Business Today
Equality is Opportunity For All
The case for greater gender balance in business and management has already been made several times over. Let's make it actionable.
Equality is Opportunity For All

Numbers don't lie; this is true about gender diversity as much as it is about any other facet of life. Consider the following: the market for women consumers is $20 trillion, and women account for 70 per cent of household purchasing power. Yet, they are rarely in charge of companies that produce the goods and services that they buy.  

As a 2015 International Labour Organisation (ILO) report - Women in Business and Management: Gaining Momentum - found, there is  a minimal degree of correlation of women purchasing power with GDP. A ranking of female management roles ranks India at 7th in GDP rankings but 47th in female management roles. Brazil is at 8th and 18th, China at 2nd and 6th, respectively.  
In 2012, a Credit Suisse Research Institute report - Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance - compiled a database of the number of women on the boards of the 2360 companies that constitute the MSCI AC World Index since 2005; over a 6 year period, the stock performance of companies with at least one woman on the board outperformed those without women board members by more than 26 per cent!

A 2015 study by Quantoplan, a trading platform, analysed the financial performance of the Fortune 1000 companies with women CEOs between 2002 and 2014 against the DS&P 500. The results were startling: equity returns for the 80 female CEOs over that 12-year period were 226 per cent better. Studies have also shown that companies that have women in top management roles invest significant amounts in research and development, innovation and technology.
Despite the preponderance of evidence that is strongly supportive of greater gender balance at senior management and board levels, the hurdles to women rising up to decision-making roles at top management show no sign of getting any lower. There may be cracks in the glass ceiling, but it's still there.

Let's take the example of our country; the Companies Act required all listed companies to have female representation on the executive board by April 1, 2015. On that date, nearly 1250 companies listed on the National Stock Exchange (nearly 85 per cent) were yet to comply. Of the 76 listed pharmaceutical companies (as per PRIME database) 51 has 58 directors on boards.  One caveat though: 30 per cent of them were family members of the promoter.

At other levels, however, the story looks very different. Compared to the rest of corporate India, the pharma sector falls way behind:  while the average percentage of women in the workforce in most sectors is 15-35 percent, that in pharma is 10-15 percent only. A study by Mercer, the human resources consultancy, puts it at 11 percent. The average for women in senior leadership roles in most industries is 10-25 percent: that in the pharma sector is just 5-10 per cent.

The Mercer study -- Gender Diversity in Life Sciences- pegs it at 12 per cent. This means there is no leadership pipeline. All the hiring is happening at the entry level which means it will take years for the pharma sector to have senior women leaders.
Even today, management, running a business and decision-making continue to be perceived as the domains of men. This influences educational curricula, recruitment and promotion policies. They are now being addressed to eliminate gender bias, but remain entrenched deep in the psyche of a broad spectrum of men and women.

So what can be done? First, get rid of glass walls: women can be as effective as men in any job, so marking out certain areas or domains for them should be dispensed with. Nearly half the population in engineering and management colleges is female but many drop out of those careers due to lack of opportunities or biases.
Like Narayana Murthy said Progress is often equal to the difference between mind and mindset. The case has been made: now can we change mindset and progress?

The writer is Director General, Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India

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