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Consultation Report: “Gender Equity Means Business” - Women’s Empowerment Principles On January 31, 2014 CARE India hosted the Southern Region WEPs Consultation in partnership with UN Women and Global Compact Network India. FICCI Tamil Nadu was the industry partner for this consultation. 69 representatives from 25 companies participated in the consultation. This report captures the highlights of the consultation.

Background CARE India is implementing a project supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK Government to build a stronger commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment within corporate sector in India. This project will build upon the work that CARE India, UN Women and Global Compact Network India (GCNI) have done so far to help strengthen the commitment to and practice of gender equality principles in the private sector through the WEPs Project. The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), developed collaboratively, between UN Women and UNGCN, is a structured approach to promote Gender Equality. Empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors is essential to build stronger economies, achieve internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and improve the quality of life for women, men, families and communities. Developed through a partnership between UN Women and the United Nations Global Compact, the Principles are designed to support companies in reviewing existing policies and practices—or establishing new ones—to realize women’s empowerment.

Consultation The Chennai WEPs consultation was part of a series of consultations that CARE India is organising to promote adoption of WEPs in India. Rashmi Singh, Executive Director, Gender Equity & Diversity, CARE India re-instated the need for gender equality in businesses and introduced the project. She presented some facts about the status of women in corporate India:    

India ranks 120th among 134 countries in terms of the Global Gender Gap Index Women constitute 24 per cent of the Indian workforce Women constitute only 14 per cent of senior management positions in India, against the global average of 24 per cent This number falls to a paltry 5 per cent when it comes to top management or board positions

Deepa Sundara Rajan, a senior researcher working on the WEPs study presented key findings of the study. An exploratory study of 50 companies and 10 industry associations covering 10 industry sectors has been conducted as part of this project. Some key findings are:   

Overall low gender diversity on company boards ranging from 4.25-28.5% across sectors Overall preponderance of men over women in the workforce. Highest representation of women in workforce seen among IT&ITES and financial services sector (16% - 24%) Favourable maternity entitlements, child care and flexible work options were offered by IT&ITES and financial services companies. Only 18% companies provided paternity entitlements


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44.1% companies had sexual harassment prevention policies. Mostly in IT and food and beverages sectors (80%) followed by financial services and energy (67%) 41% had internal complaints committees in place. Financial services (86%), Energy (75%) and IT and metal products (60%) Only 17.6% had external representation on the complaints committees (not compliant with Vishakha Guidelines) Disclosure on number of cases of sexual harassment reported/ resolved was ambiguous to assess effectiveness of the complaint resolution process Most companies (IT & ITES and consulting) had professional training and development programmes for women in place Training and professional development programmes for women pertained to networking, mentoring, leadership and skill up-gradation Only anecdotal information was available regarding training of women for non traditional roles Low supplier engagement on women’s empowerment and therefore not much focus on supplier diversity Businesses use their domain expertise to support social causes or develop products that meet women’s needs – particularly in IT, energy and financial services Minimal information from sectors that carry high risk of sexual exploitation of women on initiatives to address the same – e.g. aviation, hospitality, media 70% of sectors had CSR programmes that focused on women through education, health and livelihoods 42% companies disclosed information through sustainability reports. But gender disaggregated information low Poor transparency in media and aviation sectors [A detailed research report will be published and shared soon]

Pooran Chandra Pandey, Executive Director Global Compact Network India presented the global perspective of women’s empowerment principles. He spoke about the genesis of the WEPs and its relevance in the present business context. He also spoke about the increased importance of the WEPs in India and the need for better reporting. He stressed on the need to embed gender equality into business systems. He highlighted that only 9 companies in India have signed the WEPs and invited more companies to adopt the WEPs. B Santhanam, Managing Director, Saint-Gobain Glass India spoke about the role of leadership in promoting gender equality. He said that in the past 10 years of changing business context 4 Cs have become big pillars of change – Collaboration, Connectedness, Creativity and Consciousness. “Women are much better than men at all the 4 Cs,” he said. In this changing business context he stressed on the need to have at least one woman on company boards. Santhanam suggested having equal reward systems for men and women. He cited an example from his own company and said that it’s important to nurture unique skills of women employees.


Having a role model and voicing one’s opinion is very critical for women, he said. “Instead of looking at great leaders for her role model it’s better to learn from people who are close and accessible,” said Santhanam. He stressed on the importance of the collective voice of women and cited the example of Indian Women’s Network (IWN) which has been quite successful in doing so. He said that today there’s a need of about 6000 women directors globally. This is a great opportunity for women to move up by doing the right thing. Gowri Mukherjee, Global Head, Digital Marketing, Standard Chartered Bank spoke about the challenges that women professionals face. She started by re-instating the importance of having women at the workplace and highlighted that the mid management drop off is the key challenge to address. The three broad categories of challenges faced by women and respective solutions highlighted by Gowri are - infrastructure for the working mother (day care, nursing rooms & safety), work life balance (flexi work hours & maternity) and addressing gender bias (career progress & role modelling). “Financial services sector in India is extraordinary in women’s representation,” she said. She added that this is perhaps because this sector started early than other sectors. “Flexibility comes with responsibility,” Gowri said. Maternity is one of biggest drop-off stage for women. She said that in today’s context families and society have begun to support women to continue career after marriage. Women should plan and know what is in store for her after she comes back from her maternity leave. Gowri suggested having a chat with the management before maternity and plan one’s comeback helps a lot. C.K. Kumaravel, Co-founder Naturals Salons spoke about his entrepreneurial venture which has a goal to create 1000 women entrepreneurs. He started this venture with his wife Veena in the year 2000. A proud Kumaravel said that Naturals today has 330 outlets, has 170 women entrepreneurs and is India’s top salon company. Rajani Sheshadri, Vice President, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) spoke about the need for women to invest in themselves. She started by saying that people tend to think that one needs to focus only on the work and everything else with be sorted on its own. She said that it’s important for women to be known, familiar and know in an organisation. She emphasised on the need for women to stand out of the crowd. Finding the right mentor is another important step, she said. It’s better to look for a mentor who’s 3-7 years ahead of you rather than 20, she recommended. This, she said, will help in having a similar context to relate to.


She said that in her experience a woman is more hesitant in applying for a job which is not 100% matching her profile while a man might not be so reluctant. Travelling for work is another hindrance that women often have to face. Rajani said that while travelling women can stay in touch with their families using technology and if needed one must learn how to use such technology.

Panel Discussion These presentations were followed by a panel discussion moderated by Ravi Santhanam (former Managing Director and CEO of Hindustan Motors Ltd). The panel consisted of the following esteemed panelists: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Gayathri Shriram, Managing Director, UCAL Auto Condur Bhanurekha, Associate Vice President –Service Delivery, Sutherland Global Services Gayathri, General Manager, Ford Business Services/ Ford Credit Services Rajiv Bhatnagar, Vice President Human Resources, L&T Construction M M Venkatachalam, Parry Agro

Gayathri Shriram began by questioning why is it only risky to hire women and why not men. Both men and women bring separate skill sets which are equally important for businesses, she said. According to Gayathri one of the key challenges that women face is find the right mentorship and group. Citing an example from her own life she said it is very difficult to negotiate and navigate in the world of men particularly in the auto industry where most of her company’s clients are men. She said that the men who are supposed to mentor her were not prepared to answer her questions and understand the challenges of managing family, understanding a balance sheet and making business work. For a woman to succeed one needs mentors who understand her specific need and provide a road map for development. Answering a question on future outlook of women’s empowerment Gayathri said that this will form part of the macro dialogue soon. She added that policies to provide a support system for women at work will become a norm. Bhanurekha spoke about why women find themselves dropping off from the middle of the funnel. She began by sharing successful examples from Sutherland Global of how women at all levels have been working against the clock in the BPO industry. She then said that women at the entry level are


equally or more competent than male counterparts and deliver great success. But the moment they hit middle management level they see some challenges in the lack of a support network to manage extremely challenging assignments. Bhanurekha said that women by design are able to connect, collaborate and be conscious of delivering to everyone’s expectations but are unfortunately unable to leverage those skills to take them to leadership positions. She echoed the need for right mentorship and peer network to enable women’s success. Responding to a question on women’s assertiveness at workplace she said that assertiveness is about making yourself heard and expressing your challenges too. She said that women need to assert by delivering results better or at par with men. Gayathri shared some initiatives Ford has taken both within the work place and beyond. Referring to the 1st Principle she said that Ford has good leaders who probably over the years have developed good diversity principles. Each Ford entity has an independent women’s diversity group which acts as a voice of women. These groups are sponsored by the senior leadership which helps us to articulate issues, she said. Gayathri said that while the leaking pipeline is a big problem for most companies what works is evidence - showing people it is possible. She ended by saying that it’s the leadership drive that enables women to cut through the glass ceiling. In an industry which is typically driven by men having a woman CEO is very inspirational, she said referring to recent appointment of Mary Barra as CEO of General Motors. This is an evidence that women have overcome the crisis and progressed, she said. Rajeev Bhatnagar shared insights on hiring women in the construction industry across levels. Construction industry is a hazardous industry, requires transfers from one project to another and hence is not friendly for women. In contrast to industry statistics L&T fares better in employing women. Rajeev said that L&T Construction has 5% women in its direct workforce and 20% through sub-contract. He finds it easier to hire more women in niche areas like design and recruit women from all top design institutes. In the next few years, he said, women will represent top management too. L&T plans to get one women director on the Board of each group company soon, he said. He added that it is difficult to find the right women for Board positions. Sharing some ideas on how to tap the untapped resource pool of women Rajeev said that companies need to become more women friendly and take extra steps to retain women staff. M M Venkatachalam shared insights from the plantation sector bringing in the rural perspective. Parry Agro has a work force of 2.4 million people of which 60% are ‘super’ women and 40% ‘ordinary’ men. He said that their leadership has always been supportive of gender equality. At Parry Agro the wage rates for men and women are equal and comprehensive health care management, maternity benefits, day care services have been provided for decades, he said.


The social processes of the community and that of the company helps in managing difficult issues within the community. He said that there are minimal chance of issues like sexual harassment as these processes manage these situations in work. He shared that the great advantages of working with rural community is the great abundance and application of common sense which reduces the sense of discrimination between men and women. The invigorating panel discussion was concluded with a vote of thanks by R. Devaprakash, Regional Programme Director, CARE India. This consultation, he said, is a first step of a long journey. This is a platform where each organisation and individual has a role to play to move the agenda of women’s empowerment forward, he said.

Chennai consultation report  
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