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The gender gap: What needs to be done by women for women

The gender gap: What needs to be done by women for women

The gender gap: What needs to be done by women for women
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By Arun Kumar  Mar 7, 2019 11:45:02 PM IST (Updated)

Organisations must help by fostering a culture where women can help themselves and raise their hands and be seriously considered without discrimination.

On International Women’s Day, we need to renew our focus on the gender gap, the difference in women’s participation in economic opportunities in India and globally.

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In a recent paper, IMF chief Christine Lagarde and Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg estimated that raising women's participation in the labour force to the same level as men can boost India's GDP by 27 percent. In the short term, an increase in women’s labour force participation by 10 percentage points (68 million more women) by 2025, could raise its GDP by 16 percent.
In my work, I see first-hand the energies, talent and motivation of many bright women. I sat down last week with Manisha Dharnidharka, Poonam Ghelani and Sreeja Marar, up-and-comers at my firm, to understand how they viewed their own success. My goal was to hear what they felt needed to be done by women - and for women - to realise their potential which is surely no less than those of their male counterparts. They identified a few areas.
Poonam and Manisha emphasised the importance of mentorship which is important at almost every step of a career. At the entry level, organisations are often gender-balanced, as both women and men have less responsibility.
As women move up, in comparison with men, they need more flexibility to meet the needs of parenthood. In that journey, women should not retreat to a shell of safety -- and need mentors to guide them, to sometimes pull them out of their comfort zones to perform at the levels they can. Sometimes one may fall off the bicycle of life, but mentors can help women climb back on the saddle.
Similarly, such support is needed at home from spouses. Sreeja talked about the need for spouses to be supportive. Her husband had to sometimes push her to stay the course, to not succumb to the temptation to quit when faced with conflicting pressures at home and work.
Sreeja equally said it must start with women: they need to have conviction and confidence in their goals and themselves. Manisha chipped in to say that when opportunities come, it is important that women raise their hands and not wait to be asked.
I believe that organisations must help by fostering a culture where women can help themselves and raise their hands and be seriously considered without discrimination.
Finally, Sreeja said women must learn to not do anything they don’t have to do themselves. The art of prioritisation is key, a very important lesson to all executives: I told her that with such insights she would one day be CEO.
Just a few days before, I had the chance to visit the Avasara Academy, nestled in the foothills outside Pune. The dream of Roopa Purushothaman, now chief economist of the Tata Group and made a reality with the support of a number of industry leaders, this non-profit secondary school for girls provides a truly world-class learning environment.
The good news in India is that nearly 70 percent of organisations have said that they will hire more women in 2018-19. It is imperative that girls and subsequently women be equipped and encouraged to claim their legitimate space in the world. We need more empowered women like my colleagues Manisha, Poonam and Sreeja and more Avasara Academies to nurture girls and women who will become confident and socially sensitive leaders.
Arun Kumar is chairman and CEO, KPMG in India
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