Is ‘wrong gender’ now the ‘right gender’ as companies race for diversity?

15 February 2014 | Priyanka Bhargava | NEW DELHI

Sometime in the year 1998, Anu Aiyengar was rejected for the position of a mergers and acquisitions banker at a major Wall Street firm because she belonged to the ‘wrong gender’. Aiyenger, an Indian by birth, was told, ‘You have three strikes against you. How can I hire you? You are the wrong gender, wrong colour, and wrong country.” It’s a different story that Aiyenger stuck around and now she is the managing director at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Reuters reports that she is seen as one of the rising stars within the largest U.S. bank’s M&A group, advising clients in sectors ranging from retail to industrials.

 

Not that gender bias stopped with women like Aiyenger taking it by the horns. It has persisted. Women still earn much less than their male peers. According to Bloomberg editors Carol Hymowitz & Cecile Daurat, best-paid female leaders take home 18 per cent less than their male counterparts. There are much less number of women in the C-suite. As per the latest (2013) Fortune 1000 list, women currently hold 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions, 4.6 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO positions and 4 per cent of S&P 500.

 

Considering this scenario, what do we make of the biggies like Goldman Sachs, Pepsico, Bain & Co, and American Express hitting the recruitment tables at the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) this season with a mandate to hire 50 per cent women? Will it really help improve diversity reports? Will companies put diversity before merit? Besides, will it help to go armed with a mandate to hire more women from campuses where the gender ratio is already distorted?

Diversity Reports

Reshma Anand, founder of the Delhi-based organic products company, Earthy Goods, tells The Petticoat Journal, “It’s not sustainable for companies to hire women merely to shore up their diversity goals. The expectation for performance and results at the work place is gender agnostic.”

 

Though the numbers may still not be boastful, but the percentage of women at workplace has gone up significantly over the years. “It’s on account of numbers and precedent – women are now a sizable segment of the talent pool and they have also proven their mettle in leadership positions in the corporate world. So it makes business sense to hire them,” says Anand, who graduated from the IIM, Bangalore, in 1997.

 

Besides, the whole diversity goal may fall flat if the gender ratio is distorted on campuses, which seems to be the case. Sabia Jindal, a management trainee with Nestle, and a 2011-2013 batch IIM-B graduate, says, “Gender ratio was low at all the IIMs. For instance, IIM-Kolkata, had just  25 females among 400 students in the 2011-13 batch.” Goldman Sachs hired seven men after having interviewed few women too last year at IIM-B.

 

This year too, with too many companies going with a similar mandate they may be staring at some tough fight as there are just 533 women among 2,442 students passing out of IIMs this year. But recruiters may not want to shy away from this competition considering the increasing importance of diversity reports since recently. Then there is the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business study which reveals that for each female director on board, the cost of acquisition goes down by 15.4%. The cutthroat competition may only be worth it as in women, companies get hardworking, empathetic employees at 15 per cent less cost and then it makes them heroes too with a dazzling diversity report to show off!

 

However, many companies have chosen to keep away from the ‘insecurity’ of pepping up diversity reports. Their recruitments are based on merit. They don’t reject women because of gender and neither do they hire them for that reason. They do so on the basis of their performance in the recruitment tests.

 

And, then, many such companies have a sizable number of women employees at senior levels. Sumeet Singh, Senior Vice President, Naukri.com, tells The Petticoat Journal, “We don’t go with a mandate. But quite a few of our departments are headed by women, including me. There is a change of course. Recently, even Private Equity and Venture Capitalist firms have been hiring women though these sectors have been strictly male-dominated all this while.”

 

Start-ups too are driven by merit over gender. It matters more for a start-up where the performance of each and every employee makes a huge difference in the company’s overall success. Quite a few new start-ups like Limeroad.com, Zerodha, ZipDial and LocalBanya.com are going to the IIMs this season.

 

Amit Naik, co-founder and COO of LocalBanya.com, an online grocery store, tells The Petticoat Journal, ‘We don’t have a mandate. We already have a high proportion of women in the company right now. Our founding member is a woman, the heads of our customer service, HR and procurement teams are women, and our engineering lead is a woman. Quite frankly we have not even treated them differently.’

 

A study by the Credit Suisse Research Institute in 2012 had revealed that ‘over the last six years, companies with at least some female board representation outperformed those with no women on the board in terms of share price performance’. The study analysed the performance of close to 2,400 companies with and without female board members from 2005 onwards. Many countries are facing potential regulatory measures to increase the number of women in boardroom.

 

It’s not important whether recruiters are going with a gender mandate or not. What matters is that the recruiter doesn’t reject a woman just because she belongs to the ‘wrong gender’.

  • Sakshi Batra

    well analysed… merit should be the priority.

  • Freny Shah

    i am about to start job hunt. somehow your story has given me some pump. thanks!

  • Kashish Dhar

    Hi the petticoat journal, it’s always nice to read your stories. they have a totally different outlook. waiting for more. love, kashish

  • Akash K

    yes. merit should be before gender. companies should only have merit on their minds when hiring.

  • Simran Jyot

    hey there! i’m an Indian settled in Toronto for over 6 yrs now. i follow The Petticoat Journal religiously. keep up! you guys rock! best, simran

  • Rajinder Kumar

    Excellent analysis, that is the trend, very true. Well written…keep it up…

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