Women empowerment – what does it really mean? – Part II

In my last post here, I had laid the broad contours of what women empowerment really means and the challenges/biases that we encounter in bringing about a change. Right from hiring to retention, and finally the exit interviews, there is a lot that can be done to sensitise organisations, communities, employees and stakeholders. The change begins with each one of us.

Let us begin with tackling the bias that many carry within them. Socio-cultural contexts and wiring done over generations has led many to believe that the role of a woman is that of a nurturer and anything over and beyond that would be difficult for her to handle. These traditional notions do much harm and are a major roadblock to women reaching the top ladder in their career.

Sensitising women and men to these biases and the harm that they do is therefore the first step that organisations need to do. This begins from hiring wherein roles identified are not based on any particular gender. And then comes the whole career trajectory pathway. What is the growth in the next few years? What support system is the organisation providing in terms of training, resources and development?

One aspect that can play a major role in boosting women growth is the presence of a role model. Women are by nature motivated to contribute to family income. But at a workplace, they crave for a role model they can look up to. This is because the organisational system on its own is not designed to give women confidence. Hence, attention needs to be made to ensure there are opportunities for women to have access to role models.

The top seat

In India, the Companies Act, 2013, mandated the presence of at least one woman in the board. While this led to an improvement to seeing woman at the top, the percentage is still very low, just 6.7 percent in 2021. As for women CEOs, India had only 5 per cent of them in 2021. Gender hire and career trajectory are just the baby steps for bringing in women in the job fold. These have to be supported by three strong pillars:

  • Education and training opportunities for women, grooming them for the top role – To be at the top seat, organisations also need to pay attention to the middle management level. High performers and potential future leaders need to be identified at an early stage. This is where the board needs to step in and go beyond policies of diversity hiring.
  • Creating opportunities for women to be visible as experts, letting them be the front face of dialogues and deals – Women need to be seen more and most importantly, be heard more in important meetings, strategic conversations and crucial business deals.
  • Putting in place platforms for sharing experiences wherein everyone gets motivated and inspired by the other – These are important because often women when they find themselves in a minority, feel that they are different. There is a need to have a support group in place wherein women support women.

In the communities

Organisational policies and focus on gender also spill over in the world of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The focus on women empowerment is very visible in community outreach programs. Organisations harbor the romantic idea of helping rural women and enter into programs which sadly do not have well defined outcomes. For instance, mere holding of leadership training, financial literacy classes or capacity building programs will not bring change. There is already a lot happening in this space. In fact, there is often duplication of efforts.  What women in communities need is access to capital! If there is no capital, there is no success. Making women financially independent is the real game changer.

Organisations therefore have their tasks cut out in two ways – within the system they need to create pathways to demystify the bias and ensure women contribute more to move up the ladder. Secondly, within the communities that they reach out to, they need to go beyond mere training and mere mobilisation of women. In both, the role of the family and the support from loved ones, whether spouse or parents or siblings play a big role.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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