Ensuring that women hold senior positions in companies makes strong business sense. Most leading companies recognize this today. While there are prominent women private sector leaders in India, much remains to be done. Fact is, women account for only 4 percent of the CEOs in publicly listed companies among the Bombay Stock Exchange 100.
According to a recent report brought out by the McKinsey Global institute, titled Power of Parity, India was an outlier with only 17 percent female participation in the labour force. India's gender equality ranking was much lower than what it should be in its current stage of economic development. Besides the formal female labour-force participation in India being alarmingly low, women spend up to nine times as much time as men in unpaid care work. Globally, women spend three times as much time as men doing unpaid family work.
The government is making efforts to address this and the new Maternity Bill is one such example. The Bill introduces a provision that requires every company with 50 or more employees to provide crèche facilities within a prescribed distance, in an effort to encourage women to return to work after having children. While there has been debate over the Bill, the important fact is that it is bringing attention to a real need in India. Provision of crèche facilities, both company or community based, coupled with flexi-working hours can result in higher retention rates of employees for companies.
A recent case study that the International Finance Corporation (IFC) conducted with Mindtree in India found that higher retention was cited as one of the many benefits of childcare offered to women and men. While some companies are making efforts to improve hiring and promotion practices to ensure that more women are retained and rise in their careers, there is a long way to go. Research shows that when women are internally promoted, it can often pay dividends in terms of better financial results, higher motivation, and stronger loyalty resulting in better employee performance. While retention and career progression is an issue in India, the other question is how to recruit more women and bring back those who left their careers mid-way? After all, more than 70 percent of women in India have simply not entered the formal labour force.
To bring attention and awareness to these issues, IFC hosted a dialogue with CEOs and top managers from the private sector, with the theme #Be Bold for Change in Mumbai. IFC is the world's largest global development institution focused exclusively on the private sector. IFC's commitment to advancing gender equality is anchored in a strong business case and in client demand for gender-smart solutions. This is achieved by working closely with clients to reduce the gap between women and men as entrepreneurs, employees, corporate leaders, suppliers, consumers, and community stakeholders.
The dialogue helped highlight insights on how Indian companies addressed corporate gaps between women and men or promoted gender friendly policies while realizing business benefits. Panel members included CEOs from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Unilever, Mondelez and Cipla, who candidly shared their private sector approaches and lessons in recruiting, retaining, and promoting women. Several panelists also shared their personal experiences, proving that motherhood and professional growth are compatible. The co-Country Head of Morgan Stanley and Executive Vice Chairman of Cipla mentioned the importance of having a mentor and role model. They both cited fellow panelist, Zia Mody of AZB Partners, as having reached out to them when they were returning to work after having their children and highlighted the importance of having a mentor to build their confidence and share guidance at that critical time.
Panel members shared practical guidance and business case data on how their companies have invested in their female talent to strengthen the bottom line. Speaking at the #Be Bold for Change event, Bunty Bohra, Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs Services (India), stated, "Thought leadership around diversity is important, but taking action and creating accountability is what achieves meaningful outcomes." Bohra added, "Diverse recruiting strategies, such as our Returnship Program for those looking to return to the workforce, and investments in infrastructure, such as our full-time childcare centre, have delivered tangible results in our effort to attract, retain, and develop top female talent."
The McKinsey report found that over 75 percent of people interviewed in India believed that "when a mother works for pay, the children suffer."
Mengistu Alemayehu, Regional Director, IFC South Asia, went on to say, "Few other successes can have the most profound and lasting contribution to social, political, and economic advancement of humanity than achieving gender equality and women empowerment. In this regard, IFC's approach has been to pro-actively work towards the economic ownership and corporate leadership of women." IFC has committed to expanding its work in India with current and new clients to ensure that women can access jobs and assets.
While innovative polices are needed to bring women into the formal labour force, attitudes of both men and women need to change. The McKinsey report found that over 75 percent of people interviewed in India believed that "when a mother works for pay, the children suffer." Less than 30 percent believed this in Germany and Australia, reflecting that attitudes influence gender equality outcomes. Many women in India work very hard in the informal sector, without recognition or remuneration.
This article is a call to action for employers, policy makers, and families to take steps and do their bit towards providing more and better job opportunities for women, coupled with supportive measures to ease the burden of unpaid domestic duties. A progressive societal mindset can propel us towards effectively supporting women entering the formal labour force with success, dignity and motivation.