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India Inc needs a gender correction

Indian businesses are known for their male bias. Several studies, conducted by local as well as international agencies, have confirmed this. There is also enough anecdotal evidence to prove the point. When such issues are pointed out by journalists, researchers and other concerned industry watchers, the usual refrain has been that things are looking up. Change is in the making. It appears, it’s not.

The 2019 edition of the Gender 3000 report from Credit Suisse Research Institute, a think-tank supported by the financial services giant, confirms existing male-bias in India Inc. The report studied 3,000 companies in 56 countries. And India ranks a pitiful 23 out of the 56, countries with just 8.5 per cent women donning senior roles. Even though this is a marginal improvement from the 6.9 per cent three years ago, India still ranks third lowest among its APAC counterparts.

Biased towards males

Clearly, Indian companies must do more to make its workplaces and boardroom more gender equal. Just last year, a World Bank report pointed out that more than a third of all job advertisements in India are biased towards the male. Women do get hired, but mostly for low-paying, low-quality jobs, the World Bank report observed. A lot of factors contribute to the biased treatment of businesses towards women. In India, the society is still pre-modern in many ways and these attitudes get reflected in hiring. Patriarchal mores continue to play a pivotal role in shaping company policies, especially in selecting candidates for jobs that involve brisk and risky decision-making. On top of it all, general misogynist sentiments prevail.

Such reports show that in spite of women in India getting quality education in fields such as science, maths and management, they face many hurdles along their journey to the corner office, which to many continues to be a chimera despite their right credentials. One main reason is that there is no regulatory pressure on businesses to act gender-equal. The Credit Suisse report shows that the greater seniority of women in management where it has occurred in Asia is likely due less to regulatory pressures and more to equitable opportunities where education is concerned. China is a good example; where its one-child policy may also have played a role in terms of labour market dynamics.

Women continue to be underpaid; maternity leaves are a joke in many industries. Menstruation issues, pre-menstruation stress and such important matters do not even make a reference in HR manuals for women in workplaces. As a result, female job participation in general continues to lag and this lull is reflected in the boardroom scenario as well. This must change, not at the business-as-usual pace but more rapidly so that the gender imbalances are corrected judiciously. A gender-based affirmative action in private sector enterprises could be a suitable place to start.

The writer is a Deputy Editor with BusinessLine

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