Saturday, April 17, 2010

When there are years of Historic Inequality, how can Meritocracy work?

WILL Forum – JSW Panel
With President Ruth Simmons, Brown University in Mumbai

"Will Rationality overcome Prejudice in the Workplace?”

"One can never consent to creep-- when one wants to soar!" -- President Ruth Simmons, to the WILL Forum.

It is a rare opportunity to stand next to the accomplished presence of a shining personality like President Ruth Simmon -- without being touched by her straightforward passion, depth of understanding on the case for equality for women, and commitment to excellence in education.

In sharing her wisdom with the over 200 senior women executives and women from the social sector at the Y.B. Chavan Auditorium in Mumbai -- President Simmons seemed to have a clear message for the WILL Forum, that "when there are years of historic inequality, how can meritocracy work?"

Following are some of the views on a wide range of topics covered by President Simmons -- with discussions from the WILL Forum Panel of Sangita Jindal (JSW Group), Ritu Anand (Tata Consultancy Services), Janaki Chaudhary (GE India), Shravani Dang (Avantha Group), and Sharmila Banerjee (JSW Group) -- to "feed the fires" of your learning:

On Education:
* Education can be had in a variety of settings
* We can learn anytime we encounter something
* We can learn from tragedy -- and we can learn from challlenge
* Anything that challenges us can teach us
* Education never ends, never peaks, and is life-long
* Care for children-- make sure their needs are met
* Even the humblest task is an opportunity
* "My mother was my earliest tutor-- I learnt self-esteem and integrity from her" -- President Ruth Simmons

On Leadership:
* Need to have courage and know how to face challenges
* Sometimes the challenges may seem too great
* Cultivate the habits of Open-ness and Flexibility, Passion, and must Inspire others
* Be assertive -- but listen to others point of view
* Move from conflict to "collaboration"
* Try to bring people together on a "common vision" and "common goal"
* "I have been able to acheive my goals in life -- I can now do for others what what has been done for me" -- President Ruth Simmons

On Equality for Women:
* Meritocracy is an argument against quotas by those who do not want equality
* When there is historic inequality -- then how will meritocracy work?
* "If you are not working for equality as a nation -- you are not a nation in my point of view" -- President Ruth Simmons
* In company boardrooms, public-spiritedness and soft-skills are still regarded with disdain -- men value the profit and the bottom line
* What is going on in corporate boardrooms is "making money" -- but do corporations need to make as much money as they do?
* There are immense cultural differences between what companies value and what women aspire to do

On Affirmative Action:
* It was a wake-up call for me to know that half the stocks in the NYSE are traded by women!
* We maybe uncomfortable with activism -- but without activism, legislation, and affirmative action -- nothing will change
* If you do not want to wait for another 100 years for equality for women -- stake your claim now!
* Women should stop buying products or investing in companies that do not show women in leadership positions
* We don't need to be present -- but our voices need to be heard

WILL Women Panelists:
* Men are promoted on potential -- women on acheivement
* Women are performing better than men in all exams -- what then is the "gate" that remains closed for them to move up the ladder?
* We don't want to talk about life-cyle issues of women -- it is not relevant to our leadership qualities
* Aspiration levels among women still remains low -- mentoring will be key in corporate India
* There seems to be an eco-system with unintended barriers for women -- this needs to be acknowledged
* Research needs to be done to highlight how men speak about women in their teams -- there are clearly different yardsticks for women

All thoughts and contributions are welcome -- and thank you for your continuing leadership.


Poonam Barua
Founder Convener
Forum for Women in Leadership

Sunday, March 7, 2010

WILL Women's Day Pledge:
Consensus for Voluntary Affirmative Action on "Balanced Leadership"

The energy, intelligence, discourse, talent, and commitment for fast-forward movement was shining amongst the group of over 100 senior women executives who gathered at the "WILL Open Tea House" on March 5, in New Delhi.

We were most privileged to have some of the finest women executives from the best-employer companies in India present at the WILL meeting -- including KPMG, GE India, Citigroup, Genpact, Honeywell, Bharti Enterprises, Walmart, ONGC, Pepsi Foods, Benett and Coleman, Coca Cola, Monsanto, Tata Teleservices, Headstrong, Indian School of Business, and others. The WILL Forum represents over 1,500 women from over 250 companies from across corporate India and multinationals.

The consensus was clear: Corporate India needs to adopt a series of Voluntary Best Practices for bringing about "Balanced Leadership" at all levels of the organization -- and particularly for CEOs, Board Positions, and top-management decision making positions. The 5% women board directors metric has to improve -- and only 10% women as CEOs and top-management has to change, as there is no shortage of women who are qualified, talented, and aspiring to take on the positions for responsibility.

The business case is clear -- as women represent nearly 50% of future markets of customers, investors, and employees
The best-employers case is clear -- as companies want to retain women in their workforce, and overcome the shortage of talent for expanding their businesses
The leadership case is clear -- as women bring differentiating styles of women in leaderhip including collegiality, team-work, consensus-building, innovative and open thinking --needed for the new format of business success
The corporate governance case is clear -- as women bring several unique qualities as independent directors -- including a greater public-spiritedness and societal commitment, they are ready to ask the right questions, seem to be more ethical and unwilling to partake in corruption and fraud, are more candid and transparent, they are more collegial and consensus building on board decisions

The women of WILL Forum arrived at a collective-consensus for recommending the following "Best Practices for Balanced Leadership" for corporate India: 2010, on a voluntary compliance basis:
WILL "50 Best Practices for Women in the Workplace" -- for voluntary acceptance on all public companies listed on BSE
WILL "Women Mentoring Programs" for all women executives -- at least once a year, for bridging the inequity of talent pool
No jobs to be closed until there are at least 25% applications from women candidates for consideration
Each woman executive to mentor another 10 women in the organization -- as per WILL Forum best practices for women in leadership
Pressure from committed global investors like IFC, World Bank, Fortune 500 clients -- to engage with companies that show more women on top-management and boardrooms
Appoint a Chief Diversity Officer to monitor the upward career movement of women in the organization-- reporting directly to the CEO
Create the WILL "Independent Women Directors Roster" of 400 qualified and aspiring women directors -- for consideration of corporate India, to close the lack-of-supply of qualified women for boardooms
The WILL Forum would like to extend its continuing appreciation to all the enlightened executives of corporate India, both men and women --and brings greetings to all best practice stakeholders on International Women's Day: 2010.


Poonam Barua
Founder Convener
Forum for Women in Leadership

Friday, January 8, 2010

Celebrating International Women's Day: Pledge for Affirmative Action

Many of our wonderful WILL Forum members and women executives have asked how we should be celebrating International Women's Day in 2010.

Firstly, it is most interesting to see the flurry of activity and interest in celebrating International Women's Day every year -- and the steady flow of articles, conventions, best-in-class celebrations at work -- have already begun in companies and industry forums to showcase that women are being given a "piece-of-the-economic-pie."

At the same time, there is little recognition of the substance of hardwork, commitment, innovative ideas, contribution to leadership and company culture, profits and revenues -- that is being contributed by the women executives towards "enlarging-the-wealth-pie" -- and everyone simply hopes that this celebration and "limelight-for-a-day" will keep the women of corporate India inspired over the next 365 days in 2010.

The best-in-class laggards on International Women's Day will continue to be corporate HR, who have consistently done little to move women from low-risk, low-reward, low-compensation positions -- basing their argument on the "merits of meritocracy" and unreliable career charts of women employees for whom career is only a "second-pay-check." Unfortunately, the truth is that corporate HR has simply failed to understand the differentiating, inclusive, and non-aggressive style of women leaders that will be speaking to future markets and stakeholders.

For those who have had the honor of listening to Keynote Speakers on International Women's Day celebrations, the disappointment usually comes from two dimensions:

1. The speeches are usually applauding women for their contributions to society, education, and community projects, as if: (a) doing societal work is easier than driving a business and; (b) women are capable only for the "softer-roles", since they are not fit for boardroom discussions on corporate governance, financial disclosures, hiring the best people, legal matters concerning mergers and acquisitions, audit, or simply not male-enough!

2. The debate at such forum meetings between men and women borders on the "frivolous" and sometimes "low-intellectual" areas of work-life balance, stereotypes, sexual harassment, etc. - as if these are the only issues on the minds of the smart women executives.

The real test of International Women's Day will come when the men CEOs, HR leaders, and key executives will partner with the women in their companies, and agree to leave the company in the hands of women executives for one day.

What if we were to propose that the men executives went out of office to work on community and social projects on International Women's Day, and the women kept the office going? How many would have the courage, conviction and integrity to celebration International Women's Day with this authenticity?

Clearly, if this were to happen -- no board meetings would take place, no profits and revenue decisions would be taken, no prestigious business deals will come to closure, no changes in top-management compensations would be institute, no risk-reward decisions will be managed -- since most of the women are at the lower executive levels of responsibility in areas of corporate communications, legal services, human resources, CSR, business operations, hospitality, computer support, facilities management, and related areas.

What more confirmation do we need -- to understand the significance of International Women's Day and what it must stand for?

The WILL Handbook on "50 Best Practices for Women in the Workplace" lists celebrating International Women's Day as one of the best practices for creating an eco-system in the organization where women are encouraged, nurtured, and respected.

The "WILL 50 best practices for women" are part of the affirmative action towards correcting the years of inequality in perceiving women as business leaders and raising their aspiration levels -- which if left to its own slow osmosis process, will take years to correct.

Companies like IBM, GE, Nokia, Citigroup, KPMG, Deloitte, Tata Group must be applauded for scoring nearly 90% on the WILL 50 Best Practices for Women -- and corporate India will need to take some fine lessons on authentic leadership, if it is to seriously define the next practice in leadership.

Let us pledge to begin some affirmative action on International Women's Day -- towards creating a more 'balanced leadership' in corporate India, and join the mission and mandate for bringing progress to the women of our beloved nation.

Poonam Barua
Founder Convener
Forum for Women in Leadership
New Delhi