Catalyst’s Research Center for Career Pathways convened a group of academics, business practitioners, and policy experts from a range of disciplines, industries, and nations for an inaugural symposium called Career Paths in Emerging and Mature Markets—Global Trends, Gender Gaps, and Game Changers. The event, held in Bangalore, India, and hosted by Dell,  was designed to identify cutting-edge paths of inquiry for future study that will allow businesses, media, governments, and individuals in these markets to gauge women’s progress and develop action plans to advance women into leadership.

The Catalyst Research Center for Career Pathways is committed to exposing root causes of gender gaps in organizations. The Center’s research sorts myth from fact, identifies the true problems that hold women and other underrepresented groups back from advancement, and provides a solid basis for more effective talent development. Findings from The Promise of Future Leadership: A Research Program on Highly Talented Employees in the PipelineCatalyst’s ground-breaking longitudinal research series on the career paths of both women and men, refute the conventional wisdom that women hit a glass ceiling—or, in the case of minorities, a concrete ceiling—later in their careers. Instead, they show that gender gaps emerge beginning with women’s very first jobs, when they are most often channeled into lower-level positions than men and receive lower salaries.

Imagine living in a place where you are not identified by your own name alone, but in relation to a man; you are known formally as the “wife of” or “daughter of” someone else. Imagine being a successful businesswoman but unable to speak of your success in public for fear of drawing attention to yourself and your family as potential targets of violence and crime. Imagine being intelligent, talented, and ambitious, but unable to realize your full potential because your husband, mother-in-law, professors, and government do not support your career.

These are just a few of the challenges women in emerging markets around the world face in their workplaces and wider communities that were identified during the symposium.

Participants discussed the challenges women face in emerging markets and ways to open up new avenues of research, policy, and practice in these areas. They also shared compelling stories about global obstacles to women’s advancement, as well as those specific to women in emerging markets. These stories imbued our conversations with a sense of depth and personal connection and lent context and color to the entire event.

One businessperson spoke of engaging with male colleagues who couldn’t understand why women’s groups exist around the issue of violence against women in Mexico:

“I have asked male colleagues to think of ten women they know. Then I ask them to pick seven of the ten women to be physically assaulted. Who would they choose? It makes them realize how disturbing the rate of violence against women in Mexico is.”

Most of us are aware of the gender stereotypes that lead people to “think leader, think male.” But it’s one thing to intellectually grasp the concept, and quite another to live the reality. A woman with a senior role at a consulting firm in India told the following story:

“Often my male clients would refuse to meet with me alone, even though I was leading the project. They would ask, ‘Isn’t there anyone more senior, a man maybe, who could be present at this meeting?’ So time and again I would have to ask my male manager, who had nothing to do with the account, to come sit in on the meeting. He would reluctantly join as a silent male representative, while I would give the presentation and field all of the questions.”

It isn’t surprising that bias and stereotyping of this sort exists in emerging markets. But the reality is that even in progressive developed countries, including those frequently lauded for their commitment to diversity and cultures of equality, stereotypes about women and leadership still persist. A researcher and business school professor in one such country said:

“A few years ago, I was teaching an MBA class with both male and female students. I organized a formal mentoring program to connect the students with successful businesswomen. One very successful businesswoman who owns several companies hosted a barbeque at her house for the 14 students, but only five showed up and the rest didn’t even bother to say that they weren’t going to come. These students, our future leaders, later told me that they did not feel that this business leader and eager mentor would have anything useful to offer them, simply because she was a woman.”

These stories provide insights “from the field” that will aid us in developing strategies to promote gender equity—and they inspire us all to be catalysts for change.

Click on the image below to view the entire program.

Academics, business leaders, and policy experts from emerging and mature markets including Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the U.S. attended the Symposium.

Front Row: Anabel Perez (Catalyst), Alix Pollack (Catalyst), Ping Ping Fu (Chinese University of Hong Kong), Nancy Carter (Catalyst), Deepali Bagati (Catalyst), Deborah Gillis (Catalyst), Joji Sekhon Gill (DuPont), Juliet Bourke (Deloitte and University of New South Wales), Meenu Bagla (Wipro).

Back Row: Ongmu Gombu (Baxter), Anna Beninger (Catalyst), Shachi Irde (Catalyst), Shilpa Mathapati (Media), Jess Dolmer (Catalyst), Kalpana Jain (Deloitte), Gina Zablodovsky (Universidad National Autonoma de Mexico), Marjorie Lyles (Indiana University), Alejandra Lucero Moreno Maya (IPADE Business School), Sameer Wadhawan (Coca-Cola), Dianne Bevelander (Erasmus University), Aliza Knox (Twitter), Sonali Madbhavi (Media), Maria del Carmen Bernal Gonzalez (IPADE Business School), Aarti Shyamsunder (Catalyst), Dave Kim (Dell), Archana Sasan (Dell), Lisa Mink (Dell), Cecy Kuruvilla (Sodexo), Aparna Joshi (The Pennsylvania State University), Linda Wirth (ILO), George Dreher (Indiana University-Bloomington), Fang Lee Cooke (Monash University, not shown).

The Symposium was just the first step in the journey towards change. As we continue the engaging discussions we began in Bangalore with our community of experts, we invite you to join in and add your valuable perspective on these important issues. Please use the comment box below to participate.

To kick off the discussion, we're curious to hear: For those who attended, what did you find most surprising or exciting during the Symposium? And for those who weren’t able to attend, from what you know, what is the biggest barrier to women's advancement in emerging markets such as China, India, and Mexico?

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