Gender Balance and Diversity issues in India – Interview with Professor Vasanthi Srinivasan

During the HEC Paris – IIMB Exchange Program (HIEP), from September 5th to 11th, 2011, we had the opportunity to discuss with Professor Vasanthi Srinivasan about Gender Balance and Diversity issues in India. Vasanthi Srinivasan is an Organisational Behavior & Human Resources Management Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and Centre for Corporate Governance and Citizenship Chairperson.

1. One of your research areas is “Women in Information Technology: career transitions, work life integration, organizational practices and their impact on participation of women in the workforce”.

Please tell us how did you become interested in this subject and what are the main findings of the research?

I joined the IT industry in 1985 when India was just emerging as a “software power house”. As the industry began to grow, I expected that there would be more women in the software services sector. There was a report that the International Labour Organization brought out which mentioned that the software sector was a women friendly sector unlike manufacturing. Since 2001, there were more women entering the workforce in India, but we have not seen enough women in the senior and middle levels in organizations. Being a woman who works with the industry and seeing so few women, got me interested in this area. I had a Masters student who was visiting from Netherlands and her interest was women. My first research on women in the IT industry looked at work life balance of Women professionals in the software services industry.

Six broad themes emerged from the study which are relevant to the understanding of work family balance of women IT professionals in India: familial influences on life choices; multi-role responsibilities and attempts to negotiate them; self-identity; work life challenges and coping strategies; organizational policies and practices; and social support. The role of male members of the family in shaping the career identity of the women was an interesting finding.

2. What are the main challenges for Indian women in general and for Indian women in business?

Some challenges are quite similar – entrenched gender roles on women being the dominant nurturer, glass ceiling at workplace, inability to network effectively, absence of strong mentors etc.

In the Indian context, there are some added pressures. India is a highly diverse country and a complex society. The society views a girl child as a burden, though this is somewhat changing in urban India. Investment on the girl child is also therefore low. This prevents many young women to participate effectively in the workforce. Apart from this, the ecosystem to help women manage work is missing for eg. Child care facilities are scarce and women are not comfortable leaving children in daycare. If women have to continue to work, they need the support of their parents or their in laws. Apart from this, many women entering the workforce are first generation women. Their mothers and aunts have been homemakers. Their identity is shaped by women in the household who have never worked. The dominant “mother and wife” identity is what gets reinforced.

3. What is the place of women in Indian companies? How this evolved over time? Did you observe a difference between sectors?

Most professional Indian companies have now started looking at women in the workplace. The financial services industry and the public sector have been quite progressive in their gender composition. In recent years, many business houses have inducted women family members into the executive and the board. There is a need for more women in the technology stream. While the absolute number of women in the workforce has increased, their presence at the level of CEO/CXO and the board is poor.

4. What are the actions that Indian companies implement in order to build gender diversity?

Companies are building gender diversity by providing flexible policies around workleave. They are also providing coaching and mentoring opportunities for women. Women’s networks in organizations are also gaining importance. In India, given the weak support structure for childcare, many organizations are investing in creating child care facilities. This will help to keep the women talent pipeline growing.

5. You travel a lot. What do you think are the main differences between a business woman in India and a business woman in US or Europe?

In US and Europe, there is a generation of women who have entered the workplace two to three decades ago and they have helped in young women professionals gaining a “working identity”. I believe this working identity, allows women to aspire and choose careers, in some cases, putting professionals choices ahead of personal constraints. The extent of society induced constraints in terms of security, staying out late at night, entertaining male guests, all of which could hamper networking pose additional constraints on women in the Indian context.

 6. What are the challenges for dual-career couples in India? What are the mentalities regarding dual-career couples?

Dual career couples have a real challenge. I experience this all the time. My husband is the CEO of an American multinational company. He travels extensively and so do I. We ensure that we both don’t travel at the same time. We never travel together for work and more importantly, we ensure that we take a holiday with our daughter every year. Synchronizing this holiday is a nightmare. Then of course, is the expectation that mothers will be present for the parent Teacher meeting at school. When my daughter was in the sixth grade, for a whole year, my husband was the only male at the Parent Teacher meeting. Her teacher was keen to meet the absentee mother.

The domestic responsibility is largely that of the women. Cooking is quite a significant responsibility for most workingwomen. Many women therefore find it difficult to travel or take on international and national assignments. This hampers career growth and success.

7. Are the facilities offered by companies or government (health, education) important to create a better environment for dual-career couple?

Yes they are, but at the end of the day, it is about women negotiating their own identities and society enabling the identity of women. Spousal support is a key element for the success of women’s career in a dual career household.

Special thanks for putting the article together to:

Bianca Roatis, WiL President and Part-Time MBA 2012

Blanca Edigo-De-Miguel, WiL Vice-President and Part-Time MBA 2012


1 Comment

Filed under HEC Women in Leadership - Interview

One response to “Gender Balance and Diversity issues in India – Interview with Professor Vasanthi Srinivasan

  1. Pierrette DOZ PERDRIX

    Thanks for writing this piece, highly interesting for cultural specificities of India though a lot of issues will sound familiar to most of us …

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