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Getting even at work: Number of women employees up in many sectors

MUMBAI: The fight to balance the boardroom may not have been won but quite a few Indian companies have been making strides towards a gender-balanced workforce.

At Quintiles India, a leading provider of biopharmaceutical development services and commercial outsourcing services, 52% of the workforce is women. L'Oreal India is merely 6% short of the halfway mark, while at boutique consulting firm YSC, the number of women employees far exceeds the men.

Be it the nature of the industry they operate in or their women-friendly policies, these companies stand out for encouraging more women in their workforce. L'Oreal India has achieved a gender balance ratio of 44:56 at its head office. "A balanced workforce in all functions and levels enhances our understanding of consumers and allows us to develop and market products that are relevant to their wants and needs," said Mohit James, director HR, L'Oreal India.

With boutique consulting firms, smaller in size and less matrixed, the dominant presence of women employees comes as a pleasant surprise. YSC Asia Pacific, a niche consulting firm that specializes in executive coaching, organization development and executive assessment, has a total strength of 32, of which 26 are women. "Consultants have to demonstrate allround skills in business development, design, delivery and customer relationship management, all of which women are able to do as well as men and in some cases even better," said Gurprriet Siingh, director & head, YSC India. The glass ceiling effect is not as common at consulting firms which are fairly flat, encouraging lateral growth opportunity. A section of experts, however, argue that gender balance ends at 50% and anything beyond that can lead to a skew.

For many organizations, commitment to gender diversity doesn't end by merely ensuring a healthy ratio of women. "We are aware of the need to provide an environment where women progress in their careers as they balance the demands of personal and professional life," said Trupti Talati, senior director, HR, Quintiles India. Studies across organizations have shown that women often drop out at the mid-career level or at the stage where they start a family. "It is in our interest to ensure that we provide these women options that allow them to continue their careers despite the pressures and demands of family life through policies such as flexi-work, home-based work, extended paid maternity leave and so on," said Talati.

Sectors like IT, financial services, media, fashion and hospitality have taken the lead in employing more women, according to Moorthy K. Uppaluri, CEO, Randstad India & Sri Lanka. A pleasant working atmosphere, good work-life balance, easy access to workplace and flexible working schedules are some of the reasons these sectors attract more women.

Human resource is the most preferred job for Indian working women, according to Randstad. The staffing company states that 23% of women hold senior positions in HR in India Inc. This is followed by 16% in financial positions and 10% in sales. At The Royal Bank of Scotland NV (RBS), 54% of their 217 staff members in the HR department in India are women.

Manufacturing sectors like auto and pharma too have increased their focus on optimizing gender diversity over the last three to four years, and they prefer women for corporate and even specific blue collar roles. Italian confectionery brand Ferrero India's Baramati manufacturing plant in Maharashtra employs 1,700 people, of which 70% are rural women. This, said a company spokesperson, is by design and not by default. The company has also set up a day-care centre at the plant.

However, India Inc still has less than 5% of women in senior positions. But according to Dipali Sheth, head of human resources, RBS India, in senior management levels, a lot of women today are keen on maintaining and building their careers. They are ambitious, hardworking, add real value and are willing to put in the extra effort that's required to deliver in leadership positions. "Moreover, today men accept working with and reporting to women leaders much more than before," Sheth said.