By Morgan Fisher
For a Global Leadership class I’m taking, we’ve been reading a book about how women are the solution to winning the “war for talent” in global markets. The chapter I was assigned to read talked about 12 different initiatives that 12 different businesses are implementing to increase the amount of women in leadership roles. I was glad to read that something is being done to get female leaders noticed on a global scale, but I was also frustrated at the fact that we still have to take specific initiatives to ensure that women are being considered for roles that they rightfully deserve through sheer merit.
Then I remembered that our country is relatively progressive in comparison to some others around the world. Granted, we still have a lot of work to do, but getting female leaders to move ahead on a global scale is an entirely different story.
Within the Fortune 500, women hold 4.6% of CEO positions. This means that women, in spite of the incredibly significant influence we have on the economy, on spending and on net worth, still have very little say in what goes on higher up the corporate totem pole. And what’s more: the women who do have those corporate positions tend to succeed fiercely in return on equity. So shouldn’t this whole gender equality thing be reevaluated, not just for the sexism of it, but also for its apparent profitability?
Probably. However, no matter how much progress is seen, there are obviously still drawbacks that must be fixed. For example, the pay gap. Men in business still make 35% more money than female bosses. When equal results are seen in the successes of men and women (and in the case of the Forbes article, when women are more successful than the average male boss), and wages still favor men, how are we to say that we’ve accomplished our goals of getting more women involved in business? If they’re still not considered to be on the same level as their male counterparts, how is it progress at all?
One of the most fascinating parts of the book chapter I read was about Genpact, an information technology services company. The book discussed initiatives being taken in India to create female-friendly policies to accommodate the country’s cultural norms. Genpact is attempting to educate the population on the necessity of the female workers in their company, explaining that their work has value and that it will not detract from their cultural customs. The culture typically frowns upon women working away from home, which causes backlash from the women’s families. Genpact offers to meet with members of the women’s families, explaining the important role they play in the company’s success. They also promise that they are flexible and committed to their female employees; they encourage flexible work arrangements, so that the women are able to spend a good amount of time at home so as not to prevent them from fulfilling the cultural expectations for taking care of their husbands and children. Although this may seem to be an odd and somewhat non-progressive view on women, it does show the company’s attempt to let women lead while also respecting cultural norms. Hopefully with this initiative, it will become less unheard of for women to work somewhere their full potential can be realized.
It seems that this business tactic is becoming more prevalent. Bharaki Jacob, an Indian woman who has become a very successful entrepreneur, is just one of the many examples of progressive gender-defying in a typically patriarchal society. She challenges that we only see gender differences because they are projected onto us by our societal norms. As of 2011, there were at least 10 major businesses in India headed by female leaders. This is still vastly behind the number of male leaders in the country, but it shows a progression in gender equality that would’ve been unheard of twenty years ago.
The final conclusion that I came to about my frustration with these global initiatives was that I’d hoped they wouldn’t be necessary by now. That was pretty wishful thinking on my part, given the clear evidence that men control nearly all Fortune 500 companies around the globe. Or given the fact that we always hear about the wage gap between men and women in the U.S., and the unspeakable gaps that exist in even less progressive countries. It’s a pretty sobering realization to see that there is still so much work to be done. However, the fact that these initiatives are being taken is a silver lining, at least. And the fact that countries like India are seeing an increase in promising businesswomen shows that the world is changing. As much as I wish the initiatives weren’t necessary, the fact that they are being implemented is evidence that we’re working towards a world where someday they won’t be.