Governments should make sure that it gives protection and incentives to families who want their daughters to have access to education
Countries that have not yet taken steps for gender inclusion are getting stuck in their economic development, Japan being a case in point
Darryl Green, Executive Vice President of Manpower, President (Asia-Pacific and Middle East Operations) shares with People Matters his views on the “Girl Effect” and solutions for gender inclusion at all levels in an organization
During the world economicforum held in Delhi this last November, you were invited to talk about the ‘The Girl Effect’. What does it mean and what impact will the inclusion of girls have on economic development?
Well, I see this issue in two different ways. On one hand, it is a human rights issue. If you look at the whole world, there is a problem in the way women have been treated – be it the fact that 90% of domestic help in the world are girls between the ages of 13 to 17; or a look at access to education for girls, differences in equal opportunity and equal pay in the labour markets regardless of religious and cultural sensitivities. Here, Governments should make sure that it gives protection and incentives to families who want their daughters to have access to education. The corporate world too can do its bit to help drive that agenda. For instance, by conscious avoidance of countries and companies of practices that do not adhere to human right standards. This is an ethical issue that all corporate citizens are obliged to follow.
On the other hand, it is a matter of transforming women from being unskilled to skilled. Manpower has put an effort along with an NGO called Hope, where we have set up a vocational program called Manpower Vocation Training Centre. This program started as a response to the effects of the tsunami but today is a self sustainable enterprise with more than 5,000 graduates. It focuses on vocational skills that are practical and based on the willingness of the people that come to the program regardless of gender or origin. There are of cross cultural and religious barriers that we have to break daily and adapt to those sensitivities.
I believe a combination that will not only set the bar a bit higher and break the stereotypes, but will also create programs that will help on taking these steps, is very important to help women to come into the workforce in a meaningful way. There should be a blend between being practical and being idealistic because if you are too idealistic, you tend to set the bar so high that it does not do anything.
But how to achieve that transformation and create those economic incentives?
As we have seen, 90% of domestic workers are girls and by the time these girls attain 18 years of age, they will have, on an average, 4.4 years less of schooling. The Government here should say that girls have to complete a level of schooling and also announce an economic incentive for doing so. This kind of a step is very practical and can create change. The Government needs to be there to provide the education program and also to economically support the families that adhere to those programs. How much money will that be as compared with the thousand of crore of rupees that is put in the budget for vocational training? I was really shocked to learn that 60-100 million girls are missing from the world population and as a business person, I thought, how much will it take to fix it? The first step in problem solving is to find out how much money it will take to fix the problem.
Having worked in India, I know that Rs.50 is quite significant for a family as that amount is sufficient for a mobile recharge. So if you were to say that every month that your daughter goes to school, we will give you Rs.50, which translates into Rs.600 at the end of the year. This totals to Rs.6,000 crore if you multiply this amount with the 100 million girls that are missing. Is there a political will to put the money with the intentions to really make a change? Is the government ready to take this step? Are corporates willing to support this as economic incentive? If we’ve an answer to these questions, then that transformation can certainly be brought about.
We also see such differences when we look at the corporate world and the number of women in top positions. What are the economic incentives of diversity, in this case gender diversity?
When it comes to the corporate world and what we call the ‘glass ceiling’ issue on women rising up to a particular level in the organization, companies need to see that getting woman into positions of significant power has a clear economic incentive. There are a lot of economic studies of Fortune 500 companies that show that corporate that had more than 30% women on their board or in their executive suit level have been able to outperform the market with 60% greater return on capital, 50% higher return on equity year after year, 40% greater return on sales and so on. There is a real economic incentive for inclusiveness that I think needs to be consciously addressed. Some countries have realized the importance of gender inclusiveness and have passed laws to reinforce the same. For instance, Norway passed a law, which stated that every company had to have at least 40% of directors of the company to be females. In societies, this is what is required to break the glass ceiling. Some countries have made great advances on this and some others have not and we can see a correlation with their economic development. It is interesting to see that some of the countries that have not yet taken steps for inclusion are getting stuck in their economic development, Japan being a case in point.
There are some arguments around reservation quotas for implying inferiority or being seen as against meritocracy. What is your view on that?
See, when you are looking at the issue of setting bars or requirement for entry to a top position, is it fair to have different bars for women and men? Does it imply inferiority or not? I am absolutely convinced that until you set examples of success, nobody will think of achieving it. It has been so many years that women have been left behind that this is really a small price to pay to get people to experience that, after which the bars will come back. There has to be an adjustment to account for historical inequalities.
How do you see corporate India in terms of creating opportunities for women in top management roles?
When it comes to the participation of women in the corporate word, I feel Indian corporate world is still evolving. If you see traditionally, the older generation does not necessarily have a personal comfort with dealing with women in the workplace so when you look at their board members and directors, you rarely see much gender diversity - you have to go down several levels to start seeing it. This is totally my opinion and I believe this glass ceiling exists because there are still some taboos and lack of comfort with the relationship between women and men. The younger generation, however, does not have such inhibitions and therefore, we can hope to see a total transformation in the years to come.
What is your overall opinion on the outlook for corporate India in 2010?
In terms of Corporate India outlook, I feel that last election results were very positive. I believe that the Government has figured out some fundamental things that they need to correct and they have now the opportunity to correct them. The challenges for Corporate India are mostly on getting the right talent. There is a top tier set of educational institutes that do a fantastic job, but there are a whole lot of other institutes as well where the majority of people go and where the quality of their learning and skills may not be up to the mark. Papers and research reports may say that India graduates 5 million engineers each year, but in reality, there might be only 70,000-80,000 talent with useable skills. There is not enough to feed the industry. There must be a boot strap approach where the whole country reacts to that need in such a way that everybody can benefit from the prosperity. So far, this problem has not been addressed and India has missed out on many industries where it has the potential to be number one, like textiles, plastics, et al. Any industry that employs a lot of people should do well in India as is doing in China.
The problems in India are literacy, education and a history of corruption and if these problems are not fixed, India will continue to be a nation of have and have not’s and it will be forced to take the talent that is there and channel it into few narrow areas and will never get where China is. The Government has clearly understood that, and organizations like Manpower can also play a role in that transformation. If people are trained in a particular skill, they need to have access to jobs; if those jobs are not available in India, they are available overseas. So if you go to a decent polytechnic, Manpower will be able to get you a job whether in India or overseas. So that is the role that we will like to play tie up with polytechnic schools and create these job opportunities for entry level positions.