Richard Rekhy, CEO of KPMG in India, was on the jury of Business Today's Most Powerful Women in Indian Business 2016. In an interview with BT, Rekhy talks about the gender biases that still exist in Indian business, and how to overcome them. Excerpts:
Why are majority of women leaders still from the banking and investment sectors?
Banking allows women to work in a profession that is not encumbered by masculine stereotypes. It is also a sector that intentionally started to build diversity before other sectors. Structure in thought, analytical acumen, sound instinct and intellectual ability are skills that might make their way into requisites in the industry. And several women are excellent at it.
Usha Ananthasubramanian, who serves as the CEO and MD of Punjab National Bank, has received accolades by the government for her leadership in establishing the all-women's BhartiyaMahila Bank. Such has been the dedication of women leaders to the industry.
That said, women have started to make their presence felt in other sectors as well. For instance, women account for around 35 per cent of the IT-BPM industry's total employment. Of the total women employment in the sector, approximately 23 per cent are believed to be performing managerial roles.
What is the leadership gap in India Inc like? How do you compare it with global peers?
Clearly, we are trailing behind global peers. Only around 4 per cent of BSE 100 companies have women CEOs, which is lower than OECD nations, where the figure is more than 5 per cent.
One of the major goals of the 2013 act is to improve board diversity and to enhance the responsibilities and accountability of executive directors, managerial personnel, and independent directors. Revised Clause 49 of the Companies Act 2013, pertaining to corporate governance requirements of listed companies, now requires all listed companies to appoint at least one woman director to their boards no later than April 1, 2015. Needless to say, the benefits of encouraging women participation in management are enormous. Diversity injects greater vigour into people and processes of organisations. Thus, we need to create an ecosystem that enables women workers to reach top management positions.
What are your views on glass ceiling?
One of the main reasons for the prevalence of glass ceiling (or the perception that it exists) in India is the societal pressure on women. On the other hand, the sense of familial duty and support helps women get back on track after a hiatus. Thus, the ceiling is breakable only with increased awareness and empowerment of the leaders of tomorrow. And this, I think, is happening. In India, women are entering professions that were once dominated by men. In sectors such as advertising, banking, engineering, manufacturing, and the civil services, there is an exponential growth in the number of women. One major reason for this development could be the change that has occurred at the grassroots level. In absolute numbers, India has one of the largest pools of female students in engineering and IT in the world.
Do you think women get the right mentorship?
On the leadership journey, hand-holding by an experienced mentor can be vital support. Women might often be more comfortable being mentored by other women, but the problem is that there are so few senior women around that not every woman can be mentored by another woman. Men should also act as mentors to female workforce and thereby guide them for advancing in their careers. In that sense, I think Tata Group's first-of-its-kind initiative is commendable. The initiative will place 300 women under a cross-company mentoring programme. So, the project will have the female executive being mentored by 18 CXO's and 35 CEO's from 45 group firms. Many other companies as well have diversity and inclusion as a boardroom agenda. The change is palpable.
What are the inherent biases that still run against women?
I think women are often held to higher standards than men. Women are perceived as being more emotional because their management and leadership styles are different. Women bring in a holistic approach, are more nurturing and are willing to share power and information. These traits stand to benefit women because the world has transitioned from an industrial age to an information age during this century. Since women have to juggle both household chores as well as their jobs, they are not seen as open/willing to networking, which is very important when climbing up the corporate ladder. The notion of gender bias by men against women is not new, however what also needs to be addressed is women's bias against women.
Also, women are neither made aware of, nor given opportunities that would catapult them to the upper echelons. Often, women with technical competencies in line functions such as manufacturing, R&D and operations end up in staff functions. Experience in line or operational functions during one's mid-career is often an unwritten prerequisite to getting into the C-suite.
What will be the defining moment for the journey of women in India Inc.?
I don't think there can be one defining moment. It will certainly be a series of smaller moments making up the journey. I think inclusion is about embedded behaviour and not a natural state. In practice, fostering inclusive behaviour means investing in activities such as unconscious bias training, which helps in recruiting and managing equal career progression. It cannot be emphasised upon enough that diversity often helps infuse institutional sustainability. Having said that, the part of the clause mandating women directors on the board has more to do with ground level action by companies to ensure that they are complying with the rule. The day this is achieved in a majority of companies would be momentous. Change is already palpable. We are making progress but (we are) nowhere near our destination. Regardless, it is pleasurable to see that equality of opportunity is now is not a matter of 'if' but more a matter of 'when'.