India features among the bottom three Asian nations in female representation on boards of directors at only five per cent women on executive boards, according to a study by McKinsey & Company. Also, the country is among the bottom three in terms of women’s representation (three per cent) in executive committees, going by the global management consulting firm’s report, ‘Women Matter: An Asian Perspective’.
The study also points that the female labour participation rate in India is 35 per cent, one of the lowest in the world. The country has women in a minority at university and entry-level positions.
What’s more, India has a female literacy rate much lower than that of its males—62 per cent versus 85 per cent, according to the government’s 2011 census—and this affects the number of women entering higher education. The 2009-10 academic year saw only 10 to 15 per cent of female intake to the Indian Institutes of Management.
Around 50 per cent of graduates in Asia are women, but only a fraction of that number make it to middle management, let alone the top, going by the study. “On average, women account for six per cent of seats on corporate boards, and eight per cent of those on executive committees. That is strikingly low compared with Europe and the US, where the comparative figures—though still low—are 17 per cent and 10 per cent, and 15 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively,” it notes.
“Even when women do enter the corporate world, they often fail to progress very far, either getting stuck in the pipeline early in their careers or deciding to leave at middle management,” says Jin Wang, co-author of the report and partner in McKinsey’s Shanghai Office. “China, for example, has one of the world’s highest female labour participation rates, but only eight per cent of corporate board members and nine per cent of executive committee members are women.”
The study finds despite the low representation of women at senior levels, gender diversity is not yet high on the strategic agenda for most Asian firms. In India, for example, only 36 per cent of respondents said gender diversity was among the top 10 in their company’s strategic agenda. However, 55 per cent of respondents in India did expect their company to accelerate implementation of gender diversity measures. Claudia Sussmuth-Dyckerhoff, co-author of the report and a director in McKinsey’s Shanghai Office, says that given tight labour markets and intense competition for talent across Asia, there is a strong business imperative for Asian companies to better tap the female talent pool. This means gender diversity needs to become a corporate priority.
Citing the reasons behind this trend, the report listed family commitments, work model requiring availability and geographical mobility at all times, lack of pro-family public policies, women’s reluctance to promote themselves and lower ambitions than men as the major barriers to gender diversity in senior management.
Making the business rationale for gender diversity clear, appointing women to top positions or ensuring they were among the candidates and setting targets and tracking pro-gress were solutions proposed by the report.
“Asian companies and economies across the board stand to benefit enormously from better tapping the female talent pool. Getting the issue of gender diversity on the corporate agenda across the region is simply good business,” concludes Sussmuth-Dyckerhoff.