India has had the good fortune of witnessing some women redefining corporate leadership, business landscape and the political arena. While this is true, what is also uncomfortably evident is the inequality that prevails with the larger segments of women in these domains. A level playing field for most women is conspicuous by its absence. What is also evident is that, the women who have made their mark in their fields have done it despite the unconscious and conscious barriers and biases.
Currently, India stands at the 87th position in the Global Gender Gap Index, with 27% participation of women in the work force — one of the lowest in the world. India has witnessed a 10% decline in women’s participation in the work force in the last decade. Interestingly, 11% of 240 large companies – Indian-owned as well as multinational, private as well as state-owned — have women CEOs in India, according to a study carried out by executive search firm EMA Partners. By contrast, only 3% of the Fortune 500 companies in the world have women CEOs. Still, research says, the participation of women in the workforce is dismal in India – and this is limiting economic growth.
So, where exactly is the challenge?
There are several factors that are keeping women away from the workforce or prompting them to quit – the country’s patriarchal culture is a major one, experts say.
Let’s take Urmila Sampath’s example from Mumbai who had a successful career as an accountant with a multinational company, where she had climbed to the position of senior manager. But just over two years ago she decided to quit her job to stay at home and look after her young daughters. “As a mother, it’s difficult to manage kids and work,” she says. “It’s also hard since a lot of Indian men have not grown up in an atmosphere where they are trained to manage home-related work.” Ms Sampath is not an isolated example.
“Societal norms in India influence the perception of women in the home environment where they generally play the main nurturing role,” says Neha Jain, the associate director at Michael Page India, a recruitment agency. “This has made it challenging for women to manage both professional as well as home responsibilities. Unfortunately, this has led to several women professionals trading off their careers prematurely to concentrate on family life. They feel burdened with the need to constantly prove themselves both to society and at work.”
Other issues fuelling the trend of women not working include “concerns about safety in addition to the inadequate availability of childcare and lower wages which is a constant struggle for women on top of their household duties”, she adds.
In addition to these challenges, at work they are deemed successful only if they can perform with the aggression and attributes of successful men leaders. That women can have their own style of leadership is not a spoken or expected narrative. The common expectation is that women should be pushing ahead through all the obstacles in their personal and professional life, if they want an equitable status at the workplace. The fact that most of the workforce is still not capable of working under a woman leader only makes a tough situation tougher.
- The solution for this complex challenge must therefore ensure that:This challenge not being viewed as a “challenge for women”, but a challenge for the entire ecosystem of organisations, the society and the government. That women are not adequately represented in all platforms is not a loss just for women, it is a larger loss for the organisations, society and governments. Progress cannot be complete and sustainable unless all stakeholders of the system contribute equitably.
- It is not so much that the women need to be “skilled differently for leadership roles”, as much as the environment needs to be equipped to deal with diversity. The other stakeholders in their lives – home and work – must be skilled to also play an augmented multi-dimensional role. The environment needs to provide equitable policies for men and women so that both play equitable roles at home and at the workplace. Creating special policies only for women only perpetuates the inequality and leads to resentment.
- Women need to believe that they have equal rights and responsibilities. While they have a right to any profession and limitless growth, they also have the responsibility to own and drive it and not be dependent on “special quota like policies”. They have the right to ask for equal participation in building support networks.
The question then is whether today’s workplace is conducive enough to deal with the challenge in a wholesome manner and not just limit it to “skilling” women to be better leaders?
- Bundhun, R. (2018). Indian women face uphill struggle climbing up the corporate ladder. Retrieved from www.thenational.ae: https://www.thenational.ae/business/economy/indian-women-face-uphill-struggle-climbing-up-the-corporate-ladder-1.752678
- Ipsita Kathuria, N. S. (2017). Where have all the women leaders gone? Retrieved from thehindubusinessline.com: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/where-have-all-the-women-leaders-gone/article9893200.ece
- Manjulika Koshal, R. K. (1998). Women managers in India: challenges and opportunities. Retrieved from researchgate.net: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235317779_Women_managers_in_India_challenges_and_opportunities