Business Today

What Women Want

Best employers for women will strive to have 40 per cent women in the total workforce, spread across levels.
By Poonam Barua | Print Edition: March 13, 2016
What Women Want
Poonam Barua, Founder Chairman, Forum for Women in Leadership

In the fast changing dynamics of the global marketplace - with wide and diverse stakeholders - it is becoming increasingly clear that women define 'Best Employer Companies' quite differently from their male counterparts. Companies that wish to attract, retain and nurture women for advanced management positions in their companies will need to take a hard look at 'what women want in their organisations' - rather than use minor interventions to keep women engaged in the vision of the company for business success.

While most enlightened business leaders and companies fully understand the compelling need to address women's aspirations and bring a vast talent pool of women into their organisations, there is a critical need to articulate how this translates into the corporate code of conduct, best HR practices in the organisations and policies for employee engagement. Companies still continue to rely on the conservative metrics of traditional 'Best Employer Surveys' that do not place a high premium on the dynamic, diverse, innovative and cross-cultural stakeholder demands that need to be brought into the survey dashboard.

The first rule of understanding 'Best Employers for Women' is for companies to stop viewing the whole leadership paradigm through the narrow view of 'supporting women' or 'women as talent buckets' and visibly demonstrate the 'value of wealth creation' that women bring to the organisation, which is clearly different and complementing to the men. This value is 'sigma-correlative' with the distinctive advantage of women in customer relations, supply-chain management, decision making, strategic overview, rational expectations, risk aversion, public spiritedness, democratic leadership, collegiality, sensitivity to external business influencers and sales drive - to mention only some of the metric components.

Companies that are 'Best Employers for Women' will commit to validating 'equal opportunity in the workplace' for the advancement of women across the board as a critical component of meritocracy. This is based on the fundamentals of a gender-sensitive leadership that is committed to having diverse top management and corporate board directors, where promotion policies are gender neutral, and there are clear metrics on corporate disclosures for advancing women for building 'balanced leadership' organisations. Genpact, MSD Pharma, Sodexo, Capgemini are some companies that have put these corporate disclosures into place for being employers of choice for women.

Companies will also need to go beyond the softer areas of 'enabler policies' of work-life balance options, internal networks for women engagement and women-friendly policies - and focus instead on the open opportunities being provided for women to make a 'step-change' in their career, with cross-industry exposure, distinction and front-line assignments. These will be the 'new-age companies' that will reject homogenous executive workforce and who will make the transition to building inclusive, sensitive and sustainable companies, where the CEO and Board are visibly committed to scaling up on the 'Gender Maturity Curve'.

The best employers for women will strive to have 40 per cent women in the total workforce - spread across different levels depending on the 'Gender Maturity Index' of the company - and at least 30 per cent in senior management and board levels. Corporate India still has more than 80 per cent companies showing a low level of 10- 20 per cent women in the total workforce - and for the few companies that have managed a high percentage of women in the organisation - their numbers for women in senior management and boards remains a dismal 5-10 per cent.

The 500 million women of India are going to have a larger 'voice' in defining the 'Best Employer Companies' going forward - and being certified as the 'Best Employer for Women' will increasingly become a critical component of being the most-admired and most-respected company.

"Ask not what you can do for the Women

Ask what the Women can do for you!"

The writer is Founder Chairman, Forum for Women in Leadership; CEO, WILL Forum India, and author of the book 'Leadership by Proxy'.

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