Assistant Vice President, Corporate Sustainability , Wells Fargo India Solutions
Vishnupriya has 15 years of experience. She has worked across diverse industries with clients lik... more>>
A leading Indian newspaper recently reported that while women account for over 30% of total workforce of India Inc (a poor, although reassuring figure) their presence is as low as less than 7% at the board-level positions. This was a result of a survey of over 1,400 companies in India. The figure is less than 100.
On a global front, the picture is no different. An international magazine mentions that “in the representation of women on boards, according to the data by Riskmetrics International in 2011, European Nordic countries would be at the top of the list, with figures of more than 20%, followed by US companies (12%) and the rest of European countries (13% in France, Germany 11%, UK and Spain 9% Italy 4% and Portugal 2%).” The Asian countries were at the bottom of the rung, again. The good news, however, was that the numbers are improving and at the senior management level, gender is top priority on the diversity agenda for many companies.
And to what do we attribute these poor statistics? While it may be true that women are still not being considered as board members by a male-dominated senior leadership, it is also a fact, that there are comparatively lesser candidates to choose from.
The reason: A position in the top management rung demands more time and attention. A woman committed to her family’s responsibilities is usually looking after growing children, shouldering demanding familial responsibilities and dousing domestic ‘fires’. More often than not, finding themselves in this work-personal life quandary, women in leading positions quit or consciously step back. The other reality is that women joined the work force much later in the social cycle and are therefore lesser in number at senior levels.
But where do we go from here to make things better? A definite solution in place is to strive for better work-life balance. I consider myself lucky that I work for an organization that gives due importance to this aspect, helping me manage my kids, their education and other domestic responsibilities along with my work. This is not to say that I haven’t had my share of challenges. What has been and will be different is my approach is my focus on the solutions, rather than giving up.
Organizations too need to take that extra step to retain and attract women. With India becoming the hub for talent, this talent group needs to be better leveraged. Most organizations today recognize that there are different needs of this diverse segment, and many have already taken steps to ensure that the work environment and the culture in the organization are inclusive with resources made available for women to succeed. One such step is getting together a group with a shared background, and which due to its own set of affinity can connect better with the organization and within itself. Team member networks such as a women’s network prove to be a helpful initiative. At Wells Fargo India Solutions, for instance, we have a women’s network which provides the women team members with a common platform to connect and learn from each other’s experiences - professional and personal. It enables them to have access to senior members in the organization, who can then serve as inspiration, support system and be a mentor for furthering individual careers. Creating a sense of stronger belonging, the network helps contribute to building an inclusive environment, and provides resources and tools for women to succeed.
As far as measurable success, I see much has already been penned by researchers far more qualified to do the analysis. Extensive research has indicated that diversity in general, and gender diversity in particular, brings variety in views, leading to constructive debates around higher level organizational issues. Even for the external viewer; a consumer, stakeholder or a prospective employee, the presence of women on the organization’s board indicates a different set of skills, experiences, and perspectives. Significantly, women leaders send a powerful message to retain and attract talent.
Although, not conclusive, research has indicated that a woman’s presence in a boardroom does significantly better performance. Women, who are inherently cautious, have ensured better corporate governance with improved risk management, audit control and decreased ethical oversight, leading to better corporate performance in the long term, financially and non-financially.
Around 2009, when the world was in deep economic crisis a moderator at the World Economic Forum, Davos raised a hornet’s nest by asking a simple question. “Would the world be in a lesser mess had Lehman Brothers been Lehman Sisters?” While the question might have gotten a few male members uncomfortable, undoubtedly it set others thinking… I cannot answer that question either but for my part have re-stated some of the key findings from different research studies and surveys. I reiterate: the success of diverse leadership is really on us. Research can be indicative but to make it conclusive, we have a lot to do in our domain – strive for better work life balance, make smart career choices, and work towards the positions we deserve. That will be a step towards turning around the dismal figures we currently have in boardroom and senior leadership gender diversity. The opinions expressed in this article are of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the employer.
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