Dear India Inc., When Will You Stop Paying Lip Service To Gender Inclusivity?

There’s enough and more data to drive home the point of gender disparity in corporate India. 

Dear India Inc., When Will You Stop Paying Lip Service To Gender Inclusivity?

India Inc. has a gender inclusivity problem. We all know about it, there is enough data to support it, and recent studies have shed light on just how big a problem this is.

Let me start by stating some stark facts: 

  • 64%: When an Indian woman retires from the workforce, she will have accumulated just 64% of the wealth saved by men, according to the WTW 2022 Global Gender Wealth Equity Report. 

  • 28%: Indian working women earn 28% less than men, according to the NSSO report.  

  • 16.1%: That’s the rate at which female labour participation fell in India during the pandemic, according to the same report.

  • 5.5 hours: According to the Indian Statistical Institute, that’s the amount of time working women in India put in for unpaid labour, compared to just 1.5 hours by some men. By unpaid labour, we are talking about daily work associated with household chores and caregiving responsibilities. 

There’s enough and more data to drive home the point of gender disparity in corporate India. 

But let’s begin by drawing your attention to the latest Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey, in partnership with LeanIn.Org. It is the largest comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America. Which is not just geographically far from us, but also very far even while measuring equity for women at the workplace.

Let’s break down some of the issues corporate India needs to be paying more attention to. 

The report talks about something called the ‘great breakup’. It says, women are demanding more from work, and they’re leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers to get it. But while women in the U.S. may be leaving their jobs, they do find other opportunities. Here in India, while women are leaving their jobs for similar reasons, they often find themselves either opting for freelance work or less paying jobs. These jobs may give them the flexibility they seek, but unfortunately they do not generate the same amount of wealth. 

The report further states that a vast majority of women prefer remote or hybrid work to being fully back at offices. In the U.S., the reasons range from flexibility, to avoiding microaggressions, harassment and sexual harassment at workplace. While this is also true for many Indian women, working from home here means also doing all the housework. They end up carrying the burden of domestic chores as well as office responsibilities and in certain cases face domestic violence—which saw a tremendous rise during Covid lockdowns. 

The report also states that when it comes to C-suite or top leadership roles, out of four executive roles, only one goes to a woman. In India, the numbers are even more stark. Women hold only 15% of C-suite roles here, far below the global average of 25%. The Companies Act, 2013, mandates companies to have at least one woman on their corporate board. But many companies either continue to ignore the rule, or are even willing to pay fines, or look to friends and family to fill the role, rather than offering it to a qualified woman. 

The report then talks about the Broken Rung. It says for every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted. LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021 claimed that 85% of the Indian women they interviewed said they missed out on a raise or a promotion because of their gender. For many employers, this 28-35 age bracket becomes a red flag. This is the leaky bucket bracket, it is assumed that women in this age bracket will either get married or start a family and so won’t be able to focus at work. Unsurprisingly, this assumption is never made for a man. 

Maternity benefit law in India is well-intended, but comes with its own set of complications. It sometimes acts as a deterrent to hire women. 

There’s a growing gap between what’s expected of managers, and how they’re trained and rewarded. Women employees are not provided upskilling opportunities or any form of mentoring. Junior women employees don’t have enough role models in leadership positions to look up to, and they feel their careers will also stagnate at mid-managerial levels. 

We all read news reports that highlight these issues. We hold one-off summits or sessions to pay lip service to gender inclusivity. But are we seriously looking at solutions?

Our series Dear India Inc., will not only raise these pertinent questions, we will offer real-world solutions.

Dear India Inc., it's time now to get your house sorted.

Mugdha Kalra is a journalist with over 20 years of experience. She is a renowned inclusivity expert and was chosen as one of BBC100Women, 2021.

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