Make more room for women

Amrita Prasad
Wednesday, 24 April 2019

A panel discussion titled Co-creating Gender Equality at Indian workplaces, organised by ASIC and 13D, was recently held in Mumbai

COO, Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg; Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern; former chairman, SBI, Arundhati Bhattacharya; globally-renowned actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Child Rights, Priyanka Chopra Jonas; Slovakia’s first female President Zuzana Caputova — more and more women can be seen in a leadership role, and that is truly inspiring.
Encouraging greater participation of women at the workforce has yielded positive results for countries across the world. Women possess empathy, verbal agility and greater risk awareness — valuable traits that are essential for succeeding at the workplace. With a plethora of research backing women’s participation at the workplace, can more be encouraged to join? Can policies be designed to encourage them to be in senior leadership positions? Can societal norms be addressed? 

To address these important questions, Asia Society India Centre (ASIC), a global non-profit institution, and 13D Global Strategy & Research, an independent global research firm, recently hosted a panel discussion titled Co-Creating Gender Equality to promote gender equality in the Indian workplace. The speakers comprising managing director, Metropolis Healthcare Ltd, Ameera Shah; managing director, Southeast Asia 13D Global Strategy & Research, Anurag Bansal; professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi, Ravinder Kaur; and chief people officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprise Ltd, Animesh Kumar discussed various important aspects related to gender equality at the workplace such as involving more women in decision making roles and understanding implementation challenges faced by employers and employees in the Indian workforce. Chief marketing officer, 13D Global Strategy & Research, Monica Ralli was the event moderator.
While stressing upon HR’s role to create an equal workspace, Kumar said, “Fundamentally, the performance management ecosystem in any company is about delivering two essentials — building an organisational ecosystem that attracts the best talent whether it is male or female and building an ecosystem of the intervention of culture and performance which enables employees to deliver their best. If you can achieve both, you can build the best organisation in the world.” 

Creating an inclusive workplace is essential, but the first step towards a more equal society must begin at home. Bunty Chand, CEO, ASIC, expressed, “Our sons and daughters need to be given equal opportunities. They must also have mutual respect for each other to address the flaws in a system which invariably favours men and predominantly ascribes women roles like that of a caretaker and a working mother.” 

She further said that enabling a system that supports women employees, favours meritocracy in growth prospects and prioritises equality in every organisational decision is in the best interest of an organisation and the nation. “Gender equality needs to move beyond a PR or CSR activity. A boardroom with equal number of women and men should not surprise anyone,” she added.
Echoing Chand’s sentiments, Shah spoke about the importance of going back to psychology to ensure gender equality at home. “It starts from family. Parents need to create an environment which will help develop an entrepreneurial spirit of taking risks and making difficult decisions in the face of uncertainties among women of the family,” Shah said.

Girls in India grow up in a protected environment under the care of their parents and siblings. “This leads to a scenario where there is a lacuna of risk-taking abilities and this has a direct consequence on their level of confidence. As they grow up, they tend to take the safer route and are averse to uncertain situations. This consistent unconscious conditioning plays a huge role in how they pursue their life and career choices. Gender equality is everyone’s responsibility. Right from policymakers to corporations to households there is an urgent need for a change in mindset,” Shah said.
Fairness and mutual respect must exist at the workplace but they are not enough of an incentive to make businesses reinvent themselves. “We need to tell a better story, a story so compelling that business leaders will in turn encourage managers and employees to reach their own conclusion that diversity is good news, both personally and for the company. Once the realisation occurs, they will start behaving in a more inclusive way and progress can be real, rapid and lasting,” Ralli mentioned.  

The biggest challenge however, Shah revealed, is to make sure that employers understand that there exists an unconscious bias while hiring, rewarding and allocating projects. “It is important to rule out this bias and create a workplace environment that rewards performance regardless of gender. It would take years of work and multiple policies before we reach the ideal environment for women but what is important is to create a workplace where women have a voice,” she said. 

According to Kaur, India has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world. “Between 2005-06 and 2015-16 this figure has reduced by almost 12 per cent,” said Kaur, adding that the decline in the curve is a result of factors such as the incompatibility of work and family duties, the structural imbalance of parenting responsibilities, the stigmas surrounding women working outside the home, and the high incomes of their spouses rendering their contribution to family income negligible.

“At this juncture, we need policies to tackle structural barriers which prevent women from being recognised as key components of the Indian workforce,” added Kaur. 

Talking about the positive impact of an equal work environment, Bansal said that a firm’s financial performance and productivity improves considerably with gender equal workplaces and corporate boards. “A rise in female employment rates to the male level would provide India with an extra 235 million workers, more than the EU has of either gender. If the world’s largest democracy fails to make the case for inclusion, its outsize demographic dividend will soon become a liability,” he added.

Often, corporates are reluctant to hire young married women or those who are planning to start a family, especially after the implementation of six month compulsory paid maternity leave policy. “But some corporations have had six months’ paid leave even before it was made compulsory. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the corporations to work out a best scenario for women employees. It is not possible for a single policy to solve all the problems, but it is important to empower and enable women so that they can make choices that they are comfortable with. At Metropolis, we are proud that our women feel safe, happy and empowered,” Shah shared.  

2017-18 saw women coming out and speaking up against sexual harassment at the workplace, courtesy #MeToo. Shah said that  #MeToo is only the beginning of a long journey. “The nation witnessed an outpouring of women’s stories. This is an important step because now topics of harassment are being acknowledged and addressed in accordance to POSH guidelines at workplaces,” she added. 

A research conducted in 2016 says that bringing more women into higher management roles boosts profitability. “It stated that a company with 30 per cent female leadership could expect to add up to 6 per cent points to its net margin in comparison with a similar business with no female leaders. Women often bring the right emotional quotient to the table and are better at nurturing long-term relationships, qualities that are important at the boardroom. Yes, there is definitely a positive movement in which women are taking up more senior and leadership positions,” Shah said.  

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