Women are reshaping the corporate world
Shefali Saxena, Louis Berger’s COO for Asia
Women’s empowerment is key to any country’s social and economic development. Yet, for the third consecutive year, India ranks third lowest in business leadership roles for women. According to a recent survey conducted by Grant Thornton India, only 17 percent of senior roles are held by women in India. Despite current low numbers, the proportion of senior roles held by women in India has increased seven points since last year.
Achieving gender equality in the workplace may be a slow process, but a steady increase of women employees across industries is extremely encouraging. As a global infrastructure and development firm, Louis Berger has been taking steps to support the advancement of women in the workplace and is seeing measurable business results. The company takes pride in its diverse workforce, which it sees as integral to innovation and creativity.
In 2013, the company established Women at Louis Berger, an employee-led initiative that provides guidance and support for women at Louis Berger. This grassroots committee brings together women and men to improve employee engagement around topics that support women’s empowerment and improved diversity. The company also encourages all employees to be sensitive towards diverse communities, leading the workforce towards a future where individuals can freely share unique perspectives and strengthen one another through diversity.
I have been fortunate to work with many companies that encourage strong gender diversity and women’s empowerment. Today, companies realize the values and qualities that women bring to the table in terms of integrity, sincerity, multitasking and motivation, in addition to technical competence. Women have long understood that they’ll have to work hard to prove themselves in a male-dominated industry and are ready to go the extra mile.
Women today are unlocking their potential through mutual empowerment and mentorship. I have had the privilege to work with some women leaders who help other women take on leadership roles and actively foster camaraderie. While the corporate world has definitely come a long way in nurturing women’s talent, the workforce needs to accept women in leadership and mainstream roles rather than supporting roles.
As we begin to break gender barriers, India is embracing a new future of women’s empowerment.
Changes that add value
Women bring different perspectives to the workplace that stem from a unique set of life experiences. Companies with women on their board usually outperform other companies in terms of financial success and innovation. There have been times I have found myself as the only woman in executive meetings, but that is changing now. More women are stepping into leadership roles. That said, I believe we still have a long way to go.
Several surveys show a wide vacuum that needs to be addressed when it comes to women joining the workforce. India’s gender gap index has been a concern for years. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, only 50 percent of working-age women are represented in the labor force globally, whereas, in the case of men, it is 76 percent.
The countries that continue to make progress in gender diversity are Iceland, Norway, Finland and Rwanda. India, on the other hand, stands 108th on the list, as there are a number of women who are either doing unpaid jobs or not working due to social pressures. Therefore, we see fewer women at the executive level across industries. This paradigm shift, certainly, will take time. The solution is to bring more women into the workforce, give them more flexibility and empower them to succeed.
There are several institutions and companies that are tailoring existing policies and programs to ensure women’s advancement in organizations. Additionally, women’s equality and empowerment are now recognized by the United Nations in its sustainable development goals. There is still a lot to do in this space, but these goals can ignite change around the world.
Reshaping the competitive landscape
It is exciting to see how willing companies are to pursue change. We have made some progress. Women today are given more opportunities and support to advance their careers.
Certainly, having more women in leadership roles also has changed the corporate landscape. India is seeing women adapt to more advanced jobs. Workshops, networking programs and summits are providing the knowledge and support women need to succeed and contribute to their roles as corporate leaders.
Similarly, companies are leading the way by encouraging women to participate in various entrepreneurship programs for career advancement. They are also looking at ways to provide perks that can promote a healthy and dynamic balance between work and life.
However, mentorship programs and higher education are yet other challenges that need to be addressed. Companies need to promote educational opportunities that address skills and behavior that support professional development and career satisfaction. Additionally, women leaders can serve as a support system for other women, enabling them to discuss challenges and seek advice. It is now incumbent upon the organizations themselves to give thoughtful attention to creating a gender-equal environment.
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