What India Gets Right about Women in the Workplace

What India Gets Right about Women in the Workplace

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The World Economic Forum recently published a report comparing women’s economic participation in 136 countries.  Unfortunately, India ranked 134th.

While we clearly have a long road ahead of us, we believe that India is beginning to take solid steps toward helping women join the workforce. Creating change isn’t easy—it requires a multifaceted approach that tackles culture, incentives, and opportunity structures all at once. Nevertheless, our nation, slowly but surely, is putting these puzzle pieces together.

Here are a few things that India is doing right in the movement to achieve gender equality in the workplace:

Finding and promoting the stories of role models

One of the most important ways to motivate women to enter the workforce is to give them the confidence that they can professionally prosper to the same heights as men. From a very young age, women are often discouraged not to chase their dreams because their feminine identity lowers their chances of success. India needs to close the aspirational gap for women by promoting the stories of female role models who have succeeded in their careers. These role models should openly discuss how they have managed to balance work and family commitments, and how the men in their life have played a supportive role restructuring ‘traditional’ household responsibilities.

More and more, we’re starting to see stories about the women who have defied the glass ceiling, taking leadership roles at high-profile companies and institutions. For example, this week, Business Insider highlighted five successful women in technology, including the MD of IBM, the MD fro HP India, the President of Intel India, the CTO of StubHub, and the CEO of Capgemini. Last month, India TV did extensive coverage on 15 thriving female entrepreneurs. Women were also the face of India’s esteemed Mission to Mars. And the Commonwealth Games in July gave news media plenty of opportunities to celebrate the female pioneers who are putting India in the international sports spotlight.

Enforcing supportive legislation

While grassroots buy-in is a critical ingredient of any social movement, policymakers have a responsibility to enact a purposeful and consistent course of action to support their citizens to achieve a national goal. As a representative democracy, we expect our politicians to address gender equality by instituting laws, regulations, decisions, and actions pertinent to progress. For example, in 1993, India passed the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, mandating that one-third of all panchayats reserve their highest-ranking position for women. As a result, women began voicing their opinions more often and villages benefitted from female friendly policies. Like every policy, loopholes made its implementation imperfect – but nevertheless, it served as a critical impetus for accelerating gender equality.

In the fight for gender equality in the workplace, Indian politicians are also beginning to play a stronger role. For example, the new Companies Act requires every public company with a turnover of more than Rs 300 crore to have at least one woman director.

Making everyone feel like a winner

One reason that change is such a glacial process is because the people who benefit from the status quo are often threatened by any disruptions to their current ways of functioning. To genuinely promote gender equality and diversity in the workplace, organizations and their leadership must be convinced that they will prosper as a result of doing so. India must consider companies and their male leadership as allies, and thus demonstrate to them how increased female and transgender participation is a win-win situation for everybody.

The Times of India recently invested in a study in which this win-win holds true. The study reveals that companies with a mix of both men and women on their board saw ROE rise by 4.4% in 2014. Similar companies with male-only boards, however, saw an average ROE rise of a mere 1.8%. This change is consistent with global outcomes as well: Diversity directly contributes to the bottom line.

Studies such as this one should be widely disseminated to organizations. And additional handholding to help companies embrace these changes will help accelerate progress even more. That’s the role that organizations like MAVA in Mumbai play, sensitizing men to working collaboratively with women and understanding the value of diversity.

So you see? There is hope yet. Progress is happening, slowly but surely. And it is our responsibility as citizens to commit ourselves to being part of the change in whatever small ways we can.

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