India Inc. has a vacuum of women leaders at the top.
Here are some numbers to consider. While India has 22% women’s representation in the workforce, a majority of the companies have less than 20 per cent representation of women in leadership positions. As per consulting firm Aon’s DEI Landscape Report, this number is six in 10 companies. Half of these firms have less than 5 per cent representation.
Just 5% of Indian CEOs are women, while just 4% CFOs are women, as per Deloitte Global Women in Boardroom Study 7th edition.
What is worrying is that career progression is poor even in sectors such as IT and banking, which have the largest female white-collar workforce in India. A study by CFA Institute—a global association of investment professionals—analysing the FY22 BRSR disclosures of 134 Indian companies showed that the IT sector suffers the widest chasm of 18.7 percentage points between women’s representation at the employee level and at the level of key management personnel (KMP). Sindhu Gangadharan, SVP & MD of SAP Labs India and Head-SAP User Enablement, points out that India produces the world’s highest number of female science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates every year, but only a third make it to a STEM career and even fewer continue after five years into their careers. “Every year, we lose brilliant mid-career women technologists and leaders to unfair practices at work, unconscious biases, lack of equal opportunity and more such unfortunate reasons,” says Gangadharan, also the Vice Chairperson of IT industry body Nasscom.
Financial services companies fare better with a gap of 5.8 percentage points. Banking veteran Padmaja Chunduru, MD & CEO of National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL), says that women have to choose between competing priorities of work and family. “The escalating risk and responsibility matrix as they rise in hierarchy causes many to drop out of the race.”
“Overall, corporate India has progressed on women’s representation at the leadership level over the past 10 years to 26-27 per cent. But what we are really gunning for is 50 per cent,” says Sujatha Shivsankar, Chief–Culture, People Experience, IDE, Performance & Talent, KPMG in India.
When poor representation at the top leads to a lack of visible role models, heralding change at the bottom becomes harder. “It is important for a young woman to see other women in critical roles at all levels. At SBI, we all grew in our careers following and observing our seniors take on more and more challenging roles and acing them,” says Chunduru.
KPMG’s Shivsankar says many more organisations now consult them for building a leadership pipeline of women. But what is really needed is a comprehensive multiyear plan addressing challenges in equal opportunities, equal pay and creating an enabling environment. Shivsankar says less than 50 per cent of organisations in India have gender diversity as a strategic priority.
“More organisations are yet to realise how much value can be unlocked through investment in this area. Their outlook becomes an impediment to progress.”