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Pushing For Change In Corporate India

Posted: October 22, 2013

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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