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3 Ways Women Are Shattering The Glass Ceiling

Gender diversity and inclusion have been adopted as best practices across industry sectors but how seriously is this mandate implemented?

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Albert Einstein famously said “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it”.

There is much wisdom in those words, and unless organizations and government policies are based on rigorous effort to define a problem, articulate its importance and then build solutions around it, the resultant approach will be lip-service at best.

This seems to hold true for us as a society being able to “break the glass ceiling” in modern times. 

Stemming from the world’s generations old gender-biased conditioning, this multi-layered opposition that women face at various stages in their life, requires us as a society to implement Einstein’s recommended rigorous approach—for without defining and articulating the problem at hand, no sustainable solutions can come forth that will create lasting societal impact.

On ground reality    

Gender diversity and inclusion have been adopted as best practices across industry sectors but how seriously is this mandate implemented? According to a ‘Women in the Workplace 2018’ study conducted by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org over a period of 4 years, “progress isn’t just slow, it’s stalled”. 

This culturally entrenched gender bias which holds women back, is repeatedly evident in the data collected by various source points

  • A YourStory Research stated that only 2% of all equity funding raised this year in India went to women-led startups. This, and more such findings are indicative of the gender biases women in the Indian startup ecosystem continue to face, affecting their chances at raising funds or getting a fair financial valuation of their startup. 
  • Globally these figures are equally discouraging revealing that only 3% of venture capital funding went to startups founded by women.
  • A study by Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) has ranked India 52nd out of 57 countries, judged on the basis of parity for women entrepreneurs. 
  • According to the Sixth Economic Census by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) of the 58.5 Mn businesses in India, only 8.05 Mn are managed by women entrepreneurs. 
  • In the Global Women Entrepreneurs Leader Report, India is ranked 29 out of 31 countries, surveyed on ease of doing business for women. 
  • India, with its score of 17 out of 100, fell in rankings owing to unequal inheritance rights and limitations at work which restricts women from accessing startup capital. 
  • Even if women do overcome all odds to start their own venture, only 14% of them end up doing so - and most of these businesses are small-scale or bootstrapped. 
  • India happens to be the third largest startup hub in the world, but only 9% of startup founders are women.

Ceiling maintained=Potential restrained

The abundant human capital India has is a vital asset that can herald the country’s growth. In fact the World Bank statistics reveal that if India addresses the discrimination against women and the prevailing gender roles, India’s abundant human resource has the potential to make it the human resource capital of the world in the coming two decades, with about a million youth entering the Indian labor market every month.

Poised for a surge in domestic economic growth, alongside increasing its contribution to world growth from 7.6 per cent during 2000-2008 to 14.5 per cent in 2018 as per IMF, the new India holds much promise. It is encouraging to note here the results of a study by McKinsey Global Institute which states that India’s GDP could increase anywhere between 16% to 60% by 2025 if more women participated in the workforce and contributed to economic growth. 

Building their own in-roads and highways to advancement

  • Supporting from within the corporate systems: Not hiring enough women at entry level creates an impact on the talent pipeline resulting in significantly fewer women to promote from within for managerial positions. This explains the fact that there are only around 25 women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. The inclusion process with new regulations adopted by India mandates at least one independent female director on the board of a listed company. However, improving the hiring and promotion rates at senior levels will not work to close the gap created and carried forward from the entry level disparity. 

Also women give up their careers when they start a family for lack of a supportive infrastructure. This is usually when most of them are at mid level management. While the newly introduced 6 month paid maternity leave policy by the government might seem supportive, it can prove to be a counterproductive salary burden for smaller organizations if the employee is still unable to effectively handle the new personal responsibility after having availed the maternity benefit.  

Seeking to address these issues, women working within organizations are taking charge to shatter the proverbial ceiling-

  • New age women entrepreneurs and those holding prominent positions in organizations are promoting equal participation of women in the decision-making process concerning important issues. 
  • Diverse groups are put together for discussions around hiring, promotions and appraisals to keep unconscious bias in check and create a more inclusive corporate culture. 
  • Managers helping to build flexible corporate policies, specific to the challenges the women workforce face, is allowing for better work-life integration keeping women in their jobs. Policies around day care facilities, flexible hours or work from home options is not only helping more working women tackle the demands of childcare or elder care, but is also benefiting employers -- as losing a trained employee at the helm of a rising career graph hurts the employer and employee alike. 
  • Sponsorship programs at multiple levels within the organization are pairing senior women sponsors who are role models, with women employees. They aim to create equal access tobetter projects, leadership roles and advocacy at higher levels by creating opportunities for women to participate in and lead more complex roles and gain better compensation and promotions. 

2) Donning the founder’s hat: There are more women starting companies and becoming entrepreneurs. Indian Angel Network (IAN), one of the largest angel investor clubs in the country has seen ideas from women increase from 10% four years ago to 30% in 2018. Spilling out of fashion and food ventures, women are trooping forward in presumed to be men-centric sectors like technology, travel, stem cell research, manufacturing and agro-tech to name a few.  The age of technology is making it easier for women to share their stories and inspire the next.

3) Mentoring: Several women-led leadership and mentorship ecosystems like empoWer, SAHA Fund, and Sonder Connect are coming forward to create the necessary infrastructure for women-led startups to thrive. Platforms like Shethepeople and Biz Divas, provide comprehensive mentoring to women stalled in their career trajectories and also amplify inspiring success stories of women entrepreneurs. Women-centric incubator and accelerator models are taking gender-bias out of the equation when extending mentorship initiatives to support with critical expertise and access to professional networks in order to help women startup founders achieve scalable sustainability. 

Conversations around the need for more women angel investors and alternate funding options for women entrepreneurs such as women specific venture funds are also gaining traction to address the challenges around funding.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates closing the gender equity gap globally could add $12Trillion in annual gross domestic product! The world without exception stands to benefit from smashing this glass ceiling, yet glossing over the reality or mere rhetoric will keep us from fulfilling the larger vision. Women too need to challenge the unconscious bias within their own lives to be able to break free. The disparity may be deeply conditioned within women, which is probably why they hold back from demanding their due, but it is time to start having newer, more empowering and more inclusive conversations with our own selves too.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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gender diversity

Tejas Parulekar

The author is Co-Founder, SaffronStays

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