"Women in leadership positions makes a big difference"

Sonal Khetarpal   New Delhi     Last Updated: January 30, 2018  | 22:24 IST
Apurva Purohit, president, Jagran Prakashan

Apurva Purohit, president Jagran Prakashan gets candid with Business Today on why organisations are not able to crack the diversity code

How important it is to have women at the leadership positions and does it make any difference to the gender ratio of that organization.

Purohit: It makes a big difference when there are women at the top. But it is not just because women are at the top and that they are more diversity conscious than men. The fact is when there are women at the top, women who enter the organization or are at middle management level, subconsciously they see that it is safer place for women. Secondly, they feel that it is the organization that allows women to grow. Thirdly, they see in those women role models. For example, there was this girl in our office and she told us after a couple of years of joining, "since there are three women HODs at Radio city, I feel here I can reach anywhere I choose". She added, "My previous organization was nice too but because I never saw any women, I didn't think that I could grow and felt maybe I will remain an assistant or a senior manager."

More and more companies are getting their leaders to sponsor a high potential woman in their organization. Do you think that would help crack the diversity ratio.

Purohit: I think the starting premise here is that women have grown up to be more tentative than men. There is an interesting research done by McKinsey that says that women and men at the same level in middle management can be equally competent and are high potentials yet when they are asked how many of them thought that they could reach the top, just 67% women put up their hands, against 78% men. Women usually think that they are here because of being lucky, or because they had the opportunity some women didn't have. I think the tentativeness is fueled by the fact that they are looked upon as outliers.

This is also due to the fact how women have been brought up. Women are always asked not to talk loudly, don't shout, don't scream, men are grown up to be far bigger than their space and women are grown up to be smaller than their space. Due to this uncertainty women have about their worth, they often have to be pushed, but that is not necessarily women mentoring. It could equally be a male mentoring.

As a women leader have there been any instances where you faced this subconscious bias for instance, getting interrupted or not getting the due.

Purohit: I have it all the time when I am in board meetings and I am the only woman. I will be saying something, they will just interrupt you. I also have it happening at home, my husband will talk over me and at office even the men reporting into me, interrupt me. I am talking about me so you can imagine how much it would be happening to younger girls. They are interrupting you all the time.

Government and companies have introduced several initiatives to improve gender ratio of workforce but the numbers are not improving.  

Purohit: I think there are three parts to this equation. Diversity battle will not be won if all three parts are not equally participating in the dialogue, so there is a man, a woman and the organization in our context, of course surrounded by socio economic culture. But fundamentally the men in the women's life, whether it is at home or at work how are they behaving and how is the woman herself behaving, and thirdly how the organization is behaving. I think the organizations have done a lot in the last 2-3 decades with several diversity initiatives. When we started working and when we had children, nobody gave us flexi timings, but today there are policies and they are mandatory such as six months maternity leave, a creche etc. Still the needle is not moving and only 1% women reach leadership positions.

I believe that polices are easy to be put in place, but what is the point of having diversity matrix if the woman is not standing up to be counted and men around her are in a sense pulling her back. I am not saying men are deliberately trying to pull women down, but it is largely subconscious. It is so social that we don't realize it.  This can only change if we hugely increase dialogue.

Women often feel that once they are married, they have to be the primary nurturer or compromise on their career when there is a husband's transfer or listen to the mother-in-law. Similar men still want working wives but don't want to help with household chores.

I was addressing a group of student where I asked the women, how many of them want to work after marriage, all of them put up their hands. I asked the guys, how many of you want working wives, only 10 % put up their hands. This was 2015 at a top B-school!

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