August 18, 2015 — It’s no secret that India Inc. suffers from a lack of women’s representation in leadership positions. Research shows that the percentage of women in senior management in India was 19% in 2013, and according to The 2014 Catalyst Census: Women Board Directors report, women’s share of board seats in India is only 9.5% for BSE 200 companies. With Catalyst reports showing that organizations with more women on boards of directors perform better on return on sales by 16% and return on invested capital by 26%, Corporate India is now realising the importance of having women in leadership positions.
That’s where leadership training programs come in. Earlier in July, I had a chance to meet the women who recently completed Tanmatra, a cross-industry women’s leadership-development program launched by Catalyst, IBM, and IIM-Bangalore last year. The aim of this program is to leverage the best practical experience and research to advance women in the Indian business community. Tanmatra, which means “potential” in the ancient Indian language Sanskrit, included 30 women across the pharmaceutical, retail, technology, and finance industries. These women were nominated by their companies for this program, and many of them had attended leadership programs before. Each and every one of the women I spoke to had glowing comments about Tanmatra, and many focused on the special features that set it apart from other programs.
“What I really appreciate about Tanmatra is that the curriculum is tailored for Indian women,” said Vijaylakshmi, who was nominated for the program by IBM. “The course really addresses the subtle nuances that hold women back at work. For me, it has been an excellent experience. Interacting with women who have faced similar situations has been wonderful.”
At the beginning of the course 10 months ago, this group of high-potential women were given business cases to solve, which they could do solo or as part of a group. They had the liberty to choose a topic related to their companies and fields. On the last day of the course, these women presented to the group on topics as varied as inclusion in the workplace, improving employee experience through innovation, making employee learning fun through gamification, and positioning procurement solutions for growth markets. These presentations were the culmination of 10 months of work, and participants had to connect with multiple stakeholders across their organisation for input. As the participants were sponsored by senior leaders in their companies, their advocates were also invited to attend the presentations and provide their feedback, either remotely or in person. A team from one of the world’s largest fast-moving consumer goods companies did a presentation on the recruitment and retention of women in the organization’s workforce. Many of the participants’ presentations were so impressive that they were sent to their companies’ HR departments with recommendations for individual development plans, as well as team development and leadership development.
Talking about the assignment and the course, Professor Vasanthi Srinivasan, Program Director, IIM-Bangalore, said, “We’ve been talking a lot about the changing culture of women, from India to China to the Amazon. One of the aspects that we focus on is getting women to be more assertive, interact with men and question them. In a lot of workplaces, this is can be a key challenge for women.” She added, “At IIM-Bangalore, we have many leadership-development programs, and in most cases they have only men as participants. It’s so heartening to see so many women in the room today.”
Said a finance professional from JP Morgan, “While in the past my company has nominated me for leadership programs, Tanmatra is the best program I have attended. Working on the presentation has taught me a lot about how to reach out to internal stakeholders across the company, assert my point of view and ask for feedback effectively, amongst other things. I will definitely encourage more women to participate from my organisation next year.”
What really struck me about the program was the camaraderie that these 30 women had built over the last 10 months. They had lived together for three weeks during the course and greeted one another like old friends on the final day, cheering one another on during their presentations and the graduation ceremony. Tanmatra helped to forge a strong bond among these women, a bond that comes from great learnings, shared experiences, and mutual understanding. It will not be easily broken.