Companies must bring in their women leaders to talk to college-goers about how the workplace is like and what behaviours will help them build a career.
According to a McKinsey Global Institute Report, if India achieves gender equality, $700 billion of GDP could be added in 2025. The share of GDP output generated by women is only 17 per cent in India. Gender disparity is as much a moral issue as it is a social, political and economic issue and changes need to happen in each of these spheres.
WOMEN DO 10 TIMES UNPAID WORK THAT MEN DO…
On the social front, traditional ingrained thinking and attitudes about women’s role in non-paid, domestic and family work must change. Research shows that women in India do around 10 times the unpaid work that men do. Should this move into paid-work it would contribute $0.3 trillion to India’s economic output. Equally important, it would create a larger group of financially independent women and change the thinking of future generations.
One argument is that the woman’s earnings would go towards paying for child-care, eldercare and domestic help. But this does not take into account the fact that an educated career woman’s wages will grow at a faster rate than that of the domestic help. India is still at a point where employment as household help is an opportunity for women and men to contribute to their family’s financial well-being and we should make the best possible use of it.
We boast of the demographic dividend that India has. Part of this is the educated women who can join the workforce. But we don’t seem to have thought about how we will deploy it to create an economic boom. This article will focus on what companies can do, as they would be primary beneficiaries of tapping the female talent pool.
Most parents want their daughters to graduate from college. However, aspirations for daughters seem to stop there. For women, a career is a choice that they make. The default is still that the man in their lives, either a father or a husband, will support them. As a result, women students focus on academics as an end-result, not as a means to build a career. Small wonder, career planning lacks intentionality. How can companies help address this?
INFLUENCE BEFORE THEY INDUCT
Companies can bring in their women leaders to talk to students, right from the first year onwards, about what the workplace is like and what behaviours will help them build a career. These leaders must emphasise the importance of not turning down today’s opportunities by imagining tomorrow’s constraints.
Mind-set change takes time. Over the four years of college, when students listen to successful women talk of a meaningful career that earns her not only income but respect, they will begin to see a path that they had not considered. These ‘Leadership Connect’ sessions should help encourage women to dream, to understand that ambition and aspiration to reach the top, are excellent traits.
Indra Nooyi is a fantastic aspirational role model, but young women need role models who they can relate to, who are no more than 5-10 years older. These younger leaders would have life-experiences that are similar to the students and would, therefore, be life-sized!
SUPPORT AND SUSTAIN
Marriage and Motherhood is a big part of a woman’s life. Companies need policies that actively support their female workforce through these milestones.
Policies must address providing the right opportunities for pregnant women and young mothers to help them manage their various commitments. Flexi-time roles and part-time roles that encourage women to handle their responsibilities smoothly are essential to retaining women through those challenging years. Crèche and day-care facilities that allow parents to monitor the wellbeing of their children will lead to a more engaged human resource.
NUDGE AND NURTURE…
There is growing evidence that nurture plays a significant role in who we become. Many of us fondly remember a teacher, a boss or a friend who made our lives turn in the direction of success. There is also evidence that women exhibit diffidence in volunteering for challenging business roles, due to prior conditioning. Women need to be coaxed to think of themselves as being a good fit for a ‘dream’ job. Men will volunteer to get noticed. Women will stand back for an invitation.
Nudging women to take that tough job, build new skills and venture into unfamiliar roles are mentoring functions that leaders must undertake to nurture women leaders for tomorrow.
COACH AND CONNECT…
More women than men opt to be the ‘less career-oriented’ spouse. They settle for roles that allow them to control their work hours, travel less and leave their evenings and weekends for family. Over a period of a few years, they trail behind their peers and are no longer even considered for line roles that lead to the C-suite.
Companies must coach women to take on challenging line jobs, where they are accountable for business development, revenue and profits. These are the roles that lead to the C-suite.
Networking is the last item on the priority list of any woman. Companies must encourage their women to look for role models across industries. In the process, they’ll develop women employees who are ambitious, motivated and competitive and the company will reap the benefit of great talent.
ALIGN AND ACT
Change happens when every leader in the company deploy the policies in the spirit in which they were created. Often, the CEO and his direct reports believe in gender diversity and want to fix the leaky pipeline, but the commitment is diluted as we go down to the line managers, because, while the ‘what’ is understood, the ‘how’ isn’t quite clear.
If we truly believe that economic prosperity requires women to be as engaged in the workforce as men, then we need to address these bumps on the road:
• Setting gender diversity goals in the performance scorecard of every manager
• Creating a change management programme that educates on the need to support and coach and inspire women employees
• Offering professional growth incentives to leaders who go the extra mile to nurture and retain women
• Rewarding managers who identify, groom and sponsor high-potential, high-performing women to leadership roles
• Celebrating women who take advantage of the opportunities offered to them to move to top management positions.
However, we must also create the right mind-set in women to take advantage of policies and programmes designed by their companies. To ensure this, we must educate every school-going girl to think that she is responsible for her financial independence. Only then will we see rising participation of women in the workforce.