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

No comments:

Post a Comment