A Woman’s Wish-List for all Indian Women Professionals on International Women’s Day

Article By Dr. Saundarya Rajesh, Founder-President, AVTAR Group

Let me not talk about the business case for why we need more women in the Indian workplace. Why? Because, we all know the answer to that. Diversity leads to profitability, productivity and creativity, dummy! This we learned more than a decade ago with all the studies published by Catalyst, E&Y, Sodexo, McKinsey and yes, us at AVTAR. More cognitive diversity means more minds that come together to solve a problem. More women means lesser instances of discrimination creating a better workplace for everyone. Equal numbers of men and women in the Indian workplace means a whopping Rs. 47 lakh crore increase to the GDP. (Yes, go figure the number of zeros on that!). Ergo – Diversity is good for business.

Instead let me begin with what women really want.

Working with over two and half lakh women on the AVTAR I-WIN network and counselling at least a third of that number to procure them jobs after breaks in career, over the past 15 years and some, I should say I kind of know the answer to this one. Disclaimer alert! As all research led inputs go, we speak on behalf of the majority and not every single member of the universe.

So here goes.

I wish that the Indian Woman Professional had more Flexibility. Every single one of the Top 10 Best companies in the 2017 Working Mother & AVTAR Best Companies for Women in India (BCWI) listing, offer unconditional flexibility. Companies such as Accenture, IBM, Mindtree, Barclays, State Street & Shell have amazing policies that offer so many exotic variations of flexible working. I envy the women who work in companies like the BCWI Best 100. They are the creamy layer. They comprise possibly 10% of the working women population in India that has access to this veritable Oxygen of Women’s careers – Flexible Working. This International Women’s Day, I only wish that the remaining 90% too have access to some form of flexibility. I wish that Suchitra, a 35 year old Chartered Accountant with two daughters, working for Mitra & Co at Ahmedabad is also able to enjoy the occasional privilege of working from home.

I wish that managers had more conversations with their women teammates. Yes. Conversations. Companies such as Deloitte, Schneider Electric and Mahindra Group in the 2017 BCWI 100 Best list, which invested in providing counselling conversations for post-partum depression recorded a very high maternity retention rate, retaining most of the women who left for maternity last year. The BCWI Best Companies had less than 10% attrition as compared to up to 48% post-maternity attrition typically suffered by organizations.  Similarly, when women on maternity leave were engaged by a 2017 BCWI 100 Best employer through regular career development conversations, maternity retention rate that was previously at 65%, jumped to 91%. Conversations are paramount in creating an inclusive atmosphere. That brief small talk shows that the organization is human and cares. Did you know that even the occasional water cooler interaction goes a long way in helping women fight depression? And so I wish, this IWD 2018, that young Candice working as a night-shift Data Scientist at Innotechsys, Coimbatore, who is going through a rough patch after a break-up and wishes she could share it with someone simply because it is affecting her work, manages to find access to a counselling conversation.

I wish that Sameena, 38, a B.Tech (Comp.Sci) who quit working after the birth of her second baby, is able to find an employer at Vijayawada who will disregard her 3 year break, look at her career learnings and give her another shot at a job. I wish that she is not penalized any longer for having been a worker bee at home, taking care of her elders, educating and caring for her children. I wish that the next recruiter she meets understands that she and women like her constitute a large majority of Indian women as well as a very important part of our society and that pushing her candidature, giving her a second chance is not a favour, it is a wise talent strategy.

I wish that Betty who has been contemplating talking to the ICC (Internal Complaints Committee constituted for Prevention of Sexual Harassment) at her company about the unwanted attention from a male colleague which her friend has been experiencing, actually files the complaint.

I wish that Joyeeta who has discovered to her delight that she is pregnant will not have to face the tribulation of being asked to leave as her small industry employer finds the 6 month maternity leave too much of a financial burden to bear.

I wish that Tara’s manager realises that he is paying her a lower grade of compensation as compared to her counterpart Mithun and corrects it without having to justify why.

And most important of all, I wish that between the millions of Suchitras, Candices, Sameenas, Bettys, Joyeetas and Taras, they stay on in larger numbers for longer periods of time, in order to actually redefine the Indian workplace culture. Instead of merely aping a fast-fading western model that demands a highly individualistic, highly competitive workplace demeanour where you are constantly  required to prove that you are the best, you are brightest, you are willing to do it all – I wish they create a collaborative, flexible, agile and cohesive ethos that is truly sustainable in the long run.

I wish they make their leaders and managers realize that yes, face-time is important, being there is important, but then emotional intelligence and team work is equally important. On this International Women’s Day 2018, I wish that both men and women realize that while technology is a great enabler, it is also a deadly contributor to work that never switches off.

And with that realization, I wish that India becomes an exemplar for fast-growth economies around the world that look at progress as not just winning but as enriching ourselves. That the workplace too is a microcosm of the society whose purpose is not to win a race, but to sustain, endure and create a positive experience. As a turbaned, young monk who made brothers and sisters of America famous once said, “The world is a great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong.”

This article was published in The Times of India on March 7th,2018 in the India Business News section.