I want to focus on three points that I’d like to make. First is confronting the facts and this means that we have to accept, whether we like it or not, the odds are still stacked against women both at work as well as at home.
Second is that if we want to change the game, we women have to enter the arena and play the game. We can’t be on the sidelines which actually means that for all of us, you and me included, who are privileged enough to be in the positions we are in, we have to play a disproportionately higher role in changing the future for women in our country and actually around the world.
So, when I say the odds are stacked against us, it is not just in the business world, it is in the academic world as well. If I look at the IIMs we have got about 20 IIMs in India, none of them except for a very brief time, had a woman director. If I look at IIT, there are I think 23 IITs, there is no woman director in any of them. The statistics and numbers in the corporate sector are well known, we have less than 10% representation of women who are professionals and leading listed companies, and so on.
But my point here is not to talk about what is not working, I think what we have to focus on is to say what we have to do to make things work better. And the last of my three points is that more conversations without action to follow, will simply end up frustrating the issue and frustrating the people around the issue. I personally believe that for a long time, we have focused on things like gender diversity and so on.
Actually, if you ask me in any organisation, the focus really has to be on who is the most competent to play that role, not what gender does that individual belong to or come from. So, therefore words like Enable and Empower don’t really help because to me they actually imply that somebody has to enable us or empower us to do things differently. I think what we have to do is, as I mentioned earlier, think about how we can change the dialogue so that gender diversity, conversations around Gender Diversity give way to a diversity of competence.
I don’t believe that women in India or elsewhere, lack competence. What is stacked against women is equal access to opportunity. So, it is an inequitable world both at home as well as in the workplace. And unless those mindsets change, both at home and in the workplace, the pace of change in terms of equity, equality of opportunities, competency, meritocracy, all of those things that several of us have been talking about for a long time are going to change but at a very, very slow pace. And the pandemic hasn’t helped the situation at all.
In fact, the number of women participating in the workforce has actually gone down. It is hardly about 20% and yet most of the back breaking work, most of the unpaid work in India and elsewhere is done by women. I have lived on the continent of Africa, in Latin America and I can tell you it is the same around the world. The degrees vary.
I do believe that we need to see where the opportunities are and I personally believe that the corporate sector or the business world has a unique opportunity right now to take a leadership stance and put into action the words that have been spoken for such a long time. Part of it is going to be exogenous, certainly for the large listed companies with greater pressure on declaring how the company is doing on ESG – Environmental, Social and Governance principles, is going to bring to light the inequity in terms of opportunities for people of different genders.
Competence is really not an issue, there are far too many competent women, they are just not given the confidence, the support, the self esteem to actually go out and play their best game.
For a long time, nobody imagined that work could be done from home. Well, the pandemic came and left the world with no choice but to work from home. And every industry around the world figured out a way to work from home. The point is that if we really want to do something, we don’t need our backs to be against the wall; we need to do it because it is the right thing to do, we need to do it because it is the equitable thing to do. We need to do it because that is the only way in which we can have a harmonious society.
A society that actually gives every citizen the opportunity to be the best that an individual can do. And therefore, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to future generations and we owe it to everybody, to ensure that we become the catalysts for the change that we really are talking about and for the change we believe in and for the change we want to see.