"Women in leadership" is an increasingly popular topic, with new conferences, forums, blogs, research and articles springing up nearly every day. We read articles like "23 Powerful Tips to Help Women Leaders Succeed" or books like Sheryl Sandberg’s popular "Lean In." All of these discussions are incredibly vital to providing context and insight for women around the world, striving to break through the glass ceiling. But it’s worthwhile taking a step back to examine a few of the infrastructural and corporate steps that need to be taken by governments and business leaders to give women the hammers they need to do so.
As a female executive working for a global company based in India, I bear witness to 1) how fortunate I am to work for an organization like Polaris and 2) how important infrastructural support can be to a woman’s career. Polaris has made concerted efforts to facilitate women in leadership positions through its focus on providing reliable childcare options and extended maternity leave globally.
In India, in particular, this effort has a remarkable impact as India does not yet have the infrastructure support needed to help women better advance in the workplace. Daycares and after-school care options are few and far between. According to a 2012 McKinsey study, "lack of pro-family public policies or support services e.g. childcare" was rated as the third top barrier in Asia for increasing gender diversity. Governments can and should make strides to tear down these barriers. For example, in South Korea, the government subsidizes the development of childcare facilities for businesses, leading to more than half of all businesses providing childcare. Although extended family often step in to help in India, there is still a need for stronger childcare and after-school education infrastructure to be built and grown. Polaris’ female employees benefit from in-office childcare and amenable work policies such as flexible hours or working from home to ensure women are able to balance work/life requirements without feeling the need to leave the workforce entirely.
Although it may be easy to compare two countries such as India and the US and admire the US for the steps it has taken towards improving advancement opportunities for women, no one country has entirely solved the underlying problem. According to the Pew Research Center, as of January, "only 26 women were serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies – roughly 5%. In 1995 there were none. Women are slightly better represented in corporate boardrooms than they are at the CEO level. As of 2013, about one-in-six board members of Fortune 500 companies (17%) were women, up from 10% in 1995."
Even in countries such as the US, government or corporate initiatives to ensure gender equality are important. Just recently, Lloyds Banking Group mandated that any candidate shortlists for roles at the Assistant Vice President and above would not be considered unless one-third of the candidates were women.
At Polaris, we have a number of women in top and secondary management roles and I attribute this to our concerted focus on building a conducive environment and culture for women in leadership roles.
Although there are hundreds, if not thousands, of hammers needed to break through the glass ceiling, governments and corporations can look to even just the one or two major initiatives that can truly advance opportunities for women to remain in and grow within the workforce, whether it’s childcare or recruitment policies. I am fortunate to be working for an organization like Polaris and encourage other firms in India and beyond to follow our example. There is still much work to be done and it is only through our collective focus and international inertia that we can change the statistics for the better.
About the Author
Rama Sivaraman – Global Head of Operations: Rama manages various functions such as Quality, HR, Finance, Training, Resource Management, Recruitment, Operations, Compliance and governance across the services business. She has diverse and rich experience spanning Software development, Project management, Quality Assurance, Business Process Consulting and implementation, People and Performance Management across the world. Rama holds a BE degree in Electronics and MBA degree from College of Engineering, Anna University. A Certified Function Point Specialist and a Certified Quality Analyst, Rama has provided process consulting services to several global organizations and spoken at several forums like NASSCOM meet at Chennai, Chennai SPIN, and Woman in IT conference of CSI, and many other similar key conferences.