The Diversity Question

The Diversity Question

The tipping point seems close. When individuals, organisations, society and government start to voice similar concerns and demand change, wishful outcomes are likely to become a reality, more than ever before. The equality and diversity issue is fast approaching this point, and despite the fact that there is a long way to go, I haven’t been more optimistic about the future of women, than I am right now.

Most recently, I saw an advertisement, popularly titled #sharetheload, by Procter & Gamble for their washing powder. An elderly gentleman goes to visit his daughter. She cheerfully epitomises the wonder woman – coming back from work while on a conference call, attend­ing to her child, handing over a cup of tea to her partner, fixing things around the house – as everyone else does his/her own thing. The father is very admiring and proud, but suddenly realises how unequal our society is in terms of ‘sharing the load’. He realises that parents bring up their daughters and sons with very different messages and expectations. He then goes back home and offers to help his wife with the washing! The wife is stunned but happily accepts his offer when he insists. He also apolo­gises to his daughter for the way society is and suggests that it’s never too late to make up for past errors.

We can each interpret these messages differently, and many of us may still live in denial. The truth is that both men and women carry the power to make a change on this front. How we behave and what behaviour we condone sets the tone for generations to come. How women participate in the workforce, realise their potential, and carve their rightful space under the sun, is up to each one of us to either facilitate or hinder.

The issue of women’s participation and success in the workforce is attracting widespread attention for its direct relationship with economic rewards. If talent is distributed equally across men and women, then a smaller presence of women suggests a sub-optimal pool of talent and, therefore, we must tap the women population. Secondly, in countries like Japan, where there is a limited pool of people, the Prime Minister is committed to bringing women back to boost economic growth and productivity. Rule of thumb estimates say that an optimal participation of women in the workforce could boost a country’s GDP by as much as 2% per annum!

India lags behind on all measures of women in the workforce despite its stellar performance with respect to women in government.

There are other factors to consider. Demographics are changing and there is no guarantee that a young woman will marry early enough to go from her parents’ home to her husband’s home. Second, it cannot be taken for granted that if she marries, she will stay married. And third, what are the chances she will be treated with respect even if both the above happen? More than ever before, we must prepare our women to be responsible for themselves. And it can only start with financial independence.

Here’s where corporate India has a critical role to play. As a senior leader in the world of business, you have the potential to make a difference by becoming conscious of the biases that exist.

Assess whether you score well on diversity and if not, why not? Can you do something about it, starting today? Given the performance of women in higher education, the problem isn’t with the talent pool – it lies in our ability to access and retain these professionals, in the organisations we run, and the homes and society we live in. What can you do to change this, starting today?

While its positive impact on your business is an important reason to start I believe that a far more compelling reason is that it is essential for women’s dignity. But what do you think?

Write in and tell me what you can promise to start or stop doing towards creating a fairer world.

As always, warmly, and with great expectations…

Anuradha Das Mathur, Editor, CFO India