Diversity & Inclusion Series: Women’s Participation in the Workforce

Neha Malhotra

Circa 1905, “Sultana’s Dream” a feminist utopian story is written by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, a Muslim feminist, writer and social reformer from Bengal. She explores the concept of a Ladyland wherein women are able to run everything. The women are aided by science fiction-esque “electrical” technology which enables labour less farming and flying cars; the women scientists have discovered how to trap solar power and control the weather. 

Fast forward to the year 2020. In India, women’s participation in the workforce is 20%, out of which only 8% is from the formal sector. (Source: McKinsey report). With this, women automatically become classified as “Diversity that has to be added”. 

In the current work environment setting, “Diversity” includes women, differently abled individuals, people belonging to the LGBTQ community, people from different ethnicities, colour, religion, anyone who does not find enough representation within a larger set. While I would like to talk about all these, for the sake of conciseness of this article, I am going to focus on Women presently

The What

So, what happened in this century? If a writer could envision women domination, how did we not even reach equal participation in all these years? Studies from various sources suggest that involvement from the above-mentioned diverse groups did not increase as much as an ideal situation would demand. 

A McKinsey & Company research shows that only 23% of C-suites are made up of women.

The Why

We recently conducted a small survey on Linkedin asking senior professionals if their organisation is making regular female inclusion efforts and sharing information. Upto 61% respondents said yes. 

While more organizations are publishing their diversity metrics, measuring inclusion is not yet a widely adopted or accepted practice. There has been great progress made recently, where more sophisticated ways of quantifying inclusion have emerged to support benchmarking efforts. In spite of these tools and methods many organizations are still behind in measuring inclusion consistently over time. Only 3.2% of Fortune 500 companies share diversity data in an open and transparent way. So if we cannot measure, how do we improve?

In spite of slow measurement of this parameter, there are specific reasons that women could not sustain their careers or sometimes did not even attempt to pick a career of their choice.

I remember a conversation I had several years ago with a client who had actually achieved a 50% ratio of women occupying their job roles, mentioning that the problem is so systemic that corporations need to go to the university level and insist 50% women students in their batches as a must have for campus placements. 

As managers, who are aware of the reality that women still do the larger part of household chores, do we enable policies that facilitate women being able to perform their best at work?

Do we follow a policy of no late evening meetings for all so that if women cannot attend, they are not singled out?

We need to understand if we are able to leave our biases aside and hire a woman who is already planning a family or do we take the safer, easier route of hiring a man instead, assuming a certain consistency of work.

The How

So, the 3 main aspects to be understood are if your organisation has policies or practices which promote inclusion, do you (individually and collectively) also fall prey to the stereotypical way of thinking where roles and expectations are gender based and do we write our job descriptions using language which is not appealing to women.

If the gap is identified, how do we go about fixing it?

According to BCG’s Diversity and Inclusion Assessment for Leadership tool and the Analysis and Framework, companies need to focus on five primary areas.

Pay. Men and women in the same roles are earning the same pay needs to be ensured. As perceptions incrementally affect the work environment, companies need to survey employees to make sure they believe that pay levels are equitable for men and women.

Recruitment. Building a strong pipeline of women is critical. This needs special attention in industries that have historically had little women representation, such as industrial goods and the tech sector.

Retention. Organisations must put frameworks in place to know and track the percentage of women and men at each level of seniority. Categorically assessing each level can increase retention of women employees.

Advancement. Monitoring the representation of women at the top needs to be accompanied with the measurement of percentage promoted each year as a share of the total cohort. This should be compared with the promotion rates of men. 

Representation. Fair representation is an equally important aspect. Make sure that women who do make it to the top are not concentrated in specific roles, but represented in operational units.

At a global, macro level, the United Nations has also developed some principles termed as The Women’s Empowerment Principles. These offer guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. They are the result of a collaboration between the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the United Nations Global Compact and are adapted from the Calvert Women’s Principles. 

The Principles in brief state:

  1. Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality.
  2. Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination.
  3. Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers.
  4. Promote education, training and professional development for women.
  5. Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women.
  6. Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy.
  7. Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve equality.


All of this is important for a more equitable and safer workplace. It has been proven that organizations with adequate women representation perform better. Deloitte found that 74% of Millennials believe their organization is more innovative when it has a culture of inclusion. This translates into better employer branding and thus a better talent attraction program. 


In my opinion it seems to be a long way before we can come close to “Sultana’s Dream” but we can sure take enough steps in the right direction after we acknowledge that there is a gap which needs to be filled.

Authored by Neha Malhotra | Vice President | Catenon | Linkedin Profile

Neha is a Vice President with Catenon and has been leading the Delhi (NCR) practice since 5 years. She has more than 17 years of experience in Leadership search and has handled numerous mandates at Board, CxO and Director levels as well as Specialist roles.


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