14 March 2018 04:14:29 IST

Empowering women to leadership positions

Corporate India and government agencies must take cognizance this challenge

Gender diversity at the workplace is a pertinent issue across the world, more so in India, where women are slowly holding leadership positions. Baby boomers changed the workplace demographics from homogeneity to one of diversity.

Gender diversity could be the next big trend in the evolution of the corporate workforce. The last decade has witnessed workplace diversity in both public and private sectors, with human resource leaders waking up to the realisation that this not only helps in creating an unbiased work environment, but it has also had proven business impact. A few companies in India have already demonstrated how women can be integral to their workforce by reducing the ratio between men and women. In general, the Services segment and specific sectors such as IT, Financial Services, Media, Healthcare, and Hospitality have been torchbearers in bridging the gender divide. Also, with many Indian companies going global and global companies entering India, diversity became a key trend.

However, to keep the momentum going, corporate India and the government agencies must take cognizance of the challenges that women face. A lot more needs to be done to sustain and accelerate this impact. Typically, working women in India have to balance their professional demands with various domestic needs. Crucial to improving women’s representation at the workplace is accommodating their career lifecycle and creating policies that will encourage more women entering or re-entering the workforce. Also, women entrepreneurs can benefit immensely from favourable government policies, training programmes and access to financial support and working capital.

Roadblocks

The single biggest deterrent for working women is the expectation to compromise on their career in order to fulfil family commitments. A number of women take a break in their professional life or work part-time owing to this. As a result, their career momentum is impacted and when they re-enter the workforce, they often have to contend with less pay.

Studies show that at the start of their career, women are usually offered the same pay as men but over a period of time, as they are about to reach mid-senior to senior positions, which typically coincide with their critical domestic needs, they tend to hit a glass ceiling. For example, women employees who come back after their maternity breaks find it challenging to balance their career and motherhood; this sometimes results in women having to prioritise one over another.

Preconceived notions about assigning women’s suitability for specific roles are also a challenge. Workplace harassment is another issue. Studies show that these challenges become bigger as women scale the corporate ladder.

Barriers

Other prominent barriers to women’s career advancement are lack of mentoring, networking opportunities, lack of transparency in roles and expectations, absence of a clear career path, unavailability of relevant platforms to upskill their expertise and exclusion from informal male-dominated networks.

As of today the positive impact is evident with more women leaders driving strategy and framing policy, while women entrepreneurs become role models. If government agencies and the corporate world come together, it will not be long before India witnesses an era where there is a robust entrepreneurial network among women, fostering economic growth and sustaining business traction. Studies also reveal that women in leadership roles in an organisation can make a transformational difference to its performance. An analysis of return on equity (ROE) data of top 100 Indian companies (BSE 100) by Randstad reveals that companies with women on their Boards have a positive impact on ROE.

Diversity in the Board is a business imperative. A government-mandated quota may help the cause of diversity as it provides a standard and uniform guideline. However, a quota may not help a company build depth or sustain the policy. If there is a mandatory need to fill seats, companies should be true to the intent and make appointments accordingly. Although the quota for women directors is aimed at promoting diversity, the tenacity and rigour that women professionals of display, goes to show that merit will shine through even without reservations. Building a pipeline of women at the executive level is the need of the hour, and it can be achieved over a period of time through conscious and concerted efforts of both corporates and the government.

The writer is CEO, Randstad India