That India Inc has had an abysmally low representation of women at the top has been well chronicled over the years. But there is a bright spot emerging that gives hope. Women's presence in senior management roles has now crossed the double-digit mark, signalling the progress that they have made in the corporate world.
Given the needs of gender diversity in modern businesses, Indian companies during 2012 went all out to woo women for top roles. As a result, their share in senior management roles increased to 14% last year from 9% in 2011, an over 50% growth, reveals the findings of a study commissioned by TOI to global recruitment firm, Randstad.
It's expected to gather strength over the next few years as there is also a growing trend of more women appearing for CAT exams and business schools admitting more female students. Chanda Kochhar, MD & CEO of ICICI Bank, finds the trend encouraging. "This increase has come out as a result of organisations becoming gender-neutral, realising the benefit of diversity and because women themselves are taking charge and at the same time exuding more confidence." She feels even their presence on boards would increase over a period since it's a process of evolution. "With a substantial number of women at the entry level now, their presence in the middle management would also improve over a period and ultimately it would lead to some of them making it to the top."
Not all numbers are that heartening though. The study, which tracked the BSE 500 firms, reveals that only 3% of women hold top positions in executive committees in India Inc. Against this, the comparative figure is 10% in Europe and 14% in the US. This is despite the fact that organisations are implementing diversity programmes and focusing on getting more women into the workforce, so much so that head hunters are being paid more to get a suitable woman candidate.
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"The increase in number of women leaders is a welcome trend. Typically, women tend to sacrifice their careers over family. This is the single biggest deterrent for Indian working women to scale the corporate ladder," says E Balaji, CEO, Randstad India.
The lack of women at the top rung is a fallout of fewer options being available for organizations to choose from as far as female talent goes. "The reason for the number of women in senior positions going up is reflective of the fact that Indian women have become more career minded, have more social support along with the climate and context being right for this growth in female participation in the workforce. We have to recognize that women themselves have done very well academically and professionally instead of crediting the affirmative actions being taken by organizations," says Santrupt Misra, director, group HR, Aditya Birla group.
Here's another woman CEO's perspective on why their representation is still low. Says Bala Deshpande, India MD of New Enterprise Associates, a private equity fund: "We have the ethos, we have the talent too. It is now a matter of igniting minds with the right type of education, inspiring through mentorship and encouraging a more expansive mindset about the role of women in our society."
The future appears bright. In 2010, around 53,732 women took the CAT exam and this number grew by 13.2% between 2010 and 2012. Overall, IIMs have around 15% female students, and in 2012 the percentage of women shortlisted at the top three IIMs went up to 23.3% from 15.96%.
Indian School of Business (ISB), on the other hand, has an impressive 28% women in its present class of 767 management students against a global average of around 35-45% at business schools like Harvard and Wharton.
"We have seen the number of women increase every year and what is even more encouraging is that the average age of these women is 27 years. This is indicative of a big change happening in the Indian society as many of them at that age face other pressures but still wade through everything and pursue an MBA," says Deepak Chandra, deputy dean of the ISB.
Image courtesy: BCCL