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Why We Need Champions Of Change To Keep Women In The Workplace

10/11/2016 3:36 PM IST | Updated 13/11/2016 9:23 AM IST
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India is a diverse country. Rather than one homogeneous culture, India is a combination of people from different races, religions, languages, castes, and many other aspects of diversity. However, India falls behind other countries in South Asia when it comes to gender equality.

Despite the fact that India elected a woman Prime Minister way back in 1966, it lags behind its neighbours in women's workforce participation. Women in India still have to fight for their place in the womb, family and the society we live in.

Growing gaps

According to the 2011 India Census, 48.5% of the total population in India is women, and yet we have less than 26% of women participating in the workforce. In fact, there has been a downward trend in the number of women joining the workforce. In the last 10 years, while the percentage of women enrolling in colleges and other higher education courses has gone up, their participation in the workforce has gone down.

While the percentage of women enrolling in colleges and other higher education courses has gone up, their participation in the workforce has gone down.

The reason? Antiquated labour laws restrict women's work opportunities. The anti-sexual harassment law was passed only in December 2013. And, safety for women, especially while commuting, is a huge concern. We still do not have easy access to the law and justice. No wonder, India is ranked 87th on the World Economic Forum's 2016 Gender Gap Index, among the bottom half of measured countries.

Getting more women in the workplace isn't enough

What if we improve the situation and increase women representation in the corporate world? Increasing the levels of women employment comparable to male levels could raise the gross domestic product (GDP) to a net impact of 27% in India. Last year's McKinsey Global Institute report The Power of Parity: Advancing Women's Equality in India, found that India could increase its GDP by 16% by 2025, partly due to raising women's labour force participation by 10 percentage points (adding 68 million more women).

If only it were as easy as getting the women into the workplace. Once there, women must face the battle of persistent gender stereotypes in the workplace. In the United States, Catalyst research has found that almost half of all women (46%) compared to 5% of men, talk about stereotypes being a barrier in their career. Across cultures, managers thought women leaders are better at people-oriented behaviours such as supporting, mentoring, and rewarding, while men are good at task-oriented behaviours such as delegating and influencing upward.

Further to this, our report highlights the challenges and gender stereotyping women leaders face are due to being evaluated against masculine leadership traits. For example, women leaders are considered too tough or too soft in their approach but never just right. Similarly, they face higher standards and get lower rewards than men. Additionally, women leaders are perceived as competent or likable but never both. In short, women "take care" and men "take charge." While facilitating workshops on unconscious bias and its impact on careers, I usually ask participants to share their experience of discrimination at work. Examples shared include how women have faced biases or some kind of sexual intimidation, how these acts led to missed opportunities or almost dropping out from the workforce.

Educating senior-level leaders, especially men

During a workshop I facilitated, a senior gentleman raised his hand and vehemently denied accusations of women not getting their due. He further stated that women are respected a lot in India. He shared, "We pray to women goddesses, many of our rivers—among the most important resources for mankind—are named after them." The gentleman also mentioned that claims about unfair treatment of women in the workplace is a Western concept. I was stunned and shocked. As I was collecting my thoughts on the most appropriate way to respond to him, a young lady spoke up and told the gentleman that the reality is far different from what he described. That he should look around his community and workplace to observe and acknowledge the realities facing women in India, and think of what he can do to bring in change.

Women leaders are perceived as competent or likable but never both. In short, women "take care" and men "take charge."


I was and am in awe of this young woman. While she had not experienced the bias a returning mother faces at work and home or the sticky floors or glass cliff, she had the maturity to understand the challenges. She had the guts to call out a senior leader who was oblivious to the challenges women faced. It was a much-needed wake up call for him and others in the room underscoring the need for men to actively promote diversity and inclusion, and become gender champions with their words and actions.

We need more women disrupters and male champions

India has seen many women disruptors across sectors—Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairperson, State Bank of India; Chanda Kochhar, managing director and chief executive officer, ICICI Bank Limited; Dr. Yasmine Hilton, chairperson, Shell Companies in India; and Chitra Ramkrishna, managing director and chief executive officer, National Stock Exchange, among many others. All these women have one thing in common—they don't "look like" their past leaders. They broke barriers to reach where they are today by being unique in their strategies and decisions. More recently we have also seen disruptions in the sports arena through women who brought laurels to the country: Sakshi Malik, P V Sindhu, Mary Kom and Deepa Karmakar. They all make us believe that anything is possible, irrespective of your gender. And the men who believed in the capabilities of the women they coached, mentored and nurtured to reach the pinnacle of their success? They are disruptors in their own right.

We need more champions of change, both women and men. For that is what diversity and inclusion truly represent. Each one of us has the power to create change in our circle of influence. By sharing the responsibility of inclusion in every sphere of life, we will not only have great places to work but also happier homes and healthier lives.

Like we always like to say—It Takes EACH of Us!

Authored by Shachi Irde, Executive Director, Catalyst India WRC

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