“India Inc.’s growth story is a globally admired phenomenon. It is timely that the private sector in India has acknowledged that empowering women is not only the right thing to do; it is also essential for building strong economies,” said Ms Sushma Kapoor, Deputy Representative and OIC, UN Women Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Globally, over 500 companies have signed on to the WEPs but in India, only six of an estimated 9 lakh-registered companies have committed to them. "Our event is aimed at starting a dialogue since ensuring the inclusion of women’s talents and skills requires deliberate policies. By interacting with the six Indian companies supporting the WEPs, we hope to inspire other corporate and public sector companies to join our initiative,"
Championing the cause, Ms. Sangita Jindal, Chairperson, JSW Foundation and Chair, WEPs initiative in India, urged corporate leaders to reaffirm their commitment to women’s empowerment. “This is my call to action to all business and corporate leaders. I hope you will join me in making a commitment to the WEPs for improving the lives of our women,” she said.
A 2010 McKinsey study shows that only 5 per cent of women are on company boards, or appointed as CEOs in India. To counter this, companies have put in place policies to remove barriers that hinder women at work. “We have enhanced our competitive edge by proactively implementing skill-building and mentoring programs to groom women for senior-level positions, leading to an increase in 32 per cent of women in managerial positions,” said Ms. Mr. Meattle, CEO, Parharpur Business Center.
In another McKinsey survey, 57 per cent of female respondents stated that the double burden of work and domestic responsibilities are the biggest barriers to participation. A flexible work environment is therefore important. “Wipro’s culture emphasizes merit and fairness. In the context of gender inclusion, this means fostering a zero bias environment, while nurturing growth. Our life-stage approach, which focuses on Exposure, Flexibility and Empowerment builds confidence in women executives to focus on meaningful, long-term careers while also excelling in their social and familial responsibilities,”
Discrimination, cultural attitudes and taxation policies were other barriers highlighted by the study. Mr. Richard Lobo, Head of Employee Relations at Infosys said, “In 2003 we set up the first gender-based network Infosys Women Inclusivity Network in the country. This was established to address specific needs for development, engagement, growth and retention of women by promoting an inclusive workplace. Today we are proud to say women represent 34 per cent of our total workforce.”
Companies also stressed that deliberate policies are required to ensure women’s inclusion at various levels of the value chain— from executive offices to the factory floor and the supply chain. “Women play a critical role in enhancing Coca-Cola’s value chain. The ‘5 by 20’ campaign provides women with business skills, access to finance and know-how of setting up viable businesses, from fruit farmers to artisans,” said Mr. Deepak Jolly, Vice President, Public Affairs and Communication, Coca-Cola, India.
Jindal Stainless Ltd. uses innovative models through programs such as, ‘Market on Wheels’ and ‘Business Rural Hub’ to equip women with entrepreneurial skills. “We have impacted lives of women in the communities around our plant locations by organizing them into Self Help Groups and they are trained in various income generating skills and livelihood programmes, with some having already become Social entrepreneurs,”
Freedom from violence is also one of the core tenets of the WEPs. “The workplace is a microcosm of the larger ecosystem and we must work at all levels to empower women. HCL urges the corporate community to have zero tolerance for violence against women at the workplace and beyond,” said Ms. Srimathi Shivashankar, Associate Vice President, Diversity & Sustainability, HCL Technologies.
The WEPs initiative in India seeks to involve the government, industry forums, civil society and academia to support corporates through research, advocacy and training on gender. “The WEP platform helps in building a greater commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment within the corporate sector in India by sharing best practices and knowledge. We salute the business leaders and corporate leadership for promoting gender equality,” said Dr. Muhammad Musa, CEO and Country Director, CARE India.