Notwithstanding India’s pathetic track record in gender development and equality, there’s no doubt that these are vastly better times for women in the country. And that’s not because the largest democratic republic has just appointed its first woman President or that the leader of the ruling alliance is someone who wears a saree. In all walks of life, there are more and more women rising to positions of power or, at the least, getting empowered.
For this year’s list of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Indian Business, BT had to grapple with a larger-than-usual list of nominations. Across industry, there are a larger number of women in important positions; in government, too, key bureaucratic positions are being filled by women; and in the social sector, thousands of women are getting better control over their own lives and livelihoods due to the spread of microfinance.
According to a report written last year by Roopa Purushothaman and Parminder Vir, the percentage share of women in working age in the total female population is expected to keep rising until 2035. Significantly, the number of women with post-secondary education doubled in the 1990s to more than 9 million.
The number of women across key disciplines such as science, commerce, engineering and medicine has also risen over the years. In banking—from where more than 40 per cent of BT’s Power 25 comes—there are more women officers today than before. According to the two economists, the number has risen from 6 per cent in 1997 to 9 per cent (2005).
It’s not just organised, white-collar jobs where women are making their mark. The number of self-employed is rising, too. A shortage of skilled workers could actually mean that educated women who are forced to quit employment due to reasons like child birth, may be able to return to work because of options such as telecommuting. As any employer knows, women make good employees.
They not only work as hard as men, but tend to stay longer with their organisations, if it is fair and sensitive to some special needs they may have. In fact, that’s something you’ll find interesting about the women we have featured in this issue. A majority of them have been with their organisations for decades. Indeed, for a large number of them, like ICICI’s Chanda Kochhar, there has been only one employer in their successful careers.
Yet, as Purushothaman and Vir pointed out in their report, India needs to bring a lot more of its women into workforce. Everyone stands to gain from it. In other words, women empowered is India empowered.