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Women: dark spots on ‘shining’ India Inc

Mumbai, Feb. 29: India Inc. says it is willing, but what do facts show'

According to a study commissioned by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on working women in well-known companies, the gender isn’t faring too well and nor are companies too eager to change. The study was compiled by Anita Ramachandran of the Delhi-based agency Cerebrus and surveyed 35 top-ranking companies.

Employment of women is concentrated in a few sectors which have 20 to 35 per cent women employees, the study says. These are banking, infotech, IT-enabled services, media, travel, advertising and market research.

In these sectors again, women work mostly at administrative and junior levels, accounting for 60 to 70 per cent of the jobs. Women at the top level are very few or absent. They occupy 10 to 20 per cent posts at the senior management level.

In other industries, like manufacturing and technical jobs, women’s employment is below 10 per cent and in many cases below 5 per cent.

The organisations that were looked into were, among financial and banking companies, Citibank, HDFC, HSBC, the ICICI Group, Royal Sundaram and Standard Chartered Bank; and among IT companies, Cognizant, Covansys, Hughes Software, Infosys, NIIT, Satyam Computers, Sun Microsystems, Texas Instruments and Wipro. Among FMCG firms were Asian Paints, Colgate-Palmolive, Hindustan Lever and Johnson & Johnson, and among manufacturing companies were Ford, the Birla Group, Novartis, Aventis. Among IT-enabled services were Transworks, American Express, E-serve, ICICI One Source, E-funds. STAR TV, HTA, Hutchison Telecom and ICICI Prudential Insurance were also surveyed.

Companies felt the major drawbacks for women were that they were unable “to be flexible on work times”; unable “to take sustained long hours and pressure”; needed “to play second fiddle to husbands’ jobs”; and did not have the “time/inclination to improve skills”. Risk-taking ability of women was perceived to be lower by companies.

Men constituted 73 per cent of the organisations surveyed. Only 33 per cent of them had formal policies on women employees.

The survey said 80 to 90 per cent women exited the workplace after they had children and 15 to 20 per cent left after getting married. Maternity benefits varied between 3 and 12 months.

About 64 per cent companies provided flexitime to all employees and 29 per cent firms offered part-time working facility to young mothers. But the concept of job-sharing, in which two employees worked on the same project, was non-existent.

Attrition, surprisingly, among women was lower than men.

Women felt firms ought to provide a safe, respectful work environment. They felt there was too much aggression in the workplace and a lack of “woman friendly work habits”. Excessive travel was also seen as a barrier.

But a majority of the companies did not feel anything needed to be done in their organisations. They resented the idea of “special privileges” for women and felt the need to be genuine “equal” opportunity employers.

Women were also critical of themselves. They perceived themselves as reluctant to take risks; men were seen as making decisions quickly; women had a tendency to marry their sense of responsibility with concern for the team and, therefore, take on too much. Men delegated and led by example, women felt. They also felt a lack of confidence in themselves and in their potential.

If there were perceived pay or promotion disparities, they tend to look outside rather than fight for a raise and needed to aspire higher.

About 64 per cent of the companies had a policy on sexual harassment; 22 per cent were planning a policy and 14 per cent still did not have one.

The CII has some recommendations. It asked companies to

focus on industries with high women employment to improve employment levels especially at senior levels;

to create awareness and work in areas where there is low concentration of women as in sales and technical;

to enable more communication on sexual harassment;

to work with media and others on campaign for safe work environment and on social attitudes.

It also addressed legal issues and asked for law changes to allow women working in the night to improve employment opportunities; faster legal redress for crimes against women and more conducive legal query process.

Now it’s up to India Inc. to take up these challenges and make these dark spots shine.

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