Going Beyond Celebrations, Facing The Real Issues Of Women In Corporate India – A Tête-a-Tête With Professor Shubhra Gaur, MICA

 

This Woman’s Day, InsideIIM in association with MICA, goes beyond the fluff, the celebratory messages and the hoopla. We bring out real issues that India in general and corporate India in particular is facing regarding gender equality.

Dr Shubhra Gaur, Professor of Business Management at MICA addresses some of the issues that women face in the workplace, the educational institutions and the society of today. Professor Gaur brings to the table an expert’s perspective, having worked in areas such as Women in Management, Gender Inclusivity at The Workplace, and Contemporary Women Managers.

This Woman’s Day, let’s celebrate womanhood, with a conscious effort to be aware.

 

The ratio of Women Leaders compared to Men Leaders is pretty low. What can be done to raise future woman leaders?

  1. Encourage girls’ achievement, interests and mentor them to aspire for their self-fulfilling careers  in school and colleges
  2. Concerted efforts to groom girls in schools and colleges – formally as well as informally through Leadership Workshops.
  3. Provide exposure to journeys of women role models and gender-related issues in the form of films, stories, talks, street plays to everyone -not just girls/women.
  4. Sensitize teachers and parents.
  5. Sensitize boys/men to accept women as equal partners and leaders.

 

Over the last couple of decades, how has the education agenda for women progressed in this country in your experience?

In my experience, the number of girl students at all educational levels – primary, secondary and higher education and also across different socio-economic strata has increased considerably. Female literacy rate has improved from 8.9% in 1951 to 65.5% in 2011 but still, it is below the world average of 79.7% as per the India Womenstat website.

The awareness among different social strata and communities about the importance of education and opportunities for women in ‘professions traditionally meant only for men’ has increased notably. Over the years the calls I receive for career counselling from girls and their parents about choosing chartered accountancy, geology, architecture and engineering as options have increased dramatically. There is also a greater acceptance of different branches of engineering. There is no major shift towards largely male-dominated professions like defence services and manufacturing.

In my considered view, the education agenda has progressed well. However, a commensurate progress has not been made in paid employment. The leaked pipeline is another dimension to assess the progress of education. Leaked pipeline is a phenomenon whereby star performers (generally women) leave work for the reasons of overt/covert harassment or unwritten discriminatory policies or unfavourable workplace which leads to exclusion. This often leads women to quit citing the reason as taking care of the family or personal reason.

 

What is the way forward?

Gender Mainstreaming and Gender Inclusivity at all levels of planning and execution will carve the way for gender equality. Gender Mainstreaming is an approach in which an analysis is made of the effects of any decision or policy on both women and men before decisions are taken or policies are finalised. It should be of utmost priority for the government, organisations, community and families to create a safe and inclusive environment for both men and women.

 

Gender Equality or Gender Equity? What is the difference and which one would you propagate?

The terms gender equity and gender equality are sometimes used interchangeably. This can lead to confusion because although these concepts are related, there are important differences between them.

Gender Equality is equal access to opportunities and other valued resources whereas Gender equity is the process of being fair to women and men. Both are critical. Equity is the means by which equality as the desired end state can be achieved.

We can also think about gender equity as a door which has to be opened to reach gender equality.

Both gender equity and gender equality aim to promote fairness and justice to women and men, but this aim cannot be achieved if women and men have different social conditions and specific requirements due to women’s historical and social disadvantages. Hence to ensure gender equity, i.e., fairness, strategies and measures have to be adopted to compensate for women’s  disadvantages. Gender equity thus means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different but which is considered equivalent in terms of rights,  benefits, obligations and opportunities.

“There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.” Thomas Jefferson’s quote is very insightful in understanding the difference between the two terms-gender equity and gender equality.

 

MICA is known for its amazing Gender Ratio. Are there any conscious efforts made to maintain this?

No and Yes.

No, because there is no quota or weightage or special privilege given to women. Yes, because MICA is committed to providing equality and hence the selection process does not favour any group in particular- neither men nor women. In a merit-based system, equal number of men and women get selected.

 

And what impact does it have on the MICA classroom?

Classrooms witness an extremely rich discussion and exchange of ideas.  Diversity of all kinds including gender brings multiple perspectives to fore and thus creativity and innovation prosper. Increased repertoire widens the intellectual horizons of students in the class and outside too. This promotes a culture of co-existence and collaboration – which is a pre-requisite for any renowned institution of learning.

 

Gender Stereotyping is one of the common issues faced in India across media, especially Bollywood. What can be done to prevent these stereotypes?

We can prevent the perpetuation of stereotypes by increasing awareness among different groups of people-  children, youth, homemakers and different professional groups. This can be done through media literacy and gender sensitization workshops in schools, colleges, community and organisations. Innovative and participative methods like street-play, story/essay writing, poster making, film making competitions are required to make way for social change.

As per The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 it is the responsibility of the organisation to organise workshops and awareness programs for sensitising the employees about gender equality. This should be given top priority by organisations.

Even the film industry and eminent actors have started playing a role in spreading messages to break gender stereotypes in their individual capacities as well as through films. Notable among them are Yash Raj Production House’s short films titled -Man’s World- a satire showcasing the gender-role-reversed scenarios. This is proving very effective.

 

What advice would you give to the working mothers?

I would like to modify the question to ‘What advice would you give to the working parents’? I would say to the couple: Make your life story inspiring…succeed against all challenges.

Ensure that children’s age appropriate needs are fulfilled. Young children need close attention and such attention should be arranged for in the interest of the child, family as well as the society whether by insisting on crèche or child care facility form the organisation, taking turns or by hiring the services.

It is important that both mother and father contribute to child rearing and hence ensure that both of you participate actively. An important point to remember is – It is not enough to make the daughter feel loved and allowed to follow her heart. The little boys have to be taught how to respect little girls and truly be made to feel equal and not superior.

It is of utmost importance that both the spouses’ personal and professional needs are met hence do not neglect them. Very importantly, you both should be strategic in planning your career moves even when your children are young.

In short, you should endeavour to have win-win solutions to situations by thinking through the problems and negotiating the way and definitely not compromising on any aspect of your life in the long run – children, parents, self or spouse and I want to emphasize  ‘that there are challenges but it is doable by keeping the big picture in mind’. Having a support group of friends/family is critical in a working parent couple’s adventurous journey.

 

In the last couple of decades, how has the concept of a glass ceiling evolved in corporate India?

The number of women in senior positions has definitely increased. However, we have not been able to break the glass ceiling completely. This view has the support of many women leaders in Corporate India.  

Only four percent of the directors of publicly listed Indian companies are women.  This scenario will change very soon because of a landmark law. The Companies Act, 2013 passed by the parliament makes it mandatory for public and private firms with an annual turnover of at least three billion rupees ($50 million) to have at least one female director w.e.f. October 1, 2014. This implies that companies must act quickly to put more women on their boards.

Unfortunately, the scarcity of women in the boardroom is not unique to India – nearly one-fifth of the world’s 200 largest companies have no women directors, the report “Women on Boards”, by Biz Divas, a national network of professional women said.

In summary, the concept of glass ceiling has evolved from being related to achieving middle management positions to senior level and finally Board Room positions with the help of social, political, legal and corporate measures.

The real picture is however far from rosy. Many companies have done this just to comply with the new rules. Often women directors who come from the family have minimal or no voice on the board. In some cases, firms have also appointed independent directors, who may not be from the family but have friendly relations with the promoter and they too feel obliged. Largely women in the family-controlled businesses have remained on the sidelines because of the patriarchal mindset of Indian society in the past.

I am nonetheless optimistic about the future. In my view, the induction into the board will give them a chance to prove their mettle and they will contribute equally to the growth of the corporate world and the nation in near future.

That the law recognises that having women in a company’s boardroom correlates with better performance and sustainability in itself has far-reaching implications. The law has also initiated a mindset change – earlier it was taken for granted that the son will inherit the business but now families have started considering the possibility of the daughter taking up the mantle. This will definitely have a positive impact on succession planning in the immediate future.

 

Happy Women’s Day to one and all!

 

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