Across the globe, there is growing global awareness of the need to increase gender diversity in the workforce. Corporate India is no exception, and there are some very noteworthy instances of women in leadership roles, but Grant Thornton’s ‘International Business Report’ in March 2014 actually stated that the proportion of women in senior positions in the Indian workforce reduced from 19% in 2013 to 14% in 2014. Indian organisations have been rather slow to accept this new mantra.
Need of Diversity
According to a study conducted by the Pittsburgh-based human resources consulting firm DDI, the companies that perform best financially have the greatest numbers of women in leadership roles.
In 2012, a Harvard study found that “at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows.”
And if this is not sufficient reason to want more women in leadership roles in organisations, we must also recognise that women leaders can foster a better environment and introduce a strong team orientation into organisational culture. There have also been studies to show that women leaders are more loyal to the organisation. They bring in greater stability and are less prone to attrition.
Studies around the world have shown that companies that have a greater number of women on their senior management are able to tap into a fuller spectrum of creativity and innovation.
Never mind nurturing and sensitivity. The fact is that women are now essential to the bottom line. That alone is why Indian organisations need to be proactive in employing more women and promoting – or holding on to – the ones they already have to positions of leadership.
A handful of Indian companies is going out of their way to push through the agenda of gender equality, and with a firm reason. “We believe that women bring a unique perspective and approach to any challenge. Our teams are stronger and decision-making is healthier when we have balanced teams,” said Suchitra Rajendra, CHRO, PepsiCo India, to a leading news source.
The company’s belief is validated by a McKinsey research covering 366 companies. It pointed out that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, making it imperative for corporates to establish gender diversity.
Anamika Rashtrawar, Senior President, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance, who leads the all-women initiative, said women bring diversity in distribution of policies. “They don’t have to invest a rupee and the work hours are flexible. It allows us to tap into the vast talent pool of women around us. It is a win-win for all,” she observed.
But even as corporates realise the need to hire women at all management levels, it is a challenge to retain them in the workforce, because they face the dual strains of managing households and careers. “This is why you usually see a drop in number of women at mid-management levels,” said Sumit Mitra, Head – Human Resources and Corporate Services, Godrej Industries.
To address this, companies started offering six months of fully paid maternity leave as well as flexible working options. Corporates also have started putting creches for children up to eight years of age.
“We offer support systems to ensure that women don’t opt out of the workforce,” said PepsiCo’s Rajendra. Not surprisingly, four of the 14 people in PepsiCo India’s leadership team are women. Out of the company’s 14 pay grades, six grades have women being paid more than men, and four have them earning equally. Godrej’s Careers 2.0 programme offers live business projects to women on a career break. A mentor is assigned to each woman to guide them through the organisation and their role. “While the company’s women workforce strength is 35 per cent, there is a drive to get more women in the managerial cadre,” said Mitra.
But the goal towards diversity begins at the hiring level itself and cannot be attained suddenly at the top. So, PepsiCo aims to hire at least 34 per cent women. “We look at the pay grades and ensure there is no discrimination at all,” said Rajendra.
Similarly, Hyundai is also increasing its intake of women as graduate engineer trainees and management trainees who could work in the shop floor in future. “Almost 20 per cent of vacancies are now filled by women as we consciously look at the options to maintain diversity,” said Stephen Sudhakar John, Senior Vice-President – HR & GS, Hyundai India.
Mitra said Godrej Properties has improved the women ratio in workforce from 16 per cent three years ago to 26 per cent now. “The team did not lower the bar on hiring, but instead made sure that there are enough women candidates in the recruiting pipeline,” he said. Hiring and retaining women employees requires a sensitised workplace. “We conduct gender intelligence workshops across functions and locations to sensitise both men and women and bring out the importance of having a gender-balanced organisation,” said Rajendra. Because, until there is sensitisation at the workplace, no amount of efforts can ensure gender equality in an organisation.