Home / Opinion / Views /  India Inc must help enhance the role of women in nation building

Today, we live in an era of self-made women, with several forces converging to create a climate in favour of their success. India Inc, for example, has especially been curating women-centric career opportunities, even as parenting norms in the country pivot to promote women’s financial independence. A paradigm shift is observed in reorienting India’s direction of economic growth, as the dream of an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ works in synchrony with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recently articulated vision of women-led nation building.

Under India’s G20 presidency, we can expect other nations to acknowledge our inclusion of women in the national development project, among other critical fields of effort, such as climate financing, food and energy security, and a digital transformation. G20 member countries represent the world’s largest economies, accounting for over 80% of global GDP, and are home to 60% of the planet’s population.

The eyes of the world are on India: For the first time in history, India has more women than men, according to the 2021 National Family Health Survey. The literacy rate of women has been rising steadily since independence, helping us bridge the gender literacy gap. This needs to go alongside steadily rising female labour participation. Broadly speaking, our gender neutrality mission needs interventions from families, India Inc, the government and society at large to unleash its potential as a development catalyst.

The idea of ‘women-led development’ would take special attention from India Inc, which should be at the helm of concerted efforts to achieve a gender-neutral nation. Meaningful women’s representation should be an important corporate aim for all professional roles, for which it is important to empower women at every level, including and especially from less privileged social strata, so that they can reach apex positions.

Let us bear in mind that the world would be watching India closely for the inclusion of women in the country’s leadership pool. The moot question here is whether we will be able to create a sustainable pipeline of women leaders.

Gender agnostic leadership: Today, women are breaking glass ceilings in various male-dominated roles at a faster pace than before. This indicates a rapid dismantling of biased mindsets and codes of conduct and behaviour in a patriarchal society. With a rise in share of women entrepreneurs in India, it is paramount for industry leaders to create an environment conducive for their success. Their objective must be to support women’s captainship within and outside their companies.

Leaders must design gender-neutral leadership roles to foster a cohesive ecosystem and enable women to rise. These roles need to be challenging, so that the competence needed is evident and they can boost morale among all women. Indeed, India Inc should emphasize merit as the broad principle as it scripts its endorsement of the right to equal opportunity and recognition. Today, a gender balance in managerial ranks is globally considered a sign of economic progress for good reason.

It’s integral to India’s $5 trillion economy aim: The target of a $5 trillion economy can’t be realized without women’s contribution to our GDP growth engine going up significantly. A McKinsey study shows that the world economy could rise by as much as $12 trillion by 2025, as estimated, if women were fully a part of the world’s workforce. Population wise, India now has 1,020 women for every 1,000 men. An interesting fact is that by just offering equal opportunity to women, the country could add an estimated $770 billion to its GDP by 2025 and raise its household per capita income higher than it would otherwise be.

Address the aspirational deficit syndrome: The country has always been a living testimony to the power of women-led emergence in various fields across the spectrum. Women leaders have blazed trails in India since the pre-independence era, much ahead of West in many cases. From freedom fighters and political heroes to business successes, women leaders have exemplified ‘Naari Shakti’. From space, aviation, science, sports, business, philanthropy and education to any other sphere named at random, we have examples that do every citizen proud and serve as role models.

Yet, I have detected what could be called an ‘aspirational deficit’ among some women. Lack of upskilling, a sense of complacency and missing chances for networking while meeting family and social responsibilities have been identified as drawbacks that put up hurdles for women in their career progression. Some reluctance to take on leadership roles is observed, too, but once someone accepts the challenge, it is the duty of everyone else to pave the way for her success. My earnest advice to female aspirants is to demonstrate grit and demand support.

Historically, women have played a vital role in civilization and economic progress. An overhaul of educational and parental inculcation and outright rejection of gender prejudice are critical elements for a cross-sectional transformation to maximize Naari Shakti. The country needs women to play long innings and not be content with short stints. As entrepreneurs, many are job creators and not just job seekers anymore. This should create its own dynamics for us to achieve gender goals.

India is on the cusp of a major transformation as it embarks on a 25-year run for developed-nation status by its 100th year of freedom. Investing in women’s empowerment will have a ripple effect. It will help deliver social equality even as it augments economic productivity in accordance with the Prime Minister’s vision. By addressing the aspirational deficit syndrome all the way from the grassroots to upper echelons of power, we could improve our outcomes.

Niranjan Hiranandani is past president, Assocham, and founder and managing director, Hiranandani Group.

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