The norms of the 20th century had kept many Indian women away from full-time professional careers. This truism has witnessed a sea change in recent years. From the confinement of regular households, women are now increasingly taking up roles that were traditionally considered for men. The results are not just anecdotal, but are also captured in data.
As per a recent survey by advisory firm Grant Thornton, India ranks seventh among 29 countries when it comes to women working in senior management positions. Importantly, India’s share of women in senior management is higher than the global average in 2022—38 per cent vis-à-vis 32 per cent. This share of women in leadership positions in Indian companies has more than doubled from 17 per cent in 2017.
“The fact that India is way ahead of the global average and from a low base five years ago, shows how much progress is possible in a short period of time. With a substantially higher number of women taking up leadership roles in the Indian mid-market companies, I am confident this trend will lead to further gender parity,” says Vishesh C. Chandiok, CEO of Grant Thornton Bharat.
The survey threw up some interesting data that clearly reflects the growing aspiration among women to take up leadership roles. Women are ensconced in top positions like the chief executive or the managing director in 55 per cent of the 250 India-based companies that participated in the survey; that was a piffling 7 per cent in 2017. “Despite many challenges posed by the pandemic, the representation of women has improved across many Indian firms with the percentage of women taking charge within senior management roles significantly rising,” Grant Thornton noted.
The trend is also reflected in management schools, from where most of these women have graduated before rising through the ranks to occupy the corner room. Over the past eight years, the share of female students at prominent B-schools has surged significantly. As per the BT-MDRA India’s Best B-schools Survey 2022, the share of female students in the country’s top 25 management schools has grown to 34.5 per cent in batches entering the institutes in 2021-22—up from 27.7 per cent in 2014-15. However, in B-schools ranked between 26 and 50, the trend has been negative, with the share of women students falling from 40 per cent in 2014-15 to 33 per cent last year. However, female MBA aspirants seem to dominate the top 51-100 ranked schools. Over this period, their share in B-schools ranked between 51 and 75 has surged from 37 per cent to 43.5 per cent, and it’s an incredible 45.5 per cent in B-schools ranked between 76 and 100.
At leading B-schools in the country—from S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai (Rank 5) and XLRI Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur (Rank 6) to Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi (Rank 9) and Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi (Rank 10)—the share of women has surged to over 30 per cent. Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (Rank 3) recorded the highest participation of female students at its management programme with over 37 per cent of its batch comprising female students. While in IIM Kozhikode, a record 52 per cent of its 492 students for 2020-22 were women.
According to Uttam Kumar Sarkar, Director of IIM Calcutta, apart from more women opting for management education in the country, the rise in women’s participation in top B-schools is part of a trend that includes imparting diversity in management classrooms. “Lower female participation in MBA courses is rooted to our social stigmas that have ruled for years. Breaking the barrier is not easy. So, knowing all these, we took a conscious decision to improve diversity in our classrooms. As a result, over the years, the share of female students at IIM Calcutta has grown to about 25 per cent from 5 per cent. The share touches 30 per cent in some years,” he says. Sarkar adds that there is a lot of distance that needs to be covered but the progress that has been made so far is not insignificant either. “It’s not easy also because we have to maintain the quality of batches. At the same time, maintain a balance so that no candidate feels like they have been given undue preference,” he says.
Bringing diversity in classrooms, however, is not just confined to increasing the share of women. It goes beyond gender, and is a critical factor in improving the share of students from non-engineering backgrounds, too. Data shows progress in improving the ratio of non-engineers to engineers in MBA classrooms has been significant in the past few years. While in the top 25 B-schools, the share of students from non-engineering backgrounds has surged to 36 per cent in 2020-21—up from 16 per cent eight years ago, their share in 26-50 ranked schools has surged to 53 per cent—overtaking engineering students. In B-schools ranked 51-75 and 76-100, respectively, this share is even higher—72 per cent and 83 per cent, respectively.
Additionally, experts say, unlike earlier, these days MBA students who have work experience are larger in numbers. Like the increasing share of women, this is also due to changing demands from the recruiters who now seek experienced candidates than signing freshers. “Unlike in western countries, in India we used to see a lot of freshers doing management courses. Now, we have a significant number of students who join our postgraduate management programme with three-four years of work experience. Candidates with experience get an edge as they get additional points during selection as well as during placements,” says Sarkar. It’s a changing world.
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