20 Mar 2019 21:36 IST

Women leaders are more inclusive, create diverse organisations

Panelists speak on ‘Women-led businesses’ and ‘The #MeToo wave’ at MMA’s Women Managers Convention

“There are tens of thousands of women in India with viable business ideas, however small-scale they may be. But most of these women are part of the huge under-banked and financially under-served population that live life on the fringes, with minimal or no access to any kind of equity,” said Sucharita Mukherjee, co-founder and CEO, Kaleidofin Pvt Ltd, a fintech platform that provides customised financial solutions to the informal sector.

 

Speaking on the panel ‘Rise of women-led businesses’ at the Madras Management Association’s Women Managers Convention held recently, the IIM Ahmedabad alumna said it’s always hard to reach out to women customers, especially in the rural or peri-urban areas, as they’re usually the ones with least access to connectivity.

“The first problem to crack,” she said, “is how to reach the lakhs of women out there who need financial services, even if only to make them aware of the kind of products or policies they need, depending on whether they’re saving for a daughter’s education, or to start a business or build a house.” She added that Kaleidofin has tied up with NGOs and other organisations to offer specific, women-oriented financial packages.

Drawing from her own experience, Sucharita said it’s crucial that women support other women and help them further their careers, especially after a break.

Companies with women leaders do better

Such empathy is intrinsic to the way women in leadership roles function, said Tara Parthasarthy, JMD, Ultramarine & Pigments, a family-owned business in which she represents the third generation. A conscious change in the way the company hires has resulted in a five-fold jump in the number of women in the organisation, in just the last three or four years.

 

“If the ratio of women to men across workplaces in India is far lower than it should be, it’s largely because of the social conditioning that makes us undermine women’s role in business, and undervalue their voices even as we overvalue the opinions of men,” said Tara.

Quoting a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, Tara explained that we are often fooled into believing that the confidence men display is a sign of their competence. Their boldness, even arrogance, is often confused for good leadership though the definition of a strong leader is one who inspires others to work towards a common goal and will not allow self-interest to overtake such a shared vision.

“Women leaders are more humble, inclusive, and their motivations for getting into business are different; they tend to create businesses that solve problems, need less money to do what they do, and employees tend to feel more positive when led by women,” she said. Companies that have many women in senior management roles do better, said Tara, adding that women build diverse and inclusive businesses, and the way they acquire and retain customers, hire and train employees and manage finances is all very different.

“They know more about their employees and can maximise their potential. To reap the benefits of such an approach, organisations must change the way they hire, understand the value of empathy and look not just at the P&L but at teamwork and continuing education for everyone in the organisation, especially the women, to achieve their full potential,” she said.

Achieving their potential

“If women, especially those in the rural areas, are to leverage their abilities and talents to the maximum, they need strong mentors,” said Vandhana Ramanathan, Co-Founder and CEO, WSquare, an initiative that provides women entrepreneurs a platform to showcase their products or services and build a customer base.

 

“WSquare firmly believes in enlisting the support of local bank officials who are inclined to place their trust in the venture,” she said, adding that it is not just training in skill-building that her organisation imparts, but it also addresses the natural fears of women embarking on an enterprise and helps build up their confidence by teaching communication skills and technology literacy. There’s nothing wrong in starting small, as long as one makes a beginning, she said, quoting Richard Branson: “Say ‘yes’ first; figure out the rest later!”

“We show them how they can improve their productivity and manage their finances while making them aware of insurance policies they can opt for to safeguard against risk. WSquare is engaged in continuously motivating such women entrepreneurs to motivate themselves amid the negativity they are usually surrounded by, so they can retain an optimal work-life balance. This is what sets our work apart from other such incubators,” said Vandhana.

#MeToo and the workplace

“Are women safer now or more unsafe than ever before?” This was the question posed by Geetha Madhavan, President, International Law and Strategic Analysis Institute, at the start of the panel discussion on “The #MeToo Wave”.

 

“At a point in time in history when women in this country are being judged more than ever for every choice they make, be it about career, life, marital status, choice of partner or travelling alone on work, especially with crumbling support systems, this is an important issue to address,” she said. The laws to protect women may all be in place, but the question is how effectively they work to protect the sufferers in an environment dominated by the rules of patriarchy,” said Geetha.

“Safety has never been guaranteed for women in India, right from the earliest times in history, and certainly from the historical period of the Mughals and then during the British colonisation of the subcontinent,” said Sumathi Srinivas, Founder and CEO, The Twilite Group, and Managing Trustee, Soulmates Foundation, an organisation for the upliftment of underprivileged women and children. “And this continues today, with stressful work environments, especially after the IT wave and skewed work timings. So women have to learn how to deal with the world in new ways every day, and how to stay safe.”

S Kannan, Principal Commissioner, GST Council, said: “It is pertinent to put the timelines in perspective. As the #MeToo revelations show, the women who were harassed by men in positions of power took years, even decades in some cases, to come out in the open about their trauma. Because of the #MeToo wave, this may not happen again. Organisations must have the strictest policies in place to enable a woman to make a complaint and be assured of getting the relief and justice they deserve. And people in positions of power need to be made aware, through sensitisation and training, that such power can never be misused.”

“Building trust is crucial to ensuring a secure and congenial work environment,” said Prof Sridhar Narayanan, Adjunct Professor of Finance, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai. “Trust can be developed only in an atmosphere of total transparency. The belief that any aberrant behaviour can be red-flagged and brought to the attention of the supervisor or mentor, and will be dealt with immediately, goes a long way in creating such transparency. And this is true of school and college campuses, as much as workplaces,” he said.

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