Businesswomen in India have moved a step closer to greater representation in the boardroom after the new company law made it mandatory for one woman to be present in every boardroom in the country. While many have hailed this new law as real crack in the glass ceiling, critics question whether compulsory targets are the best way for women to finally smash through.
I don’t support quotas or tokenism, but while doing research on Boardroom Commitment to Diversity, I realized that there are still unconscious biases and gender stereotypes present at the leadership levels in India Inc. Governments across the globe have introduced quotas to create a level playing field for many minorities in the system. Last year, European Parliament overwhelmingly approved proposals to make large companies fill 40 per cent of their non-executive board posts with women.
But a word of caution here. Laws are made to support a cause and promote diversity of thought at boardroom level, we need to ensure meritocracy rather than tokenism. It is said that one woman in the board is token, two is a presence and three is a voice. It is true that “Power of Three” works in boardroom as well.
I often hear the common lament: “We want to have more diversity in our boardroom. But where are the women? We just don’t know any”, when asked why they don’t have women on their boards. Though some of the Indian CEOs are cognizant of the fact that having diversity in the boardroom would benefit the organizational performance but they usually fail to implement it at the C – Suite level.
So why, in 2014, does this inequity persist? The truth is, it’s not hard to find qualified women to serve on corporate boards. Research suggests that all the board positions get filled by the still-existent old boys’ network and references. Companies may consider modifying their board criteria to broaden the pool of candidates. Experts believe boards need to recognize that they shouldn’t be recruiting members based on subject-matter knowledge but rather should be seeking “effective leaders”. After all, it has to be “best fit” for the position or role.
Here’s to the wave of change that is very much the need of the hour and is on its way.
The Flipkart News!
A good initiative by Flipkart around Maternity leave has been welcome news in recent past. 24 weeks paid paternity leave, 4 months of flexi working hours with full pay, 1 year of career break without pay – it sounds awesome! Having worked extensively and being part of team doing in- depth research and training on equal opportunity for all, creating inclusive work environment – maternity as a roadblock to women’s career progression has been one of the most discussed topics for me.
Are organizations doing enough?
While the Flipkart maternity roll out is a necessary and welcome move, and we should join hands to congratulate them, it still keeps the bell ringing in my mind. Is increasing maternity leave enough to meet the objective? Does flexi work hours help in retention and advancement of women talent? Unfortunately, no. There are number of organisations which I have interviewed that had these policies with limited or no output. The number of women represented in leadership position is miniscule; the number of women quitting post maternity is on rise. The progressive policies in isolation do not really impact the gender ratio in an organisation or make the work environment more conducive.
An extended maternity leave does ease out a lot of stress for a working would-be mom. However, this is only till the baby is born and the ‘would-be’ mom transitions into ‘mom’. Motherhood is the most important transition that women go through. Because at this moment, in her mind, she thinks or herself less an individual and more a mother. We can have different opinions here, but that’s what I have observed in most of the women who experience motherhood.
What is Maternity Transition?
In my experience, as a woman employee, as a coach and as an ambitious career woman, it’s the maternity transition which needs to be the focus of the hour if we are really serious about increasing role of women in business.
Retaining professional employees who take maternity leave has to be a part of a comprehensive strategy for developing and engaging the best talent. Partnering with employees to manage transitions addresses a number of critical business, cultural and behavioral challenges.
What does maternity transition entail?
The maternity transition works at 3 levels: the organization, the manager and the employee .
At the organizational level, progressive and modern policies like ones adapted by Flipkart, Unilever, Make My Trip works very well. This needs continual evaluation based on changing societal structure, parental roles, nature of the organization, statutory requirement etc. However, the way organization communicates and enforces the policies makes a huge difference. The message goes strong with employees as to why do they need to respect and follow the guidelines created by the organization.
The front page news of Flipkart does give out a strong signal. Not only for Flipkart as a woman friendly and equal opportunity employer but also for also for employees working with Flipkart. The focus on presenting the communication to the world sends the importance of the message to the Flipkart employees.
The challenges are more while managing the transition at the manager and the team level. This decision of Flipkart can also see resistance on hiring of women employees. More women, more maternity leaves, more to manage by existing working team. There is a mindset that exists in most of the organizations. The managers and teams are reluctant to take responsibility of co-managing the transition. Business continuity and productivity can be managed if each of the involved party plans well.
The woman employee going for maternity leave is also equally responsible for a smooth transition. A common observed mindset is that it is organizational responsibility to manage the career and career breaks of an individual. Don’t we have an equal (if not more) responsibility towards our own career, managing stakeholders – personal and professional, and ensuring a successful run post maternity?
It takes 3 to Tango
The organization, team and manager, and the employee have to work in sync to create the success stories we are looking forward to. Stories where maternity no more would remain a major debating topic for advancement of women professionals.
This requires planning for pre -leave, during-leave and post-leave period.
A comprehensive transition plan for all on- going projects and responsibilities, communication with team leader, HR and external stakeholders would ensure business continuity. A contact and communication plan with the employee on maternity leave would come handy. What should those points of contact be, how to keep her updated on business or, for that matter, even light office gossips helps the woman remain connected and maintain her motivation level to return to the organization. A support group – a buddy mother, a maternity coach or webinar based programs have been hugely successful in managing stress and expectations of new mothers. An on-ramping initiative based on organizational policies and individual circumstances would again reduce the anxiety, guilt syndrome and work-life balance. Sensitizing manager and team, reinforcing organization guidelines with the team before on- ramping sets the required cultural orientation.
Though I do not have exact number of women off ramping post maternity in India, but estimated numbers suggest that this percentage could be as high as 60%. We cannot afford to ignore this number. It is required to take comprehensive strategic steps. It is heartening to see more and more new-economy companies coming up with disruptive product ideas, disruptive marketing ideas… waiting for someone to be truly disruptive in addressing Maternity Transition.
To know more about interventions on Maternity Transition, please click here.
Known by names like ‘Menstrual Man’ and ‘Tampon King’, Arunachalam Muruganantham is a social entrepreneur from rural Coimbatore who is changing the way rural women perceive menstrual health and has employed a million women along the way.
- He left school at the age of 14 as he lost his father and had to help his mother support the family. Not going to high school made him more curious about everything around him.
- He first thought of making a budget sanitary pad when he saw his wife using rags during menstruation. He was shocked that the sanitary pads cost Rs. 4 in 1998 when the same amount of cotton only cost 10 paise.
- When he launched his mission to produce a sanitary pad that was affordable, he was left all alone on his journey. His wife and mother left him and his village ostracised him thinking he was going mad.
- When he discovered that multinational corporations used machines that cost millions, he resolved to make an economical machine of his own to make sanitary towels.
- In 2011, AC Nielson’s survey that was commissioned by government of India found that only 12% of Indian women used sanitary napkins. Muruganantham was taken aback to learn that these numbers were even lower for women in rural areas and these women didn’t only use rags but also other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.
- His mission is not just to increase the use of sanitary pads but also to increase employment for women in rural areas. His mother suffered after his father’s death when she had to sell everything they owned and work as a labourer to support her 4 children. Muruganantham wants women to be self dependent.
- He first launched his product in Bihar and felt if he could change mindsets there, he could succeed anywhere.
- Today he wants to spread his product’s reach to 106 countries including Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, Philippines and Bangladesh.
- He has installed his machines in villages and in schools so girls don’t need to drop-out from school any more. His best moment wasn’t when he received an award from the president of India but when a woman called from a remote village of Uttarakhand where no body had sent children to school for generations but this woman had called to say her daughter now went to school.
- Muruganantham says, “where Nehru failed, one machine succeeded.”
Hear him speak at I-inspire 2015. Do you still need more reason to be there?
I have been a coach for eight years now. Initially taking only corporate assignments but later when I donned the hat of an entrepreneur, I increasingly started engaging with the startup community. For pretty long I stuck to ‘coaching’ startups but over a period of time realized, what startups really need is a combination of coaching plus mentoring. A coach can help you rewire your thinking and find answers to your challenges, but keeps away from advising. However, mentoring is guiding the mentee through right directions by sharing tips and actionable advice by someone who probably has had a similar journey.
Why Startups need Mentoring + Coaching?
For the sheer stubbornness to succeed: Study Google statistics & reports and you will be amazed to find the very high percentage of startup failure. What once starts with passion soon gets smeared with problems, challenges and doubts.
It’s then that mentors help you remain focused, advise you without being emotionally attached to any decision, are ruthless when it comes to strategy, numbers and help you drive accountability. This is help in disguise as it keeps the engine running with maximum efficiency.
To manage the overwhelming vastness of job responsibilities: As an entrepreneur you are the dreamer as well as the doer. From managing your office to business planning, managing your social media presence, selling, marketing, accounting and I can continue with the list. Phew!! Just too much work!
It is very easy to get lost in the operations and minutiae of running a startup. And this is where the first step of failure crawls in. A mentor helps put vision and actions in perspective, helps you break down milestones and prioritize, guides you to manage different aspects of running the show and keeps you motivated and charged up for the long journey ahead.
Help execute the imperfect plan: Its a common trait in entrepreneurs to wait for the perfect plan. But in life and in business there are no perfect plans, there are only imperfect good plans. Procrastination and waiting for perfection is one of the biggest reasons of failures. Mentors can help you take timely decisions, infuse the required confidence to take the plunge.
So, if you are a startup, go and seek out mentors for yourself. Of course, as entrepreneurs we are confident, we are bold but many a time over confidence stops us from seeking advice and assistance. Seek mentors. They might be the engine oil that your startup needs desperately!
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
The significance of a collaborative society is pertinent today like never before. Nobody lives in silos. And nobody wants to. Today, the world is waking up to the power of mentoring.
Mentoring is just the required push in the right direction. Biz Divas has always believed in and promoted mentoring. It is one of the pillars on which the foundation stands. This year’s Global Walk was a testimony of how powerful an impact mentoring is.
Sponsored by Sahara India and The CEO Club India and supported by Vital Voices, it was Biz Divas second Mentoring Walk. An annual event, the walk happens every November in cities with Biz Divas chapters.
It was amazing to see around 75+ women in Delhi/NCR and in Mumbai on a cool November morning. The inspiring energy was palpable. There was participation from all walks of life. Women from corporates as well as entrepreneurs bonded over different and yet so similar challenges and joys of professional journey. Mentors and mentees walk in pairs talking, sharing and getting inspired. Then the mentoring continued over breakfast.
The cherry on the cake was stimulating talk by Debjani Ghosh, MD Intel in Delhi. As she related her story from childhood to being where she is now, from a female prospective, a lot of insights came through. She emphasized that it is all about “breaking the stereotypes”, imposed by others as well as our own selves. While women should make good use of softer and more balanced qualities prominent in them, it is best to leave “gender card” behind when going to work. A lot of changes are evident in the society already and we have to go long way ahead. The conditioning starts with the family and how we treat our daughters and also our sons. Even if some damage has been done to our belief system due to the way we women have been brought up, it is up to us to stop complaining about that and stand up for ourselves and our aspirations.
The talk triggered a spontaneous and intriguing discussion among participants they couldn’t seem to have enough of.
Organizations that participated:
- Artisans Micro Finance Pvt. Ltd.
- ACT (Action Center For Transformation)
- American Express
- Approach International
- Barclays Shared Services
- Blue Lotus
- Coca Cola
- Crosshairs Communication
- Institute Of Rural Research And Development
- InterGlobe Aviation Limited (IndiGo)
- Shell Lubricants
- The CEO Clubs India
- Valvoline Cummins Limited
Keep watching this space for interacting with these and more inspiring women and men leaders in our annual conference: I Inspire 2014
Here is what Mentees have to say about Global Mentoring Walk:
It was such an amazing experience to be in midst of so many women entrepreneurs! Thanks Biz Divas for giving us such a wonderful opportunity to meet each other and learn… A special thanks to my mentor whom I have been wanting to meet for a long time…..her vast experience and small tips have been extremely insightful and encouraging….
~ Aditi Bhatnagar
What a lovely morning, a game changer for me, Biz Divas and the team, way to go.. thanks my mentor – advices so honest and straight from heart… thanks
~ Deepti Pant
What more can I add to what has not been already written about the Global Mentoring Walk today….I am wracking my brains….A Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiggggggggggggggggg Thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaank Youuuuuuuuuuu……Amazing experience….lots to learn……perfect pairing…….special thanks to my mentor
~ Geetika Arora Khera
A very big round of gratitude and appreciation to team Biz Divas and to all the participants at the Global Mentoring Walk today. I trust it was a worthwhile and fulfilling morning for all. Personally it was sheer joy to meet and interact with so many old and new friends and get inspired all over again. Picked up great connections and tips for moving forward at work and in life. Specially have to mention the almost tailor made mentor mentee matching that was pulled off. And of course the beautiful gifts in the goody bags. This has indeed been a transformative event brought to India by Biz Divas.
~ Kiran Chaturvedi
I thank Biz Divas entire team for organizing Global Mentoring Walk. This has been the best initiative and taken by far by any networking forum for our professional development. We all come across many problems in our daily lives and due to lack of support we start to loose courage. We have no answers to certain problems and we let them be. I also feel that not everyone is lucky enough to get right guidance at right time due to which we lose opportunities in life. But after attending Biz Divas mentoring walk my vision has changed. I could connect with my mentor at very different level. She shared her own experiences for me to able to relate to them which were practical yet insightful. She really helped and enlightened me. She made me so comfortable that the barrier between mentee and mentor vanished. It was like I am talking to someone who is just a good listener with a very broad minded approach to issues which any women is facing however handling them sensibly. My big thanks and salutation goes to my mentor and last but not the least to Biz Divas. I am glad to be associated with this era where we are getting such a support system which many women could even think of.
~ Nidhi Jagtiani
Amazing experience to meet a mentor who zeroes in so sharply to what the mentee needs! Gauri Sarin, my mentor ….. I am blessed to have been paired with you and look forward to our sessions! Thanks Sarika and Dinakshi and rest of the BizDivas team for giving this opportunity!
~ Preeta Pradhan
The Global Mentoring walk in Mumbai kicked off with 18 pairs of mentors and mentees. The MCA cricket club was a fitting venue for the mentor-mentee walk with the warm backdrop of the ‘BKC Business District’ skyline.
The energy and enthusiasm was palpable with almost everyone arriving on time – ‘all geared up’ for the walk. The forty minute walk was found to be too short for most but they were equally excited to meet other emerging and established women leaders. Breakfast over networking especially after a hearty walk does help in interesting conversations and connects and that’s what precisely happened. Priyanka Awasthy extended the networking conversation into the larger group by facilitating the mentor-mentee individual interactions and sharings. Post which Rashmi Mandloi facilitated an informal panel discussion of Kalpana Unadkat (Partner, Khaitan & Co), Caroline Graham (Change Leader, Barclays) and Rajani Ahreya(Head HR, Thomson Reuters). The interesting discussion steered around ‘change, work-life balance, women on boards, handling male attitudes at work and more. The star of the day was Apurva Purohit who gave a very practical perception of women and the way they handle it. The talk was easy and informal on Acceptance of guilt in omen, Adapting the right attitude to succeed, and accepting one’s Achievement wholeheartedly resounded with the crowd. In all a great 3 hours spent on a Saturday morning.
As we read… the GMW Mumbai group is very actively looking at sustaining this ‘lean in’ community. They have opened a WhatsApp group to communicate and stay connected. Till then all look forward to the next walk… or maybe a mid-year walk. Will wait to hear from the Mumbai Divas!
The organizations that participated:
- Blue Star Infotech
- Breach Candy Hospital
- Deutsche Bank
- Inner Katha Interventions
- Khaitan & Co
- LNT Infotech
- Morgan Stanley
- Price Waterhouse Cooper
- Radio City
- Standard Chartered
- Star TV
- Thomson Reuters
Apart from Independent Artists and Entrepreneurs.