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    Hello and welcome to a web chat with Kanika Datta on how India can improve gender parity at workplace.

  • A


    Exploitation of women — both sexual and financial — is much more severe in the unorganised sector than organised sector. Even in the latter, as we saw in the Tehelka episode, the Vishakha guidelines are practised more in letter than in spirit. Unless there is an attitudinal change in society, gender disparity is unlikely to go away. What's your take?


    Absolutely. A recent survey showed that 97 per cent of companies are unaware of the Supreme Court ruling that makes a sexual harassment complaints committees mandatory in the workplace. Unfortunately, there is no monitoring mechanism in place, so many organisations -- whether in the organised or unorganised sector --- get away scot free. As you rightly point out, it is an attitudinal change that needs to happen right at the top -- and the Tehelka case is a good example of why

  • R


    Gender disparity is a problem that has always been there. I think the root cause is male chauvinism at workplace. Don't you think that needs to be addressed first?


    Yes, as I said in my first answer, to embed gender sensitivity in an organisation, the initiative has to start at the top and since most of our organisations are still headed by men, this becomes something of a challenge. Banks like ICICI is a sterling example of how this can be achieved. K V Kamath acivitely promoted talented women and the results are there to be seen today

  • J


    Hi Kanika, to begin with, do you think gender disparity is widespread in India Inc, or is it limited to certain sectors. We do see several companies where women have broken the glass ceiling convincingly with active ecosystem support.


    It is hard to say because so much is still not reported but there was a recent eye-opening report that two thirds of Nifty companies reported sexual harassment cases, and many of these were in industries that are conventionally considered to be ones in which the glass ceiling has been broken such as banking and IT. that suggests that the practice is much more widespread than we know

  • A


    Gender parity at workplace typically tends to revolve around issues concerning women, which is fine, given that women face way more discriminatory practices. But as a starter, should this apply it for men as well... starting with, say, more substantial paternity leave policies, or emotional health issues, given the rigid gender stereotypes that are often the root cause of insensitivity towards women?


    I agree and I have argued in some columns that men colleagues should also be given access to the sexual harassment complaints committee and, yes, for longer paternity leave of the kind they offer in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. I think the issue in India right now is that since workplaces are still overwhelmingly male dominated that the laws and policies have to cope with the issue of discrimination against women first. But certainly in the long run, men should come within the ambit of the law and policies

  • N


    What are the actions that can be taken once the sexual harassment committee finds a complaint to be true? Only an internal administrative action should follow or a complaint must compulsorily be lodged with the police?


    A police case is not compulsory and is usually lodged only if the complainant so requests it. Otherwise, the person who is found guilty can be dismissed or asked to resign, depending on what route the management wants to take.

  • P


    A report published by Oxfam last year showed India ranked the second-worst among G20 economies with regard to women’s participation at workforce. In fact, India is one of the few countries where the rate of participation of women at workforce has actually declined. According to UN gender statistics, it fell from 33.7% in 1991 to 27% in 2012. How can the government mitigate this situation? Is it even possible to both incentivise employers to hire women and uproot the entrenched patriarchal system through simple legislation or "flagship schemes"?


    That report did cause some consternation but no one could satisfactorily answer why that had happened. some analysts said it was because women were dropping out of the workforce in favour of education, others because the introduction of NREGA meant they did not need to work to bring in extra income. The fact is, no one really knows why this happened. I am not sure how you can incentivise employers to hire women (and we know most flagship schemes don't work!). But let me say that deeper reform and faster economic growth will automatically expand the demand for labour (blue and white collar) and the sheer demand for talent will compel organisations to be less discriminatory in hiring women. This happened, for example, when the textile industries of the Asian Tigers plugged in to global supply chains from the sixties, which is why the status of women is far better there than in India.

  • S


    According to the new Companies Act, listed companies need to appoint at least one woman director. While some are yet to do so, those that have appointed women directors have mostly appointed only one — no meet the norm. Do you think this is going to help the companies or women in any way?


    Many professional women have actually opposed this because they argue that they are talented enough to make it on their own. I would broadly agree with this. Plus, I did some research of the sensex companies that showed that although they all met the mandatory board norm, most had very few -- or no - women in the next level of management. that suggests that no, this rule doesn't make a big difference

  • A


    Are new and emerging organisations more gender-equal?


    I am not sure but some entries on a website called Glassdoor, in which employees can anonymously write in about their companies, suggests that workplace culture here is not much different from the general run of established organisations

  • A


    Women have also been found to sometimes resort to manipulation for getting ahead in workplace rat-race. That queers the pitch for sincere hard-working fellow-workers. Also, these lead to superfluous/false complaints. Your comments...


    well, men do the same thing, so I don't think this is a gender-specific issue!

  • A


    Recently there was a report that some companies in Japan demote pregnant women or pressure them to quit. How do you think Indian companies are doing in terms of maternity leaves. Do you think Indian companies are still dominated by the fancy of "men" when it comes to women at workplace? Even now, 25% listed companies say they don't have woman employees who are qualified enough to be directors.


    I answered that question a little while earlier. Since organisations are still dominated by men, it is men who need to be the catalyst for change

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