Plugging the leaky leadership pipeline for advancement of women: Gayatri Yadav

Gayatri Yadav, Business, Marketing & Media Professional (Former President Consumer Strategy & Innovation Star India, Former CMO General Mills India, and recipient of prestigious IAA leadership awards best marketer Media & Entertainment, awarded ET Prime Best Woman Marketer 2019) addressed the Women Disruptors Summit organised by Adgully and asked the fundamental question – ‘what’s holding women back?’ on the occasion of the launch of the IAA-Adgully Mentorship Programme for Women in MARCOM. 

While sharing her thoughts on why she thought the IAA-Adgully Mentorship Programme for Women in MARCOM was exactly what was needed right now, Yadav said, “It is a clear fact that economic advancement of women is not just good for women, but also good for society, business, and the economy. If you look at the data, if we are able to improve the participation of women in the workforce in India by just 10 percentage points, we can add $770 billion to our GDP in the next 5 years. There is so much talk about our GDP flatlining, but the biggest thing we can do for our economy right now is simply to get more women working!” 

On why this isn’t happening, Yadav reasoned that if one looked at the numbers in education, there are more girls than boys graduating out of college, with 53 per cent of all graduates in India being girls. While it is a wonderful progress, in one looked at the number of women working, it dropped to only 24 per cent of the workforce being women. “So, we start at 53 per cent passing out of college and then dropping to only 24 per cent entering the workplace! That number hasn’t changed for a while. I keep seeing that number and asking myself, ‘what is going on?’ Why are the numbers improving in education, but not in enrolment in the workforce?” Yadav asked. 

She further said that the problem was exacerbated when one looked at women in senior management positions. “If there are 24 per cent women in the workforce, what percentage of them are in senior management positions? The number stands at 8.5 per cent across corporate India. That is 3rd from the bottom in the entire Asia-Pacific region...the only two countries worse than us are South Korea and Japan!” Yadav noted. 

She called it a “leaky leadership pipeline”. She stressed on plugging that leak and unleashing the tremendous power of women to advance to leadership. “This, as I posited earlier, is not just good for’s good for business, society and the economy!” she maintained. 

Adding further, Yadav said, “If you study the discourse of women leadership...the biggest focus earlier was on enrolment...getting more women to be educated and employed. The focus then shifted to retention...addressing the fact that women were dropping out of the workforce through adequate maternity leave policies, etc. The focus is now shifting to advancement...ensuring women not just enrol and stay, but rise to positions of leadership.” 

“It rests upon all of us and not just the core committee of the IAA-Adgully Mentorship Programme for Women in MARCOM to step up and support the programme, because that’s probably the best thing you can do in this room as leaders to help women grow. Let’s go beyond the panel discussions into real commitment and action!” she exhorted. 

Speaking on the importance of mentoring, Yadav went on to say, “All of us may remember a time in our lives when we’ve been mentored leading to our growth as a leader and a human being. I would appeal to the entire industry, if you see yourself as a leader step up and mentor at least one mentee... “Each one mentor one”! As Jack Welch said, ‘Till you become a leader, it is about growing yourself. When you become a leader, it is about growing others’.” 

For those aspiring to be leaders and be mentored, Yadav’s advice was to be open. “A great mentor is often a mirror who will show you who you are as well as a beacon that will tell you where you need to go. Very often that feedback can be very hard to take. Unless you are willing to engage in the hard process of growth and transformation it is not going to add value to you. Alvin Toffler said, ‘the illiterates in the 21st century won’t be those who can’t read or write. It will be those who can’t learn, unlearn and relearn’,” she added. 

She expressed the hope of going from 92/8 male to female percentage of leadership in corporate India to 50/50 at senior management positions of leadership. 

She asserted that women can be as good leaders as men, if not better. “I would say create and own your own leadership style. You know that Henry Higgins song, ‘why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ Well, it just doesn’t work anymore – Be yourself. Be an authentic leader and let’s collectively make a difference,” she urged the gathering of women leaders at the event. 

While talk was important, Yadav called for going beyond talk. “I feel good that this event goes beyond talk to really make a difference! I look forward to the day when we move from feminism to equalism and look forward to equal representation, not just at the workplace but at positions of leadership as well. I just heard Unilever achieved a 50/50 gender balance and that’s great and must be applauded, but what is it like at senior management levels? That’s a question I'm going to keep asking. ‘What’s holding women back?’.”


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