Business Today

How to prevent women from dropping out

A Business Today-Nasscom roundtable, moderated by the magazine's Editor Chaitanya Kalbag, dissects the issue.

twitter-logo Goutam Das   Mumbai     Last Updated: February 28, 2012  | 12:06 IST

Here are the vital stats: About 66 per cent of the world's work is done by women, 50 per cent of the food is prepared by them, but they own only 1 per cent of the world's property.

Forget India. Even in advanced countries like the US, women are not treated on par with men and there are only a handful of women in leadership positions in companies. In the Indian IT sector, a new economy industry, only 5 per cent of its 2.8 million workforce are women in senior positions. The industry, like many other sectors, has been grappling with a high percentage of dropouts after the junior level.

Why is this so? And what can be done to retain them? A Business Today-Nasscom roundtable discussed the issues, moderated by the magazine's Editor, Chaitanya Kalbag.

Aruna Jayanthi, CEO of Capgemini India, said that business still happens in the old boys' club.  Changing that would require a cultural transformation. A lot of mentoring would have to be done - even in small things like how to conduct an interview. It is easy to petrify a woman candidate during an interview if there are five men on the panel and no lady.

"The IT industry is a very easy industry for women to work in. But it is also an industry where you need to be agile and available 24/7. We need to be tough and demanding with women," she noted, hinting that she believed in the equality of treatment as much as opportunity.

Other panelists batted for flexibility - only that could prevent dropouts.  Avinash Vashistha, Chairman and MD of Accenture India, suggested breaking up a job into smaller bits to understand what part of it was not flexible. "The IT industry has spent years convincing clients that work can be done from 10,000 miles away. For the IT industry it is not difficult to offer flexibility. If senior employees don't sit in the office and work from wherever they are, we are comfortable with it," he said.

Accenture has a women leadership programme in the company that helps it retain talent.

Darcy Antonellis, president, technical operations at Warner Bros., also participated in the roundtable. Her company has a programme for high potential women employees that attempts to get them a level-playing field - in the US, surprisingly, there is a stigma around women who study science!

"It is viewed to be not correct if as a young girl I enjoy math or if I am interested in science and technology - one tends to shy away from those areas," she said. "All technologists should promote talent and talent within the female ranks, for the benefit of business, growth, impact on GDP etc. We are working on things like high potential employees who can be mentored; they will be given opportunities but at the end of the day, they have to deliver. But mentorship and support can go a long way," she held.

Why not link a manager's, or for that matter a chairman's incentives to the number of women hires, Kalbag asked the panelists. After all, most managers react very well to targets.

Some levels of targets will help but one has to be cautious, replied Jayanthi. "You have to make sure it is a well balanced one because in order to earn bonus, one can hire without caring who it is. There has to be a check and balance," she said.

Many countries have announced that board positions should have at least one woman director. But there are not enough women to fulfill those positions. "About 70 per cent of the companies in India will be non-compliant because there are not enough women out there. Targets can help to certain extent but to me it is a five-seven years journey. There is a skilling and pipeline problem," she felt.

Antonellis said Warner Bros. had a solution to the skilling problem. Her firm takes high potential women through very stressful, high exposure situations - this could mean managing projects that has chairman level visibility. "Those type of fast track processes has accelerated a number of young women's ability to feel confident about their capabilities. They also learn how to communicate, particularly technical-based arguments and concepts, to a non-technical audience. That is where we work hard to train executives," she said.

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