The data with women participation in India is disappointing. According to the ‘gender gap report’ put out by the World Economic Forum for year 2016, overall India stacks up at 87th position from 144. In terms of labour force participation India stands at 135 of 144 and 137/144 for estimated earned income work.
According to IndiaSpend, between 2004 and 2012, 19.6 million women lost or quit their jobs – the biggest decline is seen in illiterate women as well as post-graduates.
At the 13th edition of India Business Leader Awards (IBLA), to discuss how India can change this, CNBC-TV18's Shereen Bhan, spoke to esteemed panel of women that included Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chairman, SBI, Naina Lal Kidwai, Chairman, Max Financial Services, Chanda Kochhar, MD & CEO,ICICI Bank, Shikha Sharma MD & CEO, Axis Bank, Kaku Nakhate, President & Country Head,BoAML India. There was also Manisha Girotra, CEO, Moelis India, Shobana Kamineni, President, CII and Zarin Daruwala, MD & CEO, Standard Chartered India.
Below is the verbatim transcript of the interview.
Q: No mean achievement for you to be heading India’s largest public sector bank (PSB), India’s largest bank, I just read out these numbers, how do we change this, what can be done?
Bhattacharya: You need to understand why women are leaving the work force and that is the study that we did in the bank ourselves and we found that normally women leave at three times during their career. The first of course is the child bearing years, the second is when children are in between class 10 and class 12 and this I am talking about the semi-urban, urban population and the last is when people are unwell mainly parents or parent-in-law. That is the older generation becomes unwell and we find that the women are considered the primary caregivers and that being the case, they obviously have to do a lot.They feel guilty about not giving their best either to the home or to the office, and therefore they have an option of leaving, they leave. So we have tried to do something about it. We have given a two-year sabbatical, which they can take for children or elderly-care and this they can do three times in their career. So to that extent we have managed to ring-fence a few people who otherwise would have left but that isn’t sufficient.
What is required more is a better infrastructure for caring in the house or otherwise and that is one big area where if we get adequate amount of support, women would prefer to remain on the workforce and not just leave.
Q: Do you believe that things have improved since the time that you perhaps have rolled out some of these measures?
Bhattacharya: I think it has improved in the sense that there is greater awareness about these activities. I find that the younger people who are joining us that the men also take up many of these responsibilities. I also find that our generation of mothers-in-law, they are more supportive of their daughters and their daughters-in-law working. So to that extent, yes, there is a change, but I don’t think the change is fast enough or sufficient enough, a lot of work needs to be done.
Q: One of the debates that is currently taking place when we saw the maternity bill being cleared by parliament is that will this actually incentivise women to stay on or will it disincentivise employers from hiring more women. As somebody at ICICI Bank where we have seen pipeline of women leaders being nurtured, a culture of meritocracy being nurtured, where do you weigh-in on that debate?
Kochhar: I think some of these are measures that in any case the corporations will have to take if we want to attract that 50 percent of the population into the work force. So we talk of this 26 weeks of maternity leave, actually ICICI started that a decade ago before these laws were made like an enforced requirements.
So what we need to do is at least at the corporate world – if you want to talk of the rural India, there is separate thing altogether – but in the corporate world we need to do four things. One at the time of recruitment, second is during their career, the third is around safety security and the fourth is special lifetime stages.
At the recruitment time, make sure you are making no distinction based on gender and that is how you attract more and more women into the work force. Then during the career, make sure you give them the confidence that it is their work which is going to be rewarded and it is going to be a merit-based organisation.
Third is around safety security. So what we do have is various things like ‘I Travel Safe’ where you press the button, you invoke a quick response team or there is somebody accompanying you for late night meetings and so on.
The fourth is the life stage as Arundhati Bhattacharya spoke about, again it is not about laws requiring you to do something but we started what we said ‘I Work From Home’, that is we have created a full office like environment with just face recognition and people can do full time work from home. Your computer recognizes you and you do full time work from home, you are part of the entire workforce and we have seen hundreds of women opting for it.
Q: Has the attrition come down of women?
Kochhar: Yes, because some of these were either – they were just bearing the child, so they would have otherwise quit or some are actually at the stage where they want to be with their parents because they are unwell. So to that extent, we have prevented those women from leaving.
So work from home – we have started something where we say that young women till the time the child is of certain years of age, if she is travelling overnight for work, we will pay for the accompanying caregiver as well. So these things do help, and these are more that you need to do in any case as your HR policies rather than just looking at them as being enforced by law.
Q: One of the other issues that one often grapples with and it is not just an India problem, in fact it is perhaps more widespread globally - is income equality. We are now starting to see companies take measures to improve that, to change that. What is your take about how prevalent that is in India and how do corporations address it?
Sharma: I do not have industry data but if I look at the organisations that I have worked with, whether it's ICICI or Axis, I do not think we discriminate between men and women when it comes to income. I think the areas we need to work with are the points that Arundhati mentioned about life stage and about peoples' attitude to having women on the workforce.
So just two things I would like to mention here. One is in terms of attitude. I think people should recognise that women may have different needs but they contribute differently to the organisation and therefore, it is important to give them a role and give them a challenge and not make the assumption that because they are women they are going to drop out of the workplace.
One programme that we worked on which has worked really well is 'Reconnect'. So despite everything that an organisation might do - the point that Arundhati made that there are life stages where you dropout, you want to take time off to do other things that you want to do with your life whether it's your children, helping them do exams or elderly care. And we found that 'Reconnect' actually really works. If you stay in touch with the performing women, who take time off for their personal needs, many of them come back and it is great for both the women and the organisation.
Q: Anything specific that you have been able to do, for instance within the organisation to ensure that you bring down the attrition rate as well as attract more women into the workforce?
Daruwala: Standard Chartered also has a lot of women leaders; in fact some of the largest countries in the Standard Chartered footprint are headed by women. So countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, China, India, Korea and Nigeria. The policies were there. I have been focusing a lot on what we can do more.
We have, for example in three locations crèches and that has helped to ensure that the women --and in fact the crèches are used by the men also for their children. So it helps in that stage where the woman has the dilemma about leaving the kid home.
The other thing that we have been doing is what we call mentoring; so grooming women for leadership. It's a formal thing that is done for a middle management and the lower to middle kind of range where you groom them to become leaders. We also have flexible working hours and a lot of women take it and this benefit is quite useful. So many such things are there. It's quite a women friendly organisation.
Q: Just to take that point forward and I know that we have chatted about this in the past and there are now companies that while they do have benefits like maternity leaves, they are also making time and space as part of their HR policy for paternity leave and paternity benefits. How do you if we are talking about creating equal meritocracy based organisation, you will need to think about these things so that you don’t then in a sense over compensate on the other side?
Kidwai: I think it is quite important that the policies that come enable both genders to avail of them. So, flexi hours is the classic, where you would allow men or women to pick up on it. In fact, I remember when we introduced flexi hours at HSBC way back in 2005, 60 percent of the uptick was men and they were taking it because they wanted to tend to a sick mother, father, or go off on a sabbatical to get a degree and you would therefore I think enable an environment where both or either gender could benefit from the processes you put in.
I think one of the other things when we looked at how we could grow the women in the workforce was the need for a five day week and when it comes in, it came in for everyone and everyone had to buy into it because the word that I had put out was if it is not going to work, we will go back – we would of course keep the branch open for six days, but you had a five day roaster.
So, everybody becomes part of a program and I prefer an environment where we don’t have too many special privileges for the women but recognise that they have special needs which is of course – so the crèche is available to both, but the special needs would be leadership training.
I think that is very important because women don’t grasp the opportunity readily. I think recognising that there are lifetime choices, and therefore the ability to bring women back into the workplace if they choose to step away becomes important and that is something which very few organisations actually manage to embrace.
I know I failed at it because women don’t readily come back to the organisation, they leave because they feel they have now junior to their batch and integrating back becomes hard. So, how we resolve some of these issues would be quite important.
Q: Since we are talking about resolution of these issues and we are talking about putting ideas on the table, let me ask you the three top ideas that you believe that both government as well corporate India can work on together to ensure that these numbers look very different a few years down the line?Kamineni: I think that there is a business case behind it. 17 percent of women are in the workforce, if you can take this up by 10 percent, it is almost USD 750 billion which will add to our GDP. So, this is straight business case of why it should happen.
However, two things, what government is really focusing on is to make it through financial inclusion in the villages. So, you have to pick the top districts in India -- if you see where there is gender disparity, you will find where it comes from people with lack of education. So, education is number one thing. Once they can get that into the work.
From the corporate side I think it is the workforce that you have to see. So, services is a natural win but how can we take away that glass ceiling everywhere and this will come from technology. When you have robotics, for instance by using robots for heart surgery and neuro surgery you will have more women or it becomes easier even in manufacturing 4.0. So this generational shift will happen.
However, the last point I would like to say is a sociological shift that when men stop thinking about this gender difference and this will come from women who are in the workforce and they have kids, we have among my four sisters, we have seven next generation boys. I don’t think they will even think about their wives or their daughters working. So, this is a generational shift when it does not matter anymore; that is the time when we will have this tipping point.
Q: A final word on what we need to do as far as improving this data is concerned?
Nakhate: Actually at Bank of America we have been focused quite a lot on diversity inclusion and we have definitely done a lot of programs for gender diversity. However, with that, also the LGBT as well as the differently enabled people. The idea of the workforce is to make it more inclusive and create an environment where people realise the special needs people have, also recognise the strengths that people have.As far as women are concerned, the two-three things that has really helped us differentiate is to have male advocacy in most of the networks because when they speak up what they have and when they hear from other women, they start respecting their wives too in a very different manner than probably what they really looked at; that is one.
The second thing that I think return to work which is what partly Shikha also did, we actually have a lot of networks, we actually go out and meet when the baby is being delivering to just get the buy-in from the family and also help them shift their jobs because you might be in a very active job, but maybe you need some job that will change and then to give that comfort that the person is not going to lose out.At the same time, we also make a real effort to explain that if you do a different job and the different job pay scales are different then people also have to accept it. So, it is both that is there and I think the male advocacy has played an immense part in our organisation right from my Asia President Matthew Koder, actually he does lot of these things when he comes around and that has really been useful.