It’s International Women’s Day 2020 – but the race for ‘Gender Equality’ is still on
Anushruti Singh March 7, 2020
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Despite several panel talks on women empowerment and equality globally, women continue to be underrepresented at every level. A McKinsey 2018 survey report revealed that only 25 per cent of women account for the total labour force in India, contributing a mere 18 per cent to India’s GDP.
Unfortunately, their GDP contribution is far below the average of 37 per cent, contributed by women globally. Despite all endeavours made by the government, non-profit organizations and corporates, these statistics make us want to take a pause and question – Have we really been able to make a significant impact on equal representation of women in the workplace?
Every year we read several Women’s Day stories about the increasing participation of women in almost all economic verticals and entry in boardrooms of many companies. But, at the same time, we also talk about ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents females from reaching the upper floors. Sadly, not a single country today can claim that they have achieved gender equality.
However, gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive. This year the official theme for International women’s day is #EachforEqual. This campaign theme is drawn from a notion of ‘Collective Individualism’. With this message, women can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate their achievements. Focusing on the theme, let’s hear out what entrepreneurs and industry experts have to say on the importance of equality in our society and workplaces.
Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. The challenges that still persist.
The social bias is the biggest challenge. People expect entrepreneurs to be bold risk-takers and quick decision-makers etc. – an image created by the quintessential male persona that has dominated the scene for long.
“All of you know of the ghost called, ‘Unconscious bias’, which is one of the key factors for gender inequality.” Talking about the challenges that women generally faces at the workplace, Manbir Kaur, an executive and leadership coach – ICF-PCC and author of ‘Are You The Leader You Want To Be?’ says:
“Thoughtful, cautious, and caring women entrepreneurs may be considered misfit for this cut-throat world, and sometimes find this as a challenge. Often when women start a business, people do not take them seriously, they consider their business as a hobby and not a full-time affair. This social stereotyping of women acts as big discouragement. Women have to put in extra effort to prove otherwise.”Manbir Kaur, an executive and leadership coach
On the other hand, finance is the major women’s issue – according to Sudarshan Suchi, secretary- General SOS Children’s Villages of India. He says banks and other financial institutions should provide financial assistance to women, who are willing to do business.
The government can provide interest-free loans, capital subsidies, power tariff subsidies, tax concessions, and marketing assistance to promote entrepreneurship among women.
“Many female entrepreneurs believe that they find it difficult to succeed in the market due to lack of experience. The government should, therefore, conduct frequent training programmes and workshops regarding new manufacturing techniques, sales and marketing, information and communication technologies and other emerging sectors etc,” Suchi feels.
He further adds, “Making them realize their strengths and important position within society and the greatest contribution they can make to the manufacturing, trading and service industries as well as to the economy as a whole. Besides these, women’s involvement in economic development includes arrangements to lighten their domestic workload and release them for other economically and socially productive work.”
While women entrepreneurs face many problems and challenges in their path to becoming a successful entrepreneur, many steps have been taken by the government to develop women entrepreneurs. To name a few: several training programmes organized by the government for women’s self-employment, include Support for Training and Employment Programme of Women (STEP), Development of Women, Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) and Small Industry Service Institutes (SISIs).
The world is moving towards gender equality, but there are some lingering challenges for women who are balancing personal and professional commitments. When women select challenging work areas, they have to forever justify their choices.
“Work life balance is very difficult when children are small and if the support structure is missing in their families.”Priyadarshini Nigam, Head-CSR, Newgen Software.
“Often women in nuclear families have a tough time with domestic chores and work. While every woman’s situation is different, there are still many cases where they are tasked with an uneven amount of responsibilities within home, especially when compared to male counterparts. The dual responsibility of running a home and a career can take its toll on mental and physical health,” she shares.
Additionally, in business, there are still instances where investors and partner companies have reservations about working with women-owned or led businesses. These challenges are certainly lessening with time, however, women in leadership roles will have to continue to pave the way for coming generations in the way of gender equality.
How important is equality for women in business?
Equality between women and men is critical not for only maintaining stable societies, but also for building a sustainable and vibrant world economy. For women, economic opportunities are still less than men. They are still denied equal chance of education and political participation.
On this, Suchi of SOS Children’s Villages of India, says, “According to the World Economic Forum 2016, the gap between men and women in economic participation has increased. Only 59 per cent of economic participation gaps were closed, i.e. the progress of several years and the lowest index value measured since 2008 have been steadily reversed, connection to education and health care is vitally important.”
But in economic opportunity, gender parity is fundamentally linked to whether or not the societies will be sustainable. “The evidence is clear that, in order to recognize the full potential of the economy, women need to be an integral part of the global talent pool and that will ensure that they have an equal place for businesses around the world,” he believes.
Nigam, on the other side, touted gender equality as a buzzword or a quota for which companies have to fill. She believes, “Studies across the board have shown that businesses with a gender diverse workforce significantly perform above industry standards. So, when growth and profit are the ultimate goals of most businesses, it just makes sense to invest in the right talent, irrespective of gender.”
More on #EachforEqual
“Also, women exhibit strong communication and empathic skills – traits which have long been attributed to effective leaders in business. Companies would be remiss not to take advantage of these skills, especially within B2C companies, where the overwhelming majority of consumers today are women,” Nigam adds.
Leadership coach Kaur quotes an S&P Quantamental research published in October 2019. The report states that firms with female CEOs and CFOs have produced superior stock price performance, compared to the market average. In the 24 months post appointment, female CEOs saw a 20 per cent increase in stock price momentum and female CFOs saw a 6 per cent increase in profitability and 8 per cent larger stock returns. These results are economically and statistically significant.
“These results speak a lot and provide fundamental reasons for promoting equality for women in business”Kaur quips.
Meanwhile, according to Suchi, it is important for workplaces to achieve gender equality not only because it is ‘ fair’ and ‘ the right thing to do, ‘ but also because it is related to the overall economic success of one country. Gender equality in the workplace is associated to:
- Enhanced domestic growth and productivity
- Better business efficiency
- Improved client ability to attract talent and retain employees
- Enhanced credibility for the company
Gender equality is absolutely crucial in the business world. A successful business will only benefit by attracting both men and women in their organization. It is a fact that successful organizations with the most gender diversity outperform those with the least.
Shilpi Gupta, founder of a fashion brand Surkhab Bespoke, tells: “My organization believes that experience and qualification, not gender, are key drivers that decide suitability of a candidate. In my experience I have seen that women are no less competent to men in any way and their contribution has played a significant role in my firm’s performance and reputation. Responsibility, dedication and passion are key strengths that women in my firm showcase.”
Calling diversity good for business, Gupta believes that gender equality is a crucial differentiator. Organizations with the most gender diversity out-perform those with the least.” In my experience, women are equally, if not more, focused and enthusiastic as men in setting goals and achieving those in the business world,”
The key is to take the right decisions while choosing the right talent for hiring for the jobs, which can be translated into successful organization, Gupta adds.
“I don’t think women have any illusions of preferential treatment, but it does have to be a fair one. The future belongs to empowered women and, the best way to predict the future is to create it.”
How can we change to create a gender-equal world?
#Educate a girl
As a saying goes, “educating a girl is educating two families in future”. To make this happen, we must provide women and girls with the skills to work and change gender norms, opines Suchi.
“Part of rethinking leadership is changing gender norms. We have to increase awareness and move in efforts to develop gender-neutral leadership, fostering key leadership potential in relation to impartial skills. It is important to remember the systemic obstacles that girl child and women face, given their positive developments. We must recognize and actively reject systematic violence against women. Adopt and enact protective legislation that guarantees access to and encourages a culture of protection and equality in legal, social and medical services.”
Suchi informs that, at SOS India, women are encouraged and motivated for leadership positions. The senior leadership comprises of the national director and seven director posts; out of these eight people, four are women and four men. Gender balance has been maintained at the level of Board of Directors too.
#Media and corporate can change the mindset
How can we change to create a gender-equal world? Kaur answers, “At individual levels, as men and women, both should take responsibility. It will take consistent effort to overcome these biases as they are deep-rooted. Equal respect for all genders is much needed.”
Media and corporates can play crucial role in changing the mindset of people, she believes. “We also need more responsible media that avoids showing news/information biased against one gender, which may provoke hate and negative sentiments. Corporates are changing though, but more efforts are required to create equal opportunity. And, well-intentioned government policies will help accelerate gender equality. We need to fire on all three cylinders, government policies, corporate support, and individual initiative to help create a gender-equal world.”
#Access is the key
Right now, one of the greatest barriers to gender equality is access. Too often, women have been denied access to traditionally male-dominated spaces, regardless of industry or geography. But this disparity is lessening. Over the last five years, female representation in executive roles has increased by 24 per cent. This confirms that offering equal and unbiased access to opportunities, from school to the C-suite, would revolutionize the way women of all ages experience and tackle the world around them.
“In the context of business, the marketplace has been saturated with male-founded and driven companies. Increased access is allowing the women of today to shake up the way business is conducted across all industries,” Nigam says.
She further adds that her firm embodies the same values, “At Newgen Software Technologies, we are committed to hiring employees based solely on their qualifications and abilities, and then nurturing and supporting our employees by offering them equal opportunities for growth and development.”
“Even further, we offer significant accommodations to our employees, regardless of gender, which make it easier to balance their personal and professional lives.”
-Another women leader Chulamas Jitpatima [aka Amy], Director, MQDC India, a Real Estate firm shares her views on this year’s theme. Quoting a study by Harvard Business Review that reveals organizations with a significantly higher number of women in leadership roles are 15 per cent more profitable as compared to organisations with fewer or no women in similar positions.
She also asserts that her company actively encourages meritorious women to lead teams and provide an environment that invites them to actively participate in strategic decision-making. Both, the Thai and Indian teams work together closely to achieve our brand vision and goal of establishing the group in India. “MQDC empowers each member of its team equally and invests in nurturing future leaders,” she claims.
Women still live in a world where gender disparity is truth. To change the numbers, companies need to focus where the real problem persists. Stepping up, being courageous, and taking a stand is key for women to fix the parity issue. Another thing which can add to this is the culture at work, which is equally important. All employees should feel respected and should be given equal opportunities to grow.
By fostering diversity, building a culture of opportunity and fairness, and focusing their attention on the broken rung, companies can close their gender gaps—and make progress on the road to equality.