(Image Source: Shutterstock)
India has made gradual but definite progress towards reducing gender inequality in health and education. Despite the fact that women are as educated and skilled as men, they remain underrepresented in corporate boardrooms. According to the Egon Zehnder Global Diversity Tracker 2020, the average boardroom in India has 11 seats, out of which only 1.6 belong to women. The number is underwhelming in comparison to the global average of 2.6 women in an average board size of 11.1.
This lack of representation reflects the impediments women face at every stage of their careers. Often, mid-career women are not promoted to positions of responsibility as managers assume that they will prioritise their families over their jobs. LinkedIn’s Opportunity Index 2021 suggests that four out of five working women missed out on a raise, promotion, or work offer because of their gender. When women are unable to succeed in the workplace, organisations do not have a pipeline of candidates to induct into leadership positions. Gender-related obstacles exist, in large part, due to managerial perceptions about how women’s priorities change after marriage and/or childbirth.
The key to changing this perception is to change the reality associated with it. Societal changes must occur, such as more equitable sharing of domestic responsibilities, so that women have a fair chance to prioritise their careers. According to the latest NSSO Time Use Survey, Indian females spend 19.5 percent of their time in a day on unpaid caregiving and domestic work, whereas males spend only 2.5 percent of their time on the same. This has a clear impact on women’s freedom to pursue their professional ambitions. Only 4.2 percent of females’ time is spent on employment and related activities, compared to 18.3 percent for that of males. The pandemic, where work-from-home has increased has further exacerbated this reality.
This disparity exists because there is no support system to assist families in their care and domestic duties, and the burden to fulfil these duties falls disproportionately on women. Ignoring the disparities between men and women can have serious consequences for India. The potential loss to economic development due to low female participation in the labour force is well-articulated.
Besides this loss of potential, this issue can impose costs on society. As educated and ambitious women strive to juggle multiple responsibilities, they often sacrifice their own mental and physical well-being. Despite making sacrifices, women have to grapple with the frustration of their wasted potential and opportunities. In a country with an increasing number of educated and skilled women, it is thoughtless and cruel to not develop a support system that enables them to achieve their potential.
The well-documented struggle of Valli Arunachalam is a prime example that suggests that the problem persists even today. Arunachalam is fighting a lone battle to change the age-old practice of the Murugappa Group that overlooks the induction of family women in their boards. She has already been voted out once by an all-male board, despite being well-qualified and extensively experienced as a technologist.
Social constructs have forced us to think that women are groomed to fit in certain moulds in a patriarchal society. This not only makes society averse to changes but also cuts down the equal opportunities for women. Families must acknowledge women’s contribution to their well-being and share domestic responsibilities. Children must be sensitised about these issues at a young age to catalyse social change.
In the workplace, organisation leaders must acknowledge that gender-diverse board rooms can help organisations recognise the impediments women face at the workplace and address them. Socially regressive mindset needs to change. Board rooms need to be more gender diverse.
This can set a virtuous cycle in motion: diverse boardrooms will lead to more diverse organisations, which in turn will help create a pipeline of experienced professionals who can lead the organisation. Each one of us is responsible for enabling women to achieve their professional potential, and we must put our best foot forward to acknowledge and initiate the change.
Kanchan Mittal is an entrepreneur. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.