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'Tapping women's potential is a business imperative today'

Dec 12, 2008

Today’s competitive business environment makes it vital to acknowledge the value of women innovators. At a recently held summit in southern India, writer Monideepa Sahu notes the need to provide adequate support to women employees and change the social set up beyond corporate walls.

By 2010, 60% of graduates across Asia, America and Europe will be women. At its third annual IT Women Leadership Summit held recently in Bangalore, India’s premier trade body NASSCOM declared that workplace diversity and gender inclusion is a business imperative today

In today’s rapidly changing world, economic power is shifting from the established G7 economies towards the emerging economies, the so-called E7 of China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey.

In tandem with this economic change, enormous social transformations are taking place. We are moving into a future of labour shortages, skills gaps and a world in which the educational and economic empowerment of women will become increasingly significant.

Educated women are now coming in larger numbers from smaller towns across India who can build value for stakeholders in a business enterprise

These major upheavals challenging society, and the widely perceived need to tap the creativity and skills of women, were addressed by NASSCOM, premier trade body and the “voice” of the Indian IT industry, in its third annual IT Women Leadership Summit from November 19-20, 2008 in Bangalore.

Som Mittal, President, NASSCOM, holds that gender inclusivity is a must for the long-term success of industry. “Women are a key and vital part of our workforce, and industry will continue to work towards creating a conducive environment and attract more women employees and leaders.”

Not just a man’s job

Workplace diversity in industry gives it a leading edge in the marketplace, and is therefore of even greater importance in these times of economic recession and slowdown. Gender inclusivity is no longer corporate social responsibility but a business imperative.

Cleo Thompson, Gender Advisory Council, Global HC, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, observes that placing this huge pool of talented women in leadership roles will improve the return of investor capital, the quality of the end product, and the corporate bottom line.

N Krishnakumar, CEO, MindTree Ltd, believes that “building business is not just a man’s job. Women helped build up MindTree” as a force to reckon with globally. It is wrong to think that transformation can be effected by men alone. He cites the case of Xerox, where an all-women top management team recently collaborated to transform the company.

Ambitions are changing in today’s world. Educated women are now coming in larger numbers from tier II cities and smaller towns across India. These women, with their personal drive, integrity and capacity to manage conflict positively, can build value for stakeholders in a business enterprise.

Employing women, in the words of N Krishnakumar, is a “smart business decision”. Women should not expect concessions but demand their rights as valuable contributors to enterprise, he feels.

 “We are way behind the rest of the world,” says Pramod Bhasin, President and CEO, Genpact. The talent pool of qualified women professionals must be effectively tapped to strengthen industry and the economy.

In India, only about 25% of the business leadership is comprised of women. In China, on the other hand, women comprise nearly 60% of the business leadership. “The glass ceiling exists. We have to break it visibly and rock the boat to make things change,” he says.

“True innovation is not about commanding, but getting people to feel comfortable about change,” says Sharad Sharma, CEO (R&D) Yahoo India. Today’s business leader is like a masterful coach coaxing the best performance from an average team.

Technology is the skill that women overall deem most important to success in the future

Women have a natural adaptability and capacity for change but they need to be motivated and build a positive self-image, says Sharma. “Faith in oneself is a major turning point for innovation and change.”

Boosting self-confidence

Women are traditionally stereotyped as collaborative consensus-builders ready to take the backseat. Nancy Thomas, Vice-President, IBM Global Business Services urges women to “learn when to stop consensus-building and make decisions for the team”.

Accenture undertook research for One Step Ahead of 2011: A New Horizon for Working Women to gain a better understanding of how prepared women and men feel to meet the challenges of the multi-polar world, a phenomenon in which traditional centres of economic power are being dispersed more widely around the globe.

For this study, 4,100 business professionals from medium to large organisations in 17 countries were surveyed online between December 2007 and January 2008.

The study found some striking differences among individual countries. The majority of respondents in India, China and Brazil - 70%, 68% and 58% respectively - said they felt equipped to succeed in the global business world of 2011. On the other hand, respondents in the UK and France were least likely to say they felt equipped (29% and 24% respectively).

There is a greater need for society and the family to accept and tolerate the successes and careers of women

This would imply that employees in the traditional powerhouse economies will have to contend with significant gaps in skills readiness if they are to match the confident outlook of their peers in up-and-coming economies.

According to the report, technology is the skill that women overall deem most important to success in the future, and the one they are most willing to embrace as an enabler of new business models.

Social support

Another study by NASSCOM and Mercer on women in IT industry shows the paradox of more women being recruited at the entry level, but fewer remaining in the workforce and progressing towards the top positions.

There is a talent leakage in middle management levels among women in their thirties. Marriage, family, children, relocation and other personal reasons diminish women’s ability to reach the top.

Support systems are required for women at work. Current measures such as crèches, flexi-time, refresher programmes, orientation on company policies only scratch the surface of the real problems.

Organisations, while they track numbers, should also try to discover the root of the problem. Formal mentoring is required at every level and future champions need to be identified and nurtured. There is a greater need for society and the family to accept and tolerate the successes and careers of women.

“Women are the first to dwell on their own failures,” says Padma Ravichander. She advises women not to hold back but to take a look at the situation with a fresh perspective. Corporates can address the issue of equity and fairness among employees by targeting numerous forms of care - childcare centres, family childcare, school-age and backup programmes, and eldercare services.

Pratik Kumar, Corporate Vice-President, Human Resources, Wipro, stresses the need to work on the corporate culture and mindset of leaders. Wipro recruited nearly 14,000 new employees this year, of which almost 50% were women.

Larger companies should work on making employees feel secure not just physically but within the corporate culture. Employees need to believe in their company, and women must feel valued. This healthy balance coming from proper company policies will undoubtedly translate to a healthier balance sheet.

Building social infrastructure is vital. “Are leaders looking at changing the social system beyond corporate walls?” asks Pramod Bhasin. Subtle barriers have not yet been broken. Managers must accept that women can return to active professional life after a break for personal reasons. They must see to it that provisions like crèches and flexi-time are used positively.

To conclude, in the words of Som Mittal, India’s IT industry needs to be a torchbearer of concentric circles of social change. The industry must reach out and positively influence society and government.

The author is a Bangalore-based freelance writer.

Source : InfoChange
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