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India Inc. has realised the business case for gender diversity: S Ramadorai

Sarika Malhotra     September 26, 2016

S. Ramadorai, former CEO of TCS who now chairs the National Skill Development Corporation, was on the jury of Business Today's Most Powerful Women in Indian Business 2016. In an interview with Business Today, he talks about the business imperative of gender diversity and the biases women face at the workplace. Excerpts:

Q. What are the defining moments for the journey of women in India Inc.?

Given that diversity has been the core of our cultural fabric in India, one often finds a naturally created diverse workforce in India Inc. Globalisation and glocalisation have changed the context for business all over the world, including India, leading a shift in discourse among Indian businesses and discussions about diversity.

India Inc. has realised the business case for gender diversity for it to remain competitive and relevant in today's context. We have seen adoption of policies, processes and focused efforts to create an enabling environment for women in India Inc. in the past few years. While initial results are encouraging, we still have a long way to go as gender imbalances continue to prevail especially in corporate boardrooms across the world, not just in India.

Personally for me, we attained a landmark moment when TCS became the first employer to have one lakh women employees on their payroll. June 2014 saw the number of Fortune 500 women CEOs reaching historic high with 24 female CEOs. SEBI finalising a mandate of at least one woman on the board of publicly listed companies from April 2015 is an important landmark.

Women constitute 34 per cent of the IT-BPM workforce (over 1.3 million women employees) - an increase of around 1.8 times since FY2009. Nearly 10 per cent of these women are in senior management roles (approximately 1 per cent in the C-suite). Further, around 28 per cent of the women employees in the sector are primary breadwinners, thereby indicating the changing trend of women's employment and inclusion in the sector, according to a Nasscom PwC survey, Mar 2016.

I feel when the importance of gender equality is developed in every household in our country and we realise the importance of education and financial independence, we will reach a defining moment. I also feel that every woman in our country deserves an environment that will help nurture her dreams and aspirations, be it in a metro or a small village. It needs to go beyond tokenism as necessitated by social or legal demands to a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion in its true essence.

Q. Why have women reached senior positions in IT and banking and financial services?

Are services more women friendly? The services industry is better aligned to the differentiating styles of women, this alignment helps women and in turn the business thrives. Banking did not present women with the challenges and stereotypes other sectors posed. I think banking comes naturally to women considering they are more structured, conservative and cautious when it comes to dealing with finances! In addition to this, these industries started to inculcate the culture of diversity at a much earlier stage than its counterparts.

IT and BFSI provide a conducive environment for women. Our industry functions with the intent of being an equal opportunity employer. We make an effort to fine tune and amend policies pertaining to the health and safety of women. The amount of flexibility we show in implementing these reflects our outlook towards women employees. This is perhaps one of the most important reasons that led to more women joining and remaining with us.

Q. What are the inherent biases that still run against women?

Our minds are obstinate beasts. They are wired in a particular way and we tend to follow them consciously or unconsciously. The Indian family setup to some extent is still conservative and patriarchal in nature. Women are viewed as a homemaker and a primary caregiver. A working woman today is expected to prioritise her responsibilities in a way that puts her household chores and children first. In a double-income family, somehow the woman will always have to compromise when making decisions with regards to her career path.

In organisations, biases exist at every level of employee - while preparing a job description, hiring, promotions, opportunity for key job assignments, performance appraisals, etc.

We need to de-bias the organisations by continued awareness, and redesign the processes to prevent biased decisions. For example, men tend to inflate their ratings during self-evaluation. So this prompts a manager to give a better score to his/her men reportees due to anchoring effect. So, can we look at not sharing the self-evaluations with managers before they have made up their minds?

Another example is reviewing the content of job descriptions. Describing the preferred candidate as 'competitive' or 'assertive' attracts more men than women. Hence, to assure the 100 per cent of the talent pool, we should be conscious about the recruitment language. Although the mindset seems to be changing gradually, inherent biases include mobility constraints in a job, which requires travel and working late nights. Organisations are developing policies for women employees that not only provide equal opportunities for a fruitful career but also recognise the values they bring to an organisation.

Q. Are some industries still women unfriendly?

It will be unfair for me to say that some industries are unfriendly. In today's scenario, most industries understand that diversity is a strength at the workplace. We have always had airlines, hospitality and telecom industry providing us round-the-clock services with men and women in employment. More and more companies are creating an enabling work environment for women to thrive and grow. As the manufacturing industry moves forward contributing to 25 per cent of GDP, women must have an equal share in employment. That would be an aspirational goal for our nation.

Q. Do you think there is a glass ceiling? If yes, has it been broken?

I feel that the 'glass ceiling' is an old concept that is fading fast and its remnants are seen in the minds of some individuals. In this day and age, if an individual has passion and determination to succeed, their gender does not make a difference. Success comes to those who work hard for it.

However, women face a range of barriers or unconscious biases on the way to leadership. Some of those include traditional images of leadership being associated with qualities that are viewed as male qualities; women have few female role models at high levels of leadership; career paths and work are often defined by or associated with gender; women are held to higher standards and offered fewer rewards; women are not part of the networks that supply information and support; women face a double bind of being either competent or liked - but not both; the combination of work and home responsibilities is a greater burden for women; women may be hesitant to advocate for themselves or self-promote.

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