Roula Khalaf, first woman editor at Financial Times in 131 years, creates history: Occasion indicates rise at workplace for women still rare

  • A slew of surveys reveals India's low ranking in gender parity and inclusion

  • India ranked 95th out of 129 countries in a new index that measures global gender equality looking at aspects such as poverty, health, education, literacy, political representation and equality at the workplace

  • No matter what government mandates or rewards organisation for gender parity, it is important for organisations to be sensitive to its women employees.

No matter how many reams are written about gender diversity, inclusion in workplaces, the fact of the matter is gender parity is far from becoming a reality, leave alone commonplace. With the result, any time an organisation comes out with a stated policy for women or a woman employee dons the leadership role, it is a matter for celebration. This, despite government mandates and other interventions that champion increased women’s participation in the workplace.

On Wednesday The Financial Times said it had appointed its first woman editor. Roula Khalaf, who has been working with the pink paper for over two decades, will become the first woman to edit the Financial Times in its 131-year history after Lionel Barber, Britain’s most senior financial journalist, said he would step down.

In an unrelated news report, recently, Dell Technologies said it plans to hire, develop and retain women so they account for 50 percent of the company’s global workforce and 40 percent of global people managers. Women account for 30.4 percent of the tech firm’s global workforce in February, according to the company’s most recent diversity and inclusion report, compared to 29.4 percent in the previous year .

What do these news reports tell us about women in the workplace? Are there simply not enough women who can be considered for leadership positions or is there a lack of will to appoint them to the highest rungs in organisations?

Women's representation in corporate and political life in advanced countries too, should have been a 'normal' issue by now given the rapid strides these countries have taken in almost all other fields, but it is still lagging where women's representation is concerned.  This mindset is reflected in a developing country like India as well. Apart from a handful of success stories of women in India Inc, entrepreneurship, in politics among other arenas, women representation is considerably low.

A slew of surveys reveals India’s low ranking in gender parity.

The Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF) quoted an Oxfam report on inequality published in January that revealed in the workplace, women still receive 34 percent less wages than their male counterparts for the same work. With the ratio of female workers to male workers is 0.26, India has been ranked very low at 128th place.

India ranked 95th out of 129 countries in a new index that measures global gender equality looking at aspects such as poverty, health, education, literacy, political representation and equality at the workplace. The Sustainable Development Goals Gender Index has been developed by UK-based Equal Measures 2030, a joint effort of regional and global organisations including African Women's Development and Communication Network, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and International Women's Health Coalition.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), female participation rates in the workforce across India decreased from 34.1 percent between 1999 and 2000, to 27.2 percent between 2011 and 2012.

 Roula Khalaf, first woman editor at Financial Times in 131 years, creates history: Occasion indicates rise at workplace for women still rare

Representational image. Reuters

Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change their mindset, remarked Sudip Verma, Consulting Lead, DDI India, a global leadership consulting firm. A mindset shift is really important yet quite difficult for it is rooted in a lot of socio-cultural factors. Getting over that needs significant push and sensitisation, he pointed out. That is one of the reasons why, Verma said, if people were asked to picture a pilot, a leader or a firefighter, very few would actually picture a woman in these roles.

The price of this ignorance or deliberately choosing not to take women along costs finance firms a whopping $700 billion a year, according to management consultancy Oliver Wyman, a report in The Indian Express said. Just 20 percent of finance executives globally are women, up from 16 percent in 2016. “ Women are arguably the single largest under-served group of customers in financial services,” said Jessica Clempner, the report’s lead author who was cited in the news report.

The issue of celebrating women’s achievements in an organisation or in sports  has increasingly become anecdotal.  Hence, words like record-setting or landmark deal are associated with any achievement by a woman. Case in point: Australia's top women soccer players will now earn the same as their male counterparts after a landmark deal, according to a CNN report. This was done to close the gender pay gap between the country's national teams, the report said.

“As a woman trying to get gender equality, I find these sporadic,” points out Geetha Kannan, former managing director, Anita Borg Institute (ABI) India. The institute’s primary aim is to recruit, retain, and advance women in technology.

Kannan said serious thought has to be applied to understand why women drop out of the workforce and why the pipeline is leaking. Out of every 100 CEOs and and managing directors listed at the National Stock Exchange (NSE), only about three of them are women since 2014. This is stark contrast to the increasing number of girl children joining enrolling for higher education at institutes in India. Women outnumber men among those gradating at undergraduate, postgraduate, postgraduate diploma and MPhil levels, according to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2018-19, cited in a report in The Times of India.

To give a leg-up to increase women's representation, the government is doing its bit with legislations—the mandatory 26-week maternity leave or STEP—Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women scheme that aims to provide skills and competencies to enable women to become self-employed or become entrepreneurs. But this can bounce against women too with organisations being wary of hiring women given that these are mandatory legislations and norms to be followed by organisations.

Kannan asked, do we need legislation around this? She said different women are motivated by different things. Legislation is not the only way to go about it, she said.

Verma of DDI said that though the government has taken complementary steps in favour of women and are sensitive, how cooperative and actionable is the corporate world towards these legislations is yet to be seen.

To be fair, what the government mandates cannot be implemented overnight. Verma said any change and rule, “will take years to percolate. The mind shift takes a long time to change. The government brings a lot of intent but how much of it makes for good business sense cannot be gauged in a year’s time.”

No matter what government mandates or rewards organisations for promoting gender parity, it is important for organisations to be sensitive to their women employees. “Women have dual roles – of a working woman and the role of caring and nurturing the family. Provide flexible hours, ensure the employee who is a top performer is not being short-changed on that score when it comes to increments and salaries,” said Vineeta Dwivedi- Assistant Professor Business Communications & Head, Digital Communications at SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai.

The way out

Besides education and sensitivity towards women’s issues, men and women alike need to re-look at the oft-accepted, outdated views and perceptions that male leaders are good at strategy, delegation and analysing, for instance while women are great at planning and team organisation, et al. In over a decade of study, DDI found leaders across genders equally good and bad on all parameters of work and work-related decisions.

Given the abysmal representation of women in the corporate world, how can corporates start solving this issue? Verma suggested a four-pronged strategy:

a) Acknowledge the problem and then come up with an action plan: Most organisations hire women to solve this issue of scanty representation of women in its workforce and most often women are asked to make this decision to solve this issue. But leaders, irrespective of gender, should be involved as a business imperative while making this decision of inclusion. It cannot be a mere corporate social responsibility (CSR) goal, Verma said.

b) Call the issue out: When anyone makes a snap judgment that is not true—for instance, a male is better suited to go for an overnight assignment as the woman employe cannot for she has a family, or cannot be sent out for safety reasons, etc. “Don’t assume or presume. The woman employee may be willing, but as a manager don't make that call. Ask the woman employee,” Verma said.

c) Review, reinforce and reward: When a manager works towards achieving gender diversity in his/her team by hiring more women, providing opportunities for more women leaders, reward that leader, said Verma. Acknowledge his/her efforts in that direction, he added.

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Updated Date: Nov 14, 2019 11:28:44 IST

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