Gender diversity initiatives in India not effective, finds BCG

19 December 2017 4 min. read
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Despite efforts to close the gap between men and women in the Indian workplace, both in terms of money and in terms of participation, the country still has a long way to go. A new Boston Consulting Group survey shows that nearly two-thirds of the women claim their companies are attempting gender equality initiatives, but less than a third have actually felt the benefits.

‘From Intention to Impact,’ a survey conducted by BCG in India, contains data collected from 20 companies spanning multiple sectors, with a focus on the impact of gender diversity initiatives in the country. In essence, the report seeks to identify the reasons behind discrepancies between the large number of initiatives being taken, and their minimal tangible impact.

To this end, the consulting firm sought opinions on a set of 39 intervention strategies spanning five categories, namely recruitment, retention, advancement, leadership and culture. Based on these outcomes, the report broadly found that 60% of the women surveyed felt like their companies were serious about the initiatives, whereas only 29% had directly benefitted from any.

The first issue that the report deals with is that of advancement in a company, i.e. the ratio of men and women in senior positions. Overall, the ratio of men to women at all levels is fairly lopsided, with the average number of positions occupied by women at all levels amounting to just 27%.

Gender Gap Widens with Seniority

When examined by levels of seniority, entry-level positions have the highest level of female occupancy, at 30%. This figure nearly halves, dropping to 17% when examining senior management positions. Executive and board-level positions record the most abysmal performance, at 11% for both CEO positions and board-member positions.

This disparity comes despite the fact that men and women are equally ambitious. As per the findings, 86% of men and 87% of women want to advance in their respective companies. In fact, most women (36%) felt that the lack of advancement-opportunities was the biggest obstacle to true gender diversity in their organisations.

On the contrary, the men surveyed felt that this was the least important obstacle, with only 8% of them citing this as significance. Most men, i.e. 24% felt that diversity ought to be promoted at the recruitment level. 27% of the women backed this opinion.

Difference in priorities between men and women

Meanwhile, women rated other factors fairly high also, such as commitment to diversity from senior leadership (28%), retention of women by allowing flexibility (27%), and a company culture that is free of stereotypes and bias (22%). On the other hand, men felt that these were of minimal importance, with 12%, 11%, and 9% of the men attributing significance to the respective obstacles.

In terms of the nature of interventions that companies have undertaken, most interventions appear to be in contradiction with the priorities given by women, which might explain their lack of impact. For example, while 36% of the women felt that lack of advancement opportunities was the biggest obstacle to diversity, only 40% of the companies have interventions in that area.

Similarly, while the lowest number of women, i.e. 22% attributed significance to company culture as an obstacle, 95% of the companies have interventions in this area. Other areas of less importance according to women, such as retention (27%) and leadership (28%), have seen high levels of intervention as well, at 85% and 70% of the companies respectively.

Discrepancy between female priorities and interventions

Commenting on the situation, Priyanka Aggarwal, Partner at BCG and the leader of the Women@BCG initiative in India said, “Companies are investing time, energy and money in diversity initiatives, but progress is slow and results woefully short of expectations. Diversity initiatives at Indian corporations have yet to show significant impact on the ground.” 

The Indian economy, which is set for monumental growth in years to come, will stand to lose a lot of ground if gender diversity ratios are not improved. In recent years, professional services firm Grant Thornton has released data highlighting that the economies of the UK, US, and India stand to lose up to $655 billion due to a lack of female leadership at the executive and board levels.