In the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2021, India ranked 140 out of 156 nations, a drop of 28 places. Pushing this idea of “gender equality in the workplace and its progress”, a panel of experts comprising Rekha M Menon, President and Senior Managing Director of Accenture India and President – NASSCOM; Karthik Reddy, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Blume Ventures and Kaku Nakhate, President and Country Head (India), Bank of America Merrill Lynch spoke at length about the concerns.
Rekha M. Menon – President and Senior Managing Director, Accenture India and President, NASSCOM
Speaking about the uphill race for gender equality in the workplace despite resources, Rekha Menon says progress is a complex multidimensional issue that is rooted in our culture and social attitudes.
“More like the shortage of jobs and female labor because there is underinvestment in girls’ education. Also, the nature of the work has sometimes not been conducive to hiring more women, such as in manufacturing or mining,” Menon said, adding that it also largely depends on factors such as women’s intention to join a workforce, how far they want to progress and how much time they are willing to commit. The glass ceiling between the governing bodies of companies and the boards of directors is still perfectly sealed and wage inequalities persist; however, things are changing at some of India’s biggest companies. Emphasizing that change is slow; even then, Menon finds a silver lining in the corporate sector which has strengthened during the pandemic. Elaborating on India’s tech industry, Menon said about 34% of the total workforce are women.
“That represents approximately 1.3 million women in the labor market. It is not only at the junior levels, but also about 1/4 of the leadership positions are held by women in the technology sector. As for Accenture, we have made a commitment of 50-50 workforce by 2025. Currently in India, women make up about 45% of our workforce, which is huge. And at the director level at the MD level, we have about 26% women. So the progress is there too,” she said.
Karthik Reddy – Founder and Managing Partner, Blume Ventures
Diving into the realm of the startup ecosystem – where the focus is on product creation, Karthik Reddy, speaking on the notion of gender equality, argues that whether it’s customer support or product development requires female labor at the table.
According to Innoven Capital’s Startup Outlook Report 2021, gender diversity was still a challenge and there has been no improvement over the past few years. The report indicates that only 77% of startups have less than 20% women in leadership positions, compared to 69% the previous year.
“Diversity is necessary to create a much better product. I don’t think anyone has advocated a perfect measure of this ROI to me, but basically said it’s visible. And right now, when designing a product for the Indian customer, you have to realize that 50% of the customers are women,” he said. But at the same time, he’s also of the view that startups, by definition, are much less interested in championing this.
The Indian banking sector has seen women rise to the upper echelons of the sector; leaders like Arundhati Bhattacharya to Shikha Sharma to Naina Lal Kidwai have broken many glass ceilings and become gender equality and diversity success stories.
Kaku Nakhate – President and Country Head, Bank of America, India
Talking about women in banking, Kaku Nakhate points out that traditional banking has had a lot of women because it is safe work for them. Nakhate further points out that at one time, the banking sector had many female leaders.
“CEOs are gender agnostic. But there is no glass ceiling, at least on the upper level. But the question that still arises before us is: what are the chores that a woman must perform? And even today, in many cases, women continue to be a homemaker and caregiver. But in the future, I think, whether it’s the bank or any other company, they have to make sure that the woman can come and spend time, ” she said.
While the issue of gender equality in areas across all sectors persists, Rekha Menon suggests starting at the top if looking for solutions.
“Recognize that this is not a social change you are bringing to the organization, but rather a business imperative. Because enough data business cases have proven to do better or be more innovative and have better financial performance,” she added.
Panel leaders who have excelled in their respective fields discussed in detail the business benefits of keeping skilled women in the workplace and encouraging them to fill various positions within the organization. The panel also discussed the nature of the roles played by women in the wake of the pandemic. You can watch the ETPrime Women Leadership Awards 2021 panel discussion here.