Companies should help women break the glass ceiling

Isha Bhatnagar        Last Updated: March 11, 2015  | 09:08 IST

Isha Bhatnagar
The Indian economy thrives on its labour force. In the coming academic year, 2014/15, around 9 million female students will graduate from streams such as technology/engineering, management, law, and social sciences, and will join the workforce.

But the question is: how many will stay?

Of the 136 countries listed in the Global Diversity Benchmark (2013), India has the lowest national female labour force. The current statistics are 23 per cent in organised workforce, 12 per cent in middle management, three to six per cent in senior management, and only five per cent as board members. Women representation in the higher echelons of the organisation is still lesser in comparison to the male workforce.

So, why are women consistently dropping out? What are the invisible barriers that prevent them from moving up? And more importantly, how do you define the 'glass ceiling'?

In a typical Indian societal context, men attribute their social standing to their pay cheques, while women are judged on how good a homemaker she is.

Family, friends and acquaintances consistently remind women of their so-called 'responsibilities'. As years progress, women feel tied down by the glaring division between office and home. Ambition dies down before the daily chores.

Women need to take a break from their career when planning to extend their family. This requires them to stay away from work for at least four months. Mother care is a prerequisite for the initial healthy upbringing of a child.

She is required to be around the child for at least two years. This is a sensitive period in a women's life.

But is a break of three years acceptable? Re-joining office is like starting anew, all over again, where you are working around a much younger (and inexperienced) lot.

Thus, most women prefer never going back. Companies are familiar with the drain, yet they choose to do nothing about it. Managers are often hesitant to hire female staff. Even during initial phases, women are subjected to personal questions regarding their plans of getting married in the near future.

So the question is: could offices help? Most certainly they can. Arrangements for child day care can be made within office premises. All young mothers need is an assurance of safety and well-being for their children.

Interestingly enough, when asked the reasons for leaving their lucrative jobs, the most common reason cited is 'being a woman'. The time is ripe to break the glass ceiling, and we must take proactive measures towards fighting this subconscious bias against working women.

There are certain companies that are consistently striving to maintain gender diversity. Axis Bank has an exclusive programme called "We Lead" for hiring female students and grooming them for managerial roles in the organisation. The bank supports its women with flexible timings and work-from-home privileges.

Unilever's initiative, "Global Reach With Local Roots: Creating a Gender-Balanced Workforce in Different Cultural Contexts", accelerates the advancement of high-potential women across different regions and leverages the company's strong foundation of cultural diversity and multinational expertise to promote a culture of inclusion. Unilever was applauded with the Catalyst Award for its efforts.

Microsoft's "Springboard" is a career-reconnect initiative for women on a sabbatical. Springboard is a unique programme designed to help women on a sabbatical make an easy transition back into the corporate world.

I hope this wave will spread with greater strength and the corporate world will rise to the cause of retaining the talented female force working for them.

With a little support from office and family, women shall be able to climb up the success ladder, contributing more to our country and its future.

(The author is a student of PGP Class of 2015 at the Indian School of Business)

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