It’s time for gender diversity to move from being a checklist item in board meeting agendas to becoming being a strategic objective.
According to recent studies, the representation of women across India Inc. has been steadily increasing – the top 100 companies that women chose as most attractive to work for reported a five-percent improvement in the diversity ratios in 2017 vs 2016.
Numbers aside, there is a greater question at play here. Is it correct or wise to represent this as merely a gender parity issue? Or is it a larger issue of workforce diversity that lends better business advantages? The truth is women's participation in business makes great economic sense.
Business acumen and leadership – gender-agnostic traits
As early as 2015, IMF chief Christine Lagarde had predicted that India’s GDP could rise by 27 percent through higher participation of women in the workforce. And with good reason too. A 2012 Harvard study revealed that women at all levels were rated as better overall leaders by peers, bosses, direct reports, and associates, and boost the bottom line with better work environment and culture, team orientation, creativity, innovation and leadership.
It just goes to show that business skills and capabilities are really gender-agnostic. Today, women are represented on the board of every single company that comprises the BSE 100, women have held or are currently holding leadership positions in at least nine banks, five FMCG companies and eight IT/ITeS companies in India. Their success clearly shows that organisations’ ability to leverage the diversity of thinking and execution is what brings powerful value and accrual of results. The objective is, therefore, not just to increase ‘female representation’, through knee-jerk reactions. Corporates need to align long-term organisational goals to ensure diversity and inclusion.
Reiterating this truth is the significant success that women have achieved as entrepreneurs. Despite the obvious under-representation, they have built incredible startups - from e-commerce to financial services.
Needed – a two-way lane of action
According to the Fifth Annual Employment-Unemployment Survey, women constitute a significant ratio of the Indian working age population. Women’s participation in the workforce is thus critical in realising the promise of the nation’s demographic dividend. This needs proactive efforts both from a corporate and policy level, and from women themselves.
Indian women professionals should wrest the initiative, be more willing to ‘lean in’ to their careers, and not wait for a quota-based environment for them to move ahead.
They need to stay relevant and maximise their access to the right jobs. Being aware of their professional interests and skills will enable them to identify opportunities that synchronise with their strengths. Keeping themselves abreast of their organisation’s strategic plans and remaining networked for constant updates on their industry will also go a long way. Being assertive to spell out the positive impact they can bring to their roles will earn them respect. Checking in regularly to measure progress will add effectiveness to purpose.
Organisations, too, must step up to remove barriers to progress. They need to know and believe that they are doing it as much for their benefit. Ensuring homogeneity in salaries, better childcare options, accommodating unique aspirations of the millennial women, flexibility in work schedules, a supportive return-to-work policy, and a better work-life balance are important. Bias in performance evaluation and career progression decisions will need to be eliminated and sexual harassment issues must be dealt with sensitivity and speed.
Additionally, high potentials need to be trained and mentored to take on bigger responsibilities with market-driven rewards and recognition. The truth is that such corporate actions are not actually women-biased – they make for best corporate practices. Such mutual measures could go a long way in plugging the leak in the progression pipeline from junior to middle-level positions for women. This, in turn, will improve the numbers in the senior management and executive levels.
Sheryl Sandberg’s famous line, “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders,” is something India Inc should internalise. It’s time for gender diversity to move from being a checklist item in board meeting agendas to becoming a strategic objective.
One that has a clear plan of action that encompasses alignment of the talent ecosystem, recruitment, training, performance management and leadership. This would require a concerted effort from both women and organisations in raising the bar to transform the business environment to a truly gender-agnostic one that respects potential and performance of its workforce.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)