On 27 December 2018, the Indian School of Business hosted acclaimed economist Devaki Jain and celebrated author Pratima Rao Gluckman. The panel was introduced by Women’s Excellence Initiative (WEI) Co-Director Reema Gupta and moderated by ISBInsight Editor Ashima Sood. Jain and Rao Gluckman discussed the challenges faced by women in the workplace, in India and worldwide.
Jain is the author of several books, the most recent of which are Journey of a Southern Feminist and Close Encounters of Another Kind. She opened by recounting the idealism that pervaded India in the aftermath of Independence in the 1950s when she began her career. She described how economic injustice to women became her focus when she started studying the rate of women’s participation in 1975 and found the numbers implausible.
As the economist who made women’s work in farms and homes count, Jain brought the same sceptical outlook to recent studies that pinpoint declining rates of labour force participation among women. When studies say that “women are dropping out of the workforce since they depend on their male counterparts, which women are they talking about,” she asked. In her talk and interactions with the audience, Jain reminded the audience of how class, wealth and opportunities shape women’s experiences.
Rao Gluckman, author of Nevertheless, She Persisted, in which she profiles female technology leaders highlighted the problem of women’s participation differently. Speaking to the reasons that compelled her to write the book, she noted that if current rates of women’s ascension to CEO roles in Fortune 500 companies continued, it would be 3075, more than a millennium from the present, before numbers of women’s CEOs equalled those of men.
Rao Gluckman provided a different spin to the notion of the glass ceiling, which greets women once they reach a certain level in the organisation and cannot rise any higher. Women of colour in American workplaces, she argued, instead face a concrete ceiling beyond which they could not see, leave alone rise. As a result, they had little knowledge of the career opportunities they might miss.
An interesting point raised by an audience member pertained to positive discrimination. He questioned how the provision of certain additional privileges to women could sustain the notion of equality between genders. Reflecting upon the matter, Jain said that such allowances might be a necessary evil until equal footing is gained on some fronts.
Jain underlined the role of the government in the provision of fair opportunities for women. Rao Gluckman, in her work, emphasized the importance of having female role models in early life to encourage young girls. Despite the differences in methods, Jain and Rao Gluckman reiterated their shared belief that support for women in the workplace must be multifaceted and continuous, for real impact to manifest.
Samriddhi Mukherjee is Content Associate at the Centre for Learning and Management Practice, Indian School of Business.