-being. This results in burnout, and they may lose track of their growth. Learn to say No for your mental peace. Once you set your boundaries, you can keep people with deep-rooted orthodoxy and biases at bay.  Also, refrain from indulging in unhealthy competition with peers. Focus on your skillsets and output. Be truthful to your virtues and transparent in your communication. This will help you build trust and credibility among your stakeholders.

Develop a support system: Collaboration is the key to success. Develop a support system to help you excel in your profession. Many companies offer dedicated support programs to prepare women for leadership roles. Look for a mentor who can help you find a sustainable career path with a solid action plan. Similarly, you may search for a sponsor who may support you in accelerated career growth.

Be a lifelong learner: Learning is non-negotiable to stay relevant in the rapidly changing business environment. Invest in resources to acquire new skill sets and expand your network. Develop a collaborative approach and grow with your community. There are some great forums in the PR and communications space like GWPR, which provide learning platforms and help in making meaningful connections. Find your tribe, which will offer you hand-holding to discover a leader within you.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Priyanka Pugaokar
Priyanka Pugaokar is a communications professional with expertise in internal and external communication, crisis communications, content generation and media relations. She holds over ten years of combined experience in communications and business journalism. She is currently associated with Rashi Peripherals Limited as Corporate Communications Manager and leads several strategic projects. She is an avid travel explorer. A lifelong learner, she holds interest in yoga, naturopathy, energy healing and crystallography.

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