Pushing For Change In Corporate India

Posted: October 22, 2013

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Girls Rock campaign for girlsSujatha Kumaraswamy is a Senior Director at a leading global IT services company, and a Certified Master Black Belt and Lean Facilitator.

It’s not a novelty for women to work in India. They have been doing so for decades in many different industries. The extent of participation though is abysmally low. According to the World Bank, two out of every three women in India are not employed. This is because the challenges for a woman at the workplace haven’t changed and have probably grown over time with the advent of new industries, etc. The necessity of juggling multiple roles as a mother, wife, employee, etc. at a time is also taking a toll on women’s health.

My own experience working in India and in the US has strengthened my belief that organizations really need to understand that investing in policies and support networks for this section of their workforce is a dire need of the hour.

Many of the organizational policies need a major overhaul, especially around flexi-work, work from home options, maternity, security, etc. It’s also very rare to find organizations in India that have some strong and serious mentoring systems and support networks for women. Many that have it just pay lip-service. These support networks are some fantastic means to overcome some of these obstacles and constraints women face at the workplace and it would be great to have companies focused on building these, especially for women.

A critical piece of the puzzle is also enabling build an infrastructure outside of work to enable care for children, elders, etc. considering that this continues to primarily be a woman’s responsibility. Not everyone is privileged enough to be able to afford high-end day cares and nannies. Industry organizations and MNCs also should see how these can be strengthened to enable greater number of women join the workforce and stay in it.

women-in-corporate-IndiaI have worked in leadership teams where there was no other woman. While it really depends on how ‘evolved’ the organization culture is, the specific nature of the group, etc., typically you do feel left out of the boys’ club. The content of discussions is invariably muted (maybe that’s a good thing?) and there are many informal chats that you may not be a part of. A strong culture shift is required here at an individual level to change this.

Many multi-national organizations today don’t have a 9 to 5 work culture anymore especially so in the IT/ITeS services industries. ‘Work’ doesn’t really come up time limits and this gets even more challenging as you move up the ladder. In a dual career family then, managing the day-to-day logistics and travel schedules takes a lot of effort and causes a lot of stress too!

Travel is always a nightmare as well, more so now. Every trip I take now whether domestic or international has me worrying about my safety and security all the way. Some support from organizations to smoothen the travel would certainly help ease some of the stress.

Social and networking events are by definition “nice-to-haves” but the unwritten rule is that they are must-haves. This one is tough…you would obviously want to attend these, it’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with people outside of work and build your personal brand. But these events are almost always over weekends or late in the evenings and as wives and mothers, that’s usually the busiest and craziest time of the day for us. Bringing in a thought process to accommodate these constraints would help as well.

Many of these require major change management in the thinking of the management and the associates in the organization. These also require a cultural shift away from a “face-time” focus. Programs on bringing about this change and building a strong support infrastructure are what are the need of the hour, not just policies that pay lip-service or meet compliance requirements.

The UN and International Labor Organisation say that India’s growth rate could jump by 4. 2 per cent if women were given more opportunities.Are we as a country investing enough in this? How can we, as women working in organizations across the country, push for this change?

Would be great if you could share your thoughts and comments on this.

Changemaker of the day

Changemaker of the day Today’s changemaker that we’d like to highlight is The Pixel Project, a global non-profit dedicated to  spreading awareness on violence against women. The Pixel Project works with volunteers from around the globe to keep the topic alive. Among its work areas are getting men and boys to be aware of the gendered nature of violence, and creating safe spaces for women online as well as in the ‘real world’. The group also works to spread information on the resources available to women in their own countries and cities, should they face violence.

Being highly volunteer drive, the Pixel Project is constantly looking out for volunteers in different parts of the world – consider offering your time. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Pic credit: Victor1558 (Used under a Creative Commons license)

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  1. First and foremost, I should thank you for bringing up this most important topic and throwing some light on it. The top management of any firm will actually think in this perspective only when there are more women in that top management. Otherwise they never bother about his vital issue at all. They always have the mentality “We are providing you maternity leave, Loss of pay. What else you need?. If not you then somebody else.” They want to please the clients by projecting “we work and support 24/7”. This is what is happening in most of the IT firms. I personally feel the problem lies in the timing. If they bring a tight and strict schedule of shifts (9-5 and 11-7, etc), for all the employees, this problem could be handled to certain extent. They do have problems like untimely conference calls, work dependency like “testing only after the developer has completed the work”. Most of this problem could be handled with onsite team pitching with equal contribution to work (This never happens as onsite team are busy with clients or they behave like our boss and off load all their work to us). I have seen many young team members coming late to office and leaving late with so many tea,smoking breaks. There are people who have a family, kids to attend at home but still manage to come early to office in order to finish the task sooner and leave early. But those will be degraded “for not staying late” and given a low performance rating. That was my first blow. I was wondering “Why am i working under someone who does not understand the term “productivity”?”. Women are capable of multi tasking with high productivity. Why cant they utilize these talents?. When i worked at onsite, i was surprised by my clients work culture. They had a great work environment where all of them arrive as early as 8 AM in the morning and leave by 5 PM sharply. They wont even attend business calls after 5. They work with full efficiency during the working hours. I always dream of such work place in India. But the sad truth is this will not happen here.
    1. Make the timing strict.
    2. Any work could be covered by one batch from 9-5 and another from 11-7. After that the onsite team has to take over and proceed as far as they can.
    3. They need to have a psychological counselling session once in a while available for the employees.
    4. Stop rating the performance by the time they spend inside the office and focus on their productivity.
    5. Work from home option is not a better solution since in the name of “work from home” we are expected to be working and attending calls 24/7. I always wanted to keep work and home separately for its own good.

    I have been a victim of this kind of work culture and finally i gave up my work for my own mental peace.

    • Thanks Sivaranjini for sharing your thoughts and the challenges you have faced. I am sure there are many women in India and in the services sector who have had to deal with similar issues. While there are no solutions right off I hope someday there will be enough of a voice for organizations to consider these issues and improvement ideas seriously.

    • Hi Sivaranjini

      This is exactly my sentiments too. I cant agree more on this.
      “Timings” truly is the biggest issue.
      I cant understand why these youngsters/unmarried people want to work late and hang around at office?
      They could hit gym or attend a play/concert in the evening!
      Beats me.


    • I absolutely agree to your views : an evening well spent is an experience that counts a lot. If a person is not investing his evenings well, the returns to his quality life would be really low, which i guess would be realized when it would be a little late.

  2. Hi Sujatha

    Pushing for change in corporate India to make it more inclusive and women friendly, i agree is highly overdue. However as Sivaranjini also pointed out, unless you have women in top management or as decision makers in an organization, that will rarely ever happen.
    Amidst many MNC’s who have allowed global culture to percolate, many indian IT/ITES companies have the same old factory based models of working- punching in and out, clocking 9 hours a day (some even more i hear!), no work from home and a maternity leave that leaves no scope for a women other than take a break or quit.

    I have been lucky enough to work in a company that has a global culture and has a women’s leadership forum in it that regularly discusses issues. Its also a company where there are no strict timings and work from home is a norm. These are probably the only reasons that have managed to keep me around 🙂

    I don’t think making anything strict and non flexible helps. Its when you promote a culture of people spending long hours and reward the same, that the whole culture gets spoiled.
    Performance should be based on output, pure and simple. Number of hours matter and they should when you measure efficiency of work. That is how you will actually reward someone who manages to complete something in 6 hours vs someone who stayed in office till 11 pm and finished the same.

    Long story short, if I had to recommend a few changes, here are they:
    1. Integrated day care and after school care in big campuses
    2. Make work timings flexi and work from home should be a norm. We expect our customers who have never met us or know us to trust us implicitly when we sell offshoring. But we are hesitant to apply the same principles to our own team members, I think that’s double standards.
    3. Allow women who go on maternity leave to come back with flexi hours options e.g. work 4 hours a day at half pay, its easier for their transition and life balance
    4. Don’t let women force leave unless they really have to. Many women quit due to lack of counselling or being provided alternatives. There should be some form of counselling or mentoring program to address that.
    5. Formal mentoring program where women leaders take about 5 other women under their wing to guide and mentor. Counsel and work together on decision making, moving up the value chain, work life balance, negotiation. I think we can all learn from one another.
    6. Gender sensitivity trainings in work place to ensure there is no gender bias and discuss in-appropriate behaviors.
    7. Work out a balance between business travels since not many women can travel due to family commitments. Allow for organizations to plan around that rather than judging someone for being or not being able to travel.
    8. Have a women’s leadership forum in some form in the organization, where any women can bring up topics for discussion or post questions.


    • You echoed my thoughts, Radhika, and probably those of many many women in the corporate world. You are one of the lucky ones to have an organization with a support system, not many are. How can we get others to emulate this? That’s what I wonder…

  3. Thanks everyone for your likes and comments. This was my maiden attempt to write on this topic close to my heart and am happy to see the responses!

  4. Sujatha,Thanks for highlighting the need of the hour. The remedial measures you have put through is absolutely the most wanted.Having agreed on that , I also have my own perspective of the other gender attitude. It might look little irony here but here are my thoughts

    Our society has defined activities as “Men thing” and “Woman thing” and unfortunately the woman thing does not include “Working”… while we are trying to include that activity under “Woman thing”, also the activities under the “Men thing” should change and I personally believe this can sprout only from the “Mother” role that each woman play. Unfortunately we bring up kids strictly aligned society defined “Men thing” and “Woman Thing”..
    CHANGE SHOULD START FROM MOTHER IN WOMAN for sustainable change.

    Sujatha I can hear your mind voice – “another world hunger problem ;”

  5. My suggestion towards this would be, please start making the change from your own home. Suggest your husband to see other women employees with the same constraints as he would see his wife’s problems. For ex. if he expects his wife to stay back and take care of the sick child, then the other woman in the office will also be expected the same by her husband (I say this because all husbands are wired the same way and they have passed out from the same university). If the wife has to come a little early and make arrangements for festivals in all the months of the calendar, then the woman employee in his office is also expected by her husband to do the same. Either he stops expecting his wife to do these,he take responsibility for baby sitting on some days, or give ample permissions and leaves for the other women employees who may be working under him, without grudging….does it solve at least half the problem….
    This gender sensitisation programme at home will at least help some women apart from the other solutions given above. It will also help the sons of the family respect the future women colleagues, with whom he may be working with.Thanks

  6. Interesting to read this article and everyone’s comments. I do whole heartedly agree to everyone’s suggestions. So while everyone’s suggestions are things which are changes in the external environment, I would also suggest women to empower themselves to make these changes happen. Stepping into their power completely and moving mountains which each woman is doing in many ways in personal life more than professional life. Many women are excellent in getting work done, making decisions etc but only a few have the courage to stand up for that which isn’t working for them. They would rather quit a company due to stressful work hours than make the management respect everyones’ time. Of course this is just one example which can have several factors which make it difficult to fight for/against. So how about awakening the already existing strength within us to fight any external condition which might look like a mountain to move but once you get to doing it, it is just a hill. It is easier said than done but not impossible. When I quit a secure job and refuse to take up a lucrative job offer just because they expected 24/7 of my time everyone looked down on me. I felt I was doing something wrong and yet intuitively started on my own. Very little support for it but after 7 years of being an entrepreneur I’m enjoying life to the fullest with a good work-life balance. I might sound biased cos I’m working in this area of coaching woman tap into their latent potential and strength but I have seen women do amazing things at work once they are in touch with their power. External factors seem less monstrous once the giant inside is awakened 🙂

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