From Barriers to Breakthrough: Advancing Women in Leadership

By: Sheetal Sharma, Lead - Supply/ Demand Planning, Halliburton

Sheetal is a Certified Supply Chain Management Professional from ISM, USA with seven years of diverse experience in Team Management, Business Process Improvement, Stakeholder Management and Supply Chain Operations. Her passion for continuous improvement and strategic planning propelled her through various roles, where she honed her expertise in Procurement, Inventory Management, Techno-Commercial Negotiation and Distribution.

In a recent conversation with Women Entrepreneurs Review Magazine, Sheetal discusses systemic barriers hindering women from leadership roles and strategies to overcome them. She shares successful gender diversity initiatives and advise on leveraging remote work for equitable opportunities, highlighting necessary technological and cultural shifts.

In your opinion, what are the most common systemic barriers preventing more women from reaching leadership positions in the industry? What innovative strategies do you believe can effectively dismantle these barriers?

There are deep seated stereotypes which often lead to bias against hiring or promoting women to leadership position. Leadership positions have been heavily male dominated historically. Family responsibilities can also sometime inhibit women from achieving a leadership position. But I think the biggest barrier is lack of equal opportunities. For example, organizations are often reluctant to promote women to leadership position despite having merit assuming family responsibilities coming along.

Actively promoting gender diversity in leadership position within organization, setting targets for achieving gender parity can give a significant positive result. We can use data analysis to identify and track sectors with gender disparities within organization, technologies can help track and identify key metrics related to diversity and inclusion and their impact for example, we can identify the metrics which can help measure gender diversity relevant to organization.

Tell us about some of the initiatives or policies implemented by you that have notably increased gender diversity and inclusivity within the leadership team? How can these strategies be adapted and applied by other industry leaders?

Many organizations have started blind resume reviews, interviewing standardized questions to eliminate bias in recruitment process. We have leadership development programs that specifically address the challenges faced by women in leadership, focusing on skills like negotiation, executive presence and strategic decision-making. Many organizations implement policies that support work-life balance, such as flexible working hours, remote work options for these policies not only promote gender diversity but also increase productivity.

Considering the evolving landscape of work-life balance expectations, what creative approaches do you think can be employed to ensure that women are equally represented and supported in leadership roles, particularly in industries known for demanding schedules and high-pressure environments?

We should start with a comprehensive assessment of organization’s business needs to understand how we can include gender diversity and work life balance expectations without compromising business. Work from home has been a game changer in this regard, although many organizations are afraid to implement work from home.

I think implementing policies that support work-life balance, such as flexible working hours, remote work options from home can be used as an incentive to boost individual productivity. A hybrid work model can satisfy employees aspirations as well as organization’s business needs. Offering flexible arrangements can attract and retain exceptional talent.

Looking beyond traditional metrics of success, such as profit margins and market share, how can organizations effectively measure and track progress in advancing women in leadership? Which innovative tools or methodologies do you recommend for assessing the impact of diversity and inclusion initiatives?

We can track representation of women at various levels of leadership such as team leader, managers, and higher management to find overall gender disparity at various levels within organization. We can measure participation rates of women in leadership development programs, we can evaluate effectiveness of these programs by tracking career advancing outcomes by comparing participants from non-participants. Gender pay-gap is still a pretty significant barrier. We could implement assessments or surveys that evaluate managers and leaders on their inclusive leadership behaviors and practices. Regularly reviewing and refine measurement methodologies based on feedback, emerging best practices, and changes in organizational dynamics

With remote and flexible work arrangements becoming more prevalent, how can organizations leverage these trends to create more equitable opportunities for women to advance into leadership roles? Which technological or cultural shifts are necessary to support this transition effectively?

Remote and flexible work arrangements have the potential to create more equitable opportunities for women, particularly in advancing into leadership roles. Organizations can implement remote-inclusive policies and conduct leadership trainings specifically designed for remote work environment which support work-life integration. Utilizing technology that facilitates remote work is crucial. This includes not only communication or work completion but also performance tracking that can help women stay connected and productive regardless of their location.

A cultural shift towards inclusivity is important, to value contribution over physical presence, recognizing the unique challenges faced by women, and providing mentorship/ sponsorship opportunities for career growth. Organizations must work to eliminate biases and discrimination that can arise in remote settings. This includes training for managers and employees to recognize and address such biases.