Tilting the scales5 min read . Updated: 21 Oct 2011, 04:53 PM IST
Tilting the scales
Tilting the scales
Eight Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) decided late last month to try and rebalance the gender scales in their classrooms—and subsequently, workplaces. The six new IIMs—at Rohtak, Ranchi, Tiruchirapalli, Raipur, Udaipur and Kashipur—and the older ones in Lucknow and Kozhikode are aiming for a more eclectic, “diverse" class environment, and plan to introduce grace marks for women candidates, as well as students from non-engineering backgrounds.
Corporate India—which has seen an increase in the female workforce in the two decades since the liberalization process began—claims a commitment towards gender diversity. But how does gender diversity truly happen—and why should we strive towards it?
Progress with problems
The Indian workplace has undergone significant changes in the last two decades with the opening up of the economy and its spin-off effects on the country’s social landscape. Women can be seen in greater numbers in engineering, management and other “male-dominated" professions. “From a 1:10 ratio in engineering colleges in the 1980s, now four out of every 10 students are women in India," says Kameshwari Rao, director, people strategy, Sapient Corp., Bangalore.
Their roles are changing too—from being typically stuck in “data entry and clerical jobs" and having their professional lives interrupted or cut short by marriage and motherhood, there are more women in management roles in post-liberalization India, says Rajesh Jumani, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, Tata Interactive Systems, Mumbai. Companies have also started providing additional facilities for women, such as work-from-home and in-office creche options.
Given the changed social dynamics and the acquisition of specialized skills, it’s only natural that companies began to hire more women. “There are skills sitting in both genders, and numerically speaking, it made sense for organizations to get women employees," says David Lobo, director, human resources, General Electric, Gurgaon.
However, the nature of this “evolution" is still tricky in the Indian context. Poonam Barua, founder-chairperson of the New Delhi-headquartered “Forum for Women in Leadership" WILL Forum India, says they have found that though 40% women now occupy the workspace, only 10% occupy leadership roles; the rest are stuck in mid-level jobs.
“The corresponding figure globally is 30-40%. Even worse, of the 10%, only 3% occupy boards. And of the 3%, 1.5% are owner-promoters like Swati Piramal or Rajashree Birla. This means only 1.5% women leaders, from a population of 500 million women, are in company boards on merit," she says.
According to statistics prepared by Barua’s WILL Forum, almost 90% of women are stuck in mid-level jobs. “From this one would deduce that women are not talented—and that’s not acceptable," she says.
The case for hiring more women in management
While some of the more “typical male qualities", such as the tendency to be “more competitive and ambitious" and take “hard calls", are, according to Lobo, essential qualities in a work environment, there’s another set of qualities that is critical to a workplace— those typically possessed by women. It is this balance that the IIMs now seem to be seeking.
IIM Lucknow director Devi Singh believes the decision to tweak the classroom balance and go from a ratio of 12-15% girls to 15-20% will enrich classroom discussions. “Management today is about day-to-day decisions and having women and students from diverse backgrounds will bring new perspectives into the classroom," he says.
A study published in June in the Harvard Business Review seems to corroborate this point of “gender diversity" enriching the workplace environment. Authored by Anita Woolley, assistant professor of organizational behaviour and theory, Carnegie Mellon University, US, the study, What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women, finds that having women in teams makes the teams more “intelligent". Woolley, who studies the collective intelligence of groups, says, “The more women in a team, the smarter the team." Giving the term intelligence a more holistic definition to include factors like social sensitivity, the study finds that women are crucial in such cases. “What do you hear about great groups? That they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They’re not autocratic," says Woolley.
Women have the ability to read situations critically, says Rao. This is why women are likely to be more successful project managers. A man may make a better architect because it is a job that requires a more linear focus and less people management, she adds. “A project manager, on the other hand, needs multiple focus, like manage the people in the team, see if they have enough time, check resources, budget, people’s leaves, everyone’s career aspirations, and so on," says Rao. “Women can think not just from their own but the point of view of the receiver. Whether it’s the client or their colleague, women put themselves in the other’s place much better than men. That translates to the element social sensitivity," Rao adds.
This is also why women make good managers, says Bangalore-based Anupama Ambe, head, India Diversity Council, IBM. “Women always are better bosses to people transitioning from college life to their first jobs," she says. Their high levels of emotional intelligence “make them able to deal with people of different temperaments", says Jumani.
Women leaders foster a better environment and bring in a strong team orientation into the culture. “There have also been studies to show that women leaders are more stable and loyal to the organization. They bring in greater stability, and are less prone to attrition," says Lobo. Ambe says an internal study at IBM in 2009 showed that women leaders scored better than their male counterparts in the following categories: customer insights, team leadership, teamwork, building organizational capability, personal dedication and commitment and innovation. All of this adds up to economic value, as the study at IBM shows. “Having more women profits the organization," says Ambe.
And it is this language of “economic profit" that organizations seeking gender diversity need to embrace, according to Barua. “Companies need to go beyond talking about gender diversity in HR terms—and start talking about it in economic terms. Women bring decision making and risk-taking to boards. More rational decision, and better enterprise risk management. This is about the economic value they can bring," says Barua.