priya chetty

International Women's Day is a day as much as for celebrating women as it is about addressing the challenges they face. A special day is dedicated to one half of the world's population to engage on persisting discrimination faced by them.

One of the greatest hurdles for the community was in finding a space in senior leadership in businesses and making space for themselves. While women in yesteryears have had to fight just for the right to work, today they fight for equality in workplaces.

One of senior leaders in Bengaluru, Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, who is the Executive Director-Leadership & Board Practice, RGF Executive Search, part of the Japanese $14 Billion Japanese corporation, Recruit, spoke to International Business Times, India to give a perspective on the challenges overcome over the last 30 years by women in the workplace.

"From the perspective of someone who has been in Bangalore and India for a while and has seen a gradual change in a 30-year time frame there's a dramatic change. While the legal framework and regulatory framework is important in addition to strong social inclusiveness a couple of things have tipped this movement over the edge. One is India's strong economic push," she said.

Chetty-Rajagopal, who was the of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (the first woman in this role), Karnataka and now on the National Executive Committee/Board said, "In the late 80s and early 90s the IT boom had just not just happened but proliferated in Bengaluru. What levelled the playing field was that most IT companies were based out of US or Europe and they had reached a certain level of expectation on women's equality and leadership.

There some things that were taken for granted. If they were setting up a facility for 500 people going up to a 1,000 they just took the most of the existing fabric overseas and superimposed on India. And that was a big impact on women's participation & workforce equality in India.

Earlier, there were simple issues around maternity, work-from-home and day care. Everything was hard work, you had to beg for it. It was such a big victory when one small thing would happen," said the former Convenor of the CII-WBLF (Confederation of Indian Industry - Women in Business & Leadership Forum).

"Whatever was done in San Jose it was automatically done here too. Local companies were then scrambling trying to attract same talent. Women-friendly measures were initiated was started in Bengaluru and later replicated elsewhere," she said.

She also added that the Constitution of India emphasises on equality between the sexes. Legally, measures like vishakha guidelines, maternity and adoption, which were more specific to India, were boon to women.

Policy changes in the workplace

"Today Accenture, Capgemini have maternity leaves up to six months, while earlier one had to deal with patronising men for maternal leaves," said the Founder-Chair of the WBC-IACC, Women's Business Council of the Indo American Chamber of Commerce.

Women are offered a more level-playing field , and may now take legal recourse to deal with discrimination and sexual harassment instead of staying quiet going through victim-blaming, she added.

"There has been cultural education in companies like IBM, Accenture and many others, which encourage women to step up. Public sector is also a good example of inclusiveness for women. By doing so the company reaps in loyalty and investment. It was seen as a charitable, 'nice' move before. Now, it has moved from what is fair, what is right to what makes business sense ," she added.

Women's security at workplace

Apart from the policies at work place like paternal leaves, work-from-home and flexible timings, the employer also needs to take care of security of women. In light of the recent incidents, like the Pune Infosys murder, such measures become crucial. The government too needs to stop paying lip-service and work to improve infrastructure. A responsive police force, ease in filing complaints and ample street lights are crucial for women's safety, said the Charter Member of The Indus Entrepreneurs.

Female mentorship

"I have informally mentored many women and created submentors. I had to embrace the woman and embrace the leader. Women, who have done well, are forced to step up and be role models, take part in panels, because unless you are able to visualise enough women in senior leadership position you could feel a sense of plateauing. Hopefully the next generation who are used to seeing many women in senior positions will laugh at the tag of "women role model" as there are so many.

Women have to give up guilt as it is both weakening and self-defeating. They feel guilt for existing, for being in office when their children are at home or left a meeting early to be with family. They feel a sense of incomprehension and lack of appreciation in both sides. It needs a certain amount of self-knowledge and assertiveness to shun it.

Organisations have a lot to do with it: creating an atmosphere where people respect time and respect that people have multiple roles. What women have done for the work force is far more than organisation have done for them. They have created a more empathetic workforce.

A lot of work from home, flexi timings are also used by men, and that is good. Women have helped make the workforce inclusive. Providing day care is a family-friendly policy, not just women-friendly one. More than 50 percent fathers use day care facilities," the business leader observed.

Benefits of entrepreneurship

"Whether it came from a push or pull factor to be able to earn more money or be more self-directed, entrepreneurship has a large part to do with strength of women. It gives flexibility to women to take on different roles. The start up culture in Bangalore sees a big chunk of women as well. Disruptive growth has become the norm and women are far more capable of disruptive growth, because of the nature of our biology, we have to be able to go in and out of workplace," she said.

Advice for young female entrepreneurs

The best advice that Chetty-Rajagopal has for women is to shun guilt, and enjoy the rush of the work.

"Grow people and the company around you. Be inclusive. Always have that sense of uncrushed optimism and be gracious of failure," she concluded.