India Inc India Inc: Thursday, 26 June 2014 06:17

Achieving Gender Balanced Leadership

by Anjana Nathwani

 Prime Minister NarendraModi’s Cabinet is 25 per cent women. Just action and no quotas.

SushmaSwaraj is now raising the profile of women in public life and encouraging healthy debate in Parliament. This definitely shows that identifying talented women requires a mindset that is open.

I was recently speaking with ChirsWiscarson, a previous banker and now CEO of Equitable Life and chairman of Friends of SevaMandir, where he pointed out that “we need to create the right environment where women feel they can flourish and succeed on merit”.

Recent research suggests that the longer the list of attributes set down in a job specification, the less likely women will apply, even though they will be perfectly capable of doing the job to a good standard.

The language used injob specifications can be overly masculine.  Words like ‘challenge’ and ‘courage’ can be alien to some women.  At Equitabe Life “wesimply replaced such words in job specifications. We now use ‘determination’ instead of ‘courage’ and ‘facilitate’ instead of ‘challenge’.

Many organisations invest in mentoring schemes to improve the gender ratio. Whilst mentoring is much applauded, the process is yet to deliver demonstrable results for the pool of talent in an organisation.

Sponsorship,on the other hand,creates accountability for men and women. Sponsors take responsibility for the development and promotion of women; and this responsibility creates commitment and a desire to deliver results.Identifying the right sponsor is a key first step.

Quotas can trigger a healthy debate and work best when a merit-based selection process is applied. The downside with quotas is that men and women alike fear that job appointments are then made on the basis of gender rather than merit.

As Chris put it: “I have great sympathy with this concern,as there are so many capable women around it should always be possible to appoint a woman on merit. At the end of 2013, Equitable Life’s workforce comprised 66 per cent women and 34 per cent men, whereas in senior management positions, there were 34 per cent women and 66 per cent men. We therefore are committed to 50/50 gender balance by December 2016.”

 Anjana Nathwani is CEO of Athena Business Psychologists and her experience in the business world spans across four continents and 50 different nationalities. Prior to starting up her own consultancy practice, she was Senior Director at Schneider Ross and Director of Learning Design at Cass Business School.

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