BT MPW: More men should be involved in gender diversity dialogues, say panelists

Diversity is not a women’s problem and more men should be involved in discussions for meaningful cultural changes, the panellists at the 18th annual edition of Business Today’s Most Powerful Women event in Mumbai said on Saturday.

“To solve a problem on gender diversity, dialogue also has to be inclusive. It is everybody’s issue,” Avaana Capital founder Anjali Bansal said. The most supportive and enabling men do so because they are gender blind, she added.

Welspun India CEO and Joint MD Dipali Goenka also said it can not be just the women supporting women, but an ecosystem of respectful peers which will be integral to changes in future.

“When I entered Welspun, people did not believe I would be running the company. The textile industry is a boys’ club as is,” she said.

Agreeing that there are boys’ clubs in several industries, the panelists rued that the sisterhoods are not as strong as them. “The boys’ club manage to fight as a pack. Kahin na kahin hum bikhar jaate hain (Somewhere along the way, we get disbursed),” Viacom 18 CEO Jyoti Deshpande said.

The comments come in the backdrop of India, Asia’s third-largest economy, having one of the lowest rates of female labor participation in the world at 21 per cent. India’s performance has declined over the past decade. A widened gender gap of 37.5 per cent has accorded the country an ignominious 140th rank out of 156 countries in the WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2021. The pandemic made matters worse as more women lost their jobs than men.

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Besides, women put themselves last, whether it be about money management, career or personal aspirations, according to LXME founder Prithi Rathi Gupta. “Their major goals are around family’s security, child’s education. It flows down to every level,” she said based on insights from studies by the financial platform for women.

Women tend to think that their family needs them more and put their career on the backburner. While this is changing slowly among the millennials and Gen Z, the change is largely an urban phenomenon, she added. “Put yourself first. Think about yourself.”

Adding that there is a lot of subconscious bias about marriage and motherhood in women’s minds, Viacom’s Deshpande said that a cultural shift is required to really move the needle. “Women drop out of the reckoning themselves for certain jobs. Culturally, this has to change where men and families are inclusive.”

This is one of the main reasons for the leaky pipeline problem, the panellists said, where there aren’t enough women at the middle management and leadership positions, despite education institutions’ having a stronger representation of women. For this to change, the families have to come on board too, they said.

The state, the organizations, their laws and policies are largely well-intentioned to achieve this. However, these things exist in the context of family and society, Bansal added.

“We are trying to fix the hardware but now we have to work on software of culture and mindset … Most women do not have a choice really. They have to do the work at home and they have to do the work at work “So, how will we get to equitable workplaces if we do not have equitable homes?” she said.

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