Vasanthi Srinivasan, Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore tells Business Today while there is increase in the visible presence of women, we have a long way to go in terms of presence of women in more powerful roles in the corporate sector.
Q How and when did women started to get into senior positions in India Inc…
Since 2000 with the rapid growth of the Indian economy, women's participation in the workforce and particularly in to employment increased. The rise of the IT services sector which was seen as a 'women friendly' sector contributed immensely to this aspect. I don't think there is a watershed or landmark moment. It has been more gradual and over the last two decades, the visible presence of women in the workplace has improved. However, the findings in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap report 2015 is not very heartening. Out of 145 countries, India ranks 139th when it comes to Economic Participation and Opportunity pillar. While the data on the number of women in skilled and leadership positions is still not available, India was ranked 136th in terms of labour force participation. So while there is increase in the visible presence of women, we have a long way to go in terms of presence of women in more powerful roles in the corporate sector.
Q Will it be correct to say that the ICICI ladies were the first generation of women business leaders in India?
One could definitely say that. I have read in an interview by Lalitha Gupte that three successive heads of the organisation S. Nadkarni, N. Vaghul and K.V. Kamath consistently identified women with high potential and gave them opportunities to perform. When some of the women required flexible work arrangements due to personal reasons, they were assigned projects which were critical to the organisation and yet could be done with flexibility. When the women returned to work after breaks, they often got to implement these strategic projects on which they had worked. This is clearly about setting the tone at the top. The continued support over a period of time has consequences for retention of women.
Q What have been the big enablers in breaking the glass ceiling?
The MNCs have done quite a lot here. They have done positive discrimination to increase gender diversity at lower levels, the mid career break and return from it, providing developmental opportunities for women to sharpen their skills, investment in identification and development of senior women in leadership, investing in women in technical leadership, creating a male sponsor network which allows women to leverage the networks, role models and women mentors. With all of these, it has been possible to see a visible increase in women. IBM, Microsoft, TCS, Cisco, Tatas, ANZ, EY are some of the organisations that I have interacted with and experienced the top management commitment. I think championing, tracking and making sure that the needle is moving in the organisation is a big challenge.
Q What are the inherent biases that still run against women?
Gendering in India is so deep that I am not sure any more to call it as discrimination. Unconscious biases in the way we socialise our girl child is so pervasive that we need to do a deep sensitisation to crack the problem. Educational investments in India are family decisions and so whether a girl child will receive access and opportunity to education is itself a difficult question. Many times, I meet smart young girls and ask them why they did not study science, it is unbelievable but many of them say that they had brothers who had to do engineering, so the family decided to send her to the local college for a degree in some other field. Girls are still not taught to dream or have a vision for themselves. Unless they have had very strong male mentors very early in their careers, it is difficult for women to remain engaged at workplace. Women have weak career identity because of this. Apart from this, are the deeply ingrained roles of men and women. The continued perpetuation of the dominant nurture role of women in households with significant responsibility for home work and care, puts additional burden on the women. Continued investment by women in enhancing their professional skills becomes more and more difficulty leading to obsolescence in skills in some sectors. Women, then do not get considered for promotions. All of this leads to frustration. The defining moment for the journey of women in India Inc is if each woman can pay it forward by mentoring and bringing to the fore, another woman who is as good if not better than her. If each woman did this mentoring, the corporate sector in India would have transformed.