Consultation Report – “Gender Equity Means Business” – Women’s Empowerment Principles On February 28, 2014 CARE India hosted the Southern Region WEPs Consultation in partnership with UN Women and Global Compact Network India. 35 representatives from 21 companies participated in the consultation. This report captures highlights of the consultation.
Background CARE India is implementing a project supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 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 Bangalore’s WEPs consultation was part of the consultation series organized by CARE India with a view to encourage adoption of Women Empowerment Principles in corporate world. Rashmi Singh, Executive Director, Gender Equity & Diversity, CARE India re-instated the need for gender equality in businesses and introduced the project and presented key findings of the recent WEPs 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 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]
Keynote speaker for the consultation, Mr. T.V. Mohandas Pai, Chairman of Manipal Global Education, began his speech with Mao Zedong’s inspirational statement ‘women hold up half the sky’. He cited an example from China which is witnessing a growth of 9.9% per annum from last three decades after communist regime declared women as equal partners. Creation of equal opportunities for both genders allows the other half of the society to join mainstream workforce. Double income in each family, education of girl child and women empowerment increases productivity which ultimately boosts economic growth. China needs to be studied for this purpose as 50% of its rampant growth has been contributed by she-work force. He referred to the social structure in Kerala which is based on a matriarchal system. Women empowerment lies in the very basic thread of their society which is one of the major reasons for such tremendous growth of this state. “It makes economic sense for a woman to be empowered,” he said. In his view, many things in life are a matter of power equation and power struggle within Indian society. He said that the power struggle here implies that women are expected to play subordinate role which is also one of the basic fundamentals of traditional Indian society. This philosophy would continue to rule the society unless
women get educated and get a sense of who they are. “Special policies need to be formed for women at various places including corporate sector as they are at the bottom of social pyramid and have been sidelined for a long time inherently,” he said. Mr. Pai has worked on improving working structure for women at Infosys; there was a considerable reduction in women attrition rate during the years he worked there. Some of the major policies changes made to empower women were:
Promotion of women with respect to their proportion in a particular department. Declaring maternity period as ‘work period’ rather than ‘leave period’, a remarkable step that helps in ensuring higher rate of promotion for women. 2 years sabbatical for pregnant women. Creation of crèches near offices and establishment of offices at within reach locations. Fixing a certain percentage of independent women members in board of directors in all corporations. Zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment.
Speaking on what needs to be done on social level to empower women, he gave a few inputs that are:
Projection of accomplished women as role models. Successful women present a perfect source of inspiration for young women and allow them to think, speak, and fight for what they think is right. Creation of an ecosystem to support women in business. For e.g. creation of crèches can be of great help to young working women who need not sacrifice their work life and become productive economically. An earning female boosts her confidence and makes a big difference her position in her family. Formation of angel fund to promote women entrepreneurs. These opportunities will definitely hone their leadership skills and create new role models on each level. Formation of policy groups that can think of new policies for empowering women and talk to Government to implement them.
Mr. James Evans, Second Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, British High Commission began by stating that much needs to be done with respect to women rights and empowerment. One of the game-changing idea for women’s empowerment could be setting up a benchmarking system. There are agencies that rate companies according to different criteria and are reckoned across the world. Companies all over the world try to attain better ranks against each criterion for gaining better good will in market. Inclusion of women related criteria in these benchmarks can become a turning point in changing policies and regulations for such companies. He also emphasized on the significance of women as role models that could encourage a complete generation of females and bring drastic changes in society.
Ms. Aruna Newton, Associate Vice President, Infosys, started by sharing the various initiatives that Infosys has taken to promote women’s empowerment. She spoke about initiatives like ‘Parishuddh’ which led to creation of 10,000 toilets in Northern Karnataka that sparked a movement across the country better hygienic conditions especially with respect to women. She said that Infosys has a strong policy for women’s safety including a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment. She proudly stated that Infosys is one of the safest working places for women from parents’ perspective. She believes that to empower women, the society really needs to get out of the stereotypical vision they have for the roles they are emerging to play. A woman as a leader needs to be justified and competent for that position; there is no need to burden her with expectations of being soft, nurturing, and motherly. She can be what she wants to be and she needs to be. Similarly she believes that women oriented practices shouldn’t be celebrated but must be inculcated as a basic value in each working system. There lies a distinct need to raise the bar in this respect, there are organizations in India that have no space for female oriented policies but those who do still have a long way to go. Ms. Priyanka Sudarshan, General Manager, HR of Wipro, spoke of a unique approach that Wipro has towards gender diversity where they look at it as a business idea and not as a ‘favor’ to women. She said that having more women makes a good bottom line for any business. “The first prerequisite for any job is the competence of a candidate but if both male and female candidates show similar level of competence than they would prefer to choose a women as they believe she has faced much more struggle and challenge to reach that point,” she said. She believes that women representatives make a difference to the workplace. Women are more innovative and look at issues in a more practical manner. Having a woman on team is a much bigger advantage as they have a freer mind and much more organized thinking pattern. She thinks that women are not looking for crèches, celebrations and other such privileges, women have diverse needs across different age groups some of which are:
New entrants are eager to join workforce and experience with their job roles. The mid-stage women have acute requirement of facilities and women oriented policies. Women these days don’t want to settle for any job that is granted to them after they return from maternity leave. If they are given a choice in their job roles and pick up the role they want to do, there can be a larger change in rate of women coming back after having kids. Wipro registered an improvement in returning rate from 60% to 80-85%.
The third group consists of the women who have a settled family and kids and do not necessarily only work for money. These women work for better exposure and identity unlike the other two.
Panel Discussion An invigorating panel discussion moderated by Mr. Anand Sudarshan, Head of Manipal Global Education Services deliberated on the challenges and opportunities for empowering women. The panel comprised of following panelists: 1. 2. 3. 4.
Ms. Suja Issac, Executive Director & Co-founder, Soukya Ms. Shirin Rahman, Director of Documentation, Oracle Mr. Sam Panchamukhi, National Creative Director, Wizcraft Ms. Anuradha Narasimhan, Director Marketing, Britannia Industries
Responding to Anand’s question on the context of women empowerment real in the health industry Suja Issac proudly said that 49% of the people that work in her organization are women. She feels that women’s safety begins with the basics that need to be corrected. “We need to work over prevention first than cure,” she said. She said that the main focus needs to be on values of both men and women. If that can be instilled we need not think of women empowerment and think of development of all on equal platform. In this world there is a natural wisdom and everybody has their role to play. Rather than teaching those to do something else we can always make them learn what they have inherited. We need to think of making better individuals in the world, and rather than talking about man and woman separately. Anand asked Shirin Rahman whether IT companies hire people for value systems, is that even part of process? Shirin agreed that they look for value system but put more emphasis on meritocracy. She
personally likes to look at a person’s skills and attitude irrespective of their gender. “To empower women we all have to change on a whole, women at workplace makes economic sense,” she said. Anand asked Sam if it is important to hire for value system? What does gender diversity has to do with hiring policy in the marketing sector? He said that in marketing they look for people who have skills irrespective of gender. “Besides the value system the mindset is a key aspect,” he said. He also said that when we think of bringing about a change we need to begin from an early stage when views and ideologies begin to form. Wizcraft has worked on issues related to women in India and they believe that different problems require different solutions. Anuradha shared her views on value system and gender diversity. She thinks that women are not only good to hire but also pretty good to retain. She said that the industry she works in doesn’t have critical mass (no. of women). More than providing opportunities she believes that women need to be inculcated with a desire to work. Even if opportunities exist if they don’t have a desire to work no one can do anything about it. Women need to have desire to move up, affirmative support can only provide a base rest has to be done by women themselves. “We need to keep providing those challenges and support that keeps their interest piqued in their work,” she said. Anand asked the panelists if given a chance what they would have liked to do different for women 5 years ago. Shirin said that she would have focused on recruiting someone with good leadership skills. Sam said that he would have put up a policy for women’s empowerment in the media and entertainment industry. Gender sensitivity is another issue that he would have wanted to be addressed. Anuradha said she would have liked to implement a policy that cared about fixing a proportion of women in every field and not resting till it was fulfilled. The panel discussion was concluded with a vote of thanks by Niresh Kumar of 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.