Photo: Gawrav Sinha
Photo: Gawrav Sinha

What Indian CEOs are doing to improve gender equality at work

Inclusion riders in the contracts of Indian CEOs may be a long way off, but three women CEOs talk about how they are making diversity a priority

Vaishali Kasture, managing director, Experian Credit Bureau, and country head, Experian India

Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Are inclusion riders imperative for better diversity?

If you had asked me this question 10 years ago, I would have said we do not need inclusion riders, and that women would rise to the top on merit. However, if we take a linear approach on the gender gap, it will take us 150 years to bridge it. Inclusion riders need to be adopted as a company-wide mission at the board level and driven top down if we want the diversity agenda to go beyond token representation of minorities.

India has initiated the inclusion process with new regulations, which mandate at least one independent female director on the board of a listed company. We have seen how effective the 30% club campaign has been in driving its signatories (companies on the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index) to commit to greater representation (a minimum of 30%) of women on their boards. A diverse team gives you better business outcomes.

What have you done to make diversity a priority?

There are two noticeable trends. First, women and men are equally ambitious at the entry level. However, within 18 months, the ambition levels and aspirations of women drop by 40%. The work environment affects the progress of these women. Second, within five years of starting work, the attrition rate really starts to climb when women’s lives start undergoing changes, with newer responsibilities coming their way.

We have initiated steps to support women in their sandwich phase (straddling both child and elderly-care responsibilities). In addition to providing six months of maternity leave to expecting mothers, and crèche facilities, we are committed to supporting our working mothers in their return to work so that they can continue to build a fulfilling career. We encourage employees to have a dialogue with their manager as to what flexibility means to them, and how we can support their work-life integration.

How can the confidence gap for women be narrowed?

Over my 25 years in the corporate world, I have always felt that men ask for a bigger role when they are 70% ready. Women feel under-confident even when they are 99% ready-even that 1% bothers them. In general, across the corporate world, women are less vocal about asking for promotions, negotiating better compensation, and throwing their hat in the ring for a complex and challenging role. Thus, we need to work at multiple levels to address this by mentoring at a basic level and (providing) sponsorship for the next level. Sponsorship is the secret sauce. When a senior person (sponsor) who has a seat at the table puts “skin in the game" to make you successful, that is when the confidence gap will start narrowing. —Rajeshwari Sharma

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Suchi Mukherjee, founder and chief executive, Lime Road

Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Do we need inclusion riders?

While the ambition of an inclusion rider—which encourages people to think actively about women—is a good one, I believe there are better ways to deal with biases. At Lime Road, 30% of our employees are women; at the middle management level, it goes up to 46%. To achieve this, we didn’t need an inclusion rider. Instead, we ensure that a diverse group is involved in hiring, appraisal and promotion discussions. During the final conversation, before decisions are made, gender goes out of the door and the best person for the job is given the role. With an inclusion rider, I would be forced to fill roles with women.

I would, instead, make it a mandate for recruiters to source at least 30% women candidates.

How are you tackling sexual harassment at work?

We have very young employees, so it’s very important to have a very literal conversation. I personally address what is right and not right at annual gatherings. Often, issues arise because men don’t know what they are doing and women lack the courage to speak up. So gender socialization, where employees are trained in how to deal with situations that make them feel uncomfortable, is encouraged actively.

A career lesson in inclusion you would want to share?

It’s important to recognize that every woman carries a bias that she is under-delivering, and work towards correcting it. I also recommend that women find male mentors. They offer a different, critical perspective, which will help you grow. Most importantly, I would tell every woman to dream and speak up. The former helps you get through the hard times, while the latter instantly lightens your load. —Sonal Nerurkar

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Nisha Dutt, chief executive, Intellecap Advisory Services

Can inclusion riders become a reality?

I know detractors will say it should be merit-based, and riders don’t help, but to that I’d just say I find it hard to believe there are only around 25 women capable of rising to CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies. I don’t buy it. It’s a bit unfortunate that we are still talking about inclusion riders in 2018, but if that’s what it’ll take to break this monolithic leadership model, then so be it. It could be a powerful way to encourage more inclusion. This shouldn’t be seen as yet another quota; it should be seen as a way to create an inclusive corporate culture.

What can be done to encourage the growth of women leaders within organizations?

You have to create explicit opportunities. We have a huge emphasis on meritocracy, potential and attitude. We have a very participative decision-making process, and never make important decisions that haven’t been vetted equally by women. For confidence, we create opportunities for them to participate and lead. We have role models within the system to motivate young women colleagues. We also give them opportunities through the Sankalp forum, an inclusive development event, where we host sessions and give them a chance to express their opinions in a public forum.

How do you address gender imbalance and pay parity?

You know, in a corporate environment, what gets measured gets done! We are an equal-opportunity employer. At Intellecap, 43% of our employees are women. We still have some way to go, but are making sure we catch up and get a better balance of at least 50%. In every strategic meeting, we make sure that both voices are being heard. I don’t encourage manels (men-only panels) or men-only meetings. We don’t have pay parity issues; it’s by levels, so everyone at the same level gets paid similarly regardless of the gender. But to really push the envelope on pay parity, I think women need to be more assertive during pay negotiations and not apologize for demanding what is rightfully owed to them.

Any ideas on how to propagate inclusiveness at work?

For the younger generation: Do things outside your comfort zone. It helps you grow as an individual. Meet people whom you wouldn’t normally strike conversations with. Be genuinely interested in other people’s journeys. Don’t form opinions too quickly, and, most importantly, avoid cliques.

Specifically for women: Don’t apologize—for being a primary caregiver, having opinions, and expressing them. And, most importantly, stop saying sorry for things you should never be sorry about. —Seema Chowdhry

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