Historically, India has been a largely male-dominated society in terms of social and cultural values. In the last century, though, with the move away from the traditional insistence on religious customs and ideals, and with the increase of secondary and tertiary female education, India has made much progress towards a more equal and accepting society. In the past couple of decades, women have been increasingly entering the workforce and reaching top management positions. Today many women in India hold important roles in politics, social organisations and administration.
India is beginning to recognise the economic case for gender equality. Firstly, in an internationally competitive world and with a female population of 48%, India can no longer ignore nearly half of its talent pool if it wants to become a serious global contender! Secondly, the consumer market is also made up of women, and so men will need to know what the ‘other half’ wants and responds to. And finally, diversity in the employee base can make for more comprehensive decision making. Companies are now even beginning to adopt inclusion riders, so as to address the imbalance of men to women within businesses and challenge conscious and unconscious bias in the talent management process from recruitment to performance evaluation. Reports have indicated that an additional $2.9 trillion of annual GDP could be added to India by achieving gender parity in the workplace by 2025, which is a vast 60% higher than business-as-usual GDP in 2025.
In India today, many women are entering positions in what was formerly considered the male domain. In industries, such as advertising, banking, the civil service, manufacturing, the police force and communication amongst others, we can see a definite increase in the female percentage of the workforce. Indeed, women are now tackling the private sphere and making encouraging advances into top corporate positions. Women such as Chanda Kochhar (CEO of ICICI Bank), Kirthiga Reddy (CEO of Facebook India) and Vinita Bali (MD of Britannia Industries Limited) have proven you don’t need to be a man to be the boss in India.
These women are role models for a slowly but surely increasing population of educated Indian women with a new set of ambitions and ideals. Having said this, it is true that a lot of the time women often do have to work harder than their male counterparts to determine their worth in senior corporate roles. Stereotypes in the workplace suggest that women are generally viewed as working in PR, HR and administrative positions at lower levels and normally in the fashion and beauty fields, while men are better suited to management roles in the sales, marketing and production areas. Furthermore, women often feel the pressure to balance their traditional role as wives and mothers, while advancing their careers. When a woman reaches a senior position, she has to persevere in maintaining strong character and demonstrating capability. So as to be viewed more competitively, more and more women are also now enrolling in MBAs and professional courses to convince employers of their value.
Undoubtedly, at the top levels of the Indian state, the importance of gender parity in business is recognised, and there has been a greater level of encouragement for women engaging in tertiary education so as to improve their employment opportunities. While women still face a level of differential treatment in the workplace this is a work in progress and the situation is steadily improving.
Keith Warburton, founder of Global Business Culture, is one of the world’s leading experts on the commercial impact of cultural differences on global business. He is a frequent keynote speaker at international conferences and leads corporate training programmes all over the world.