Lead Story

With the deliberate championing of women, India Inc thrives

A few companies have laudable diversity and inclusion models that pulls women back into the workforce and cheers them on

When Vinusha Vasudevan was looking to get back to work after a five-year-break, taken to accompany her husband for an offsite job posting, she wasn’t even making it to an interview room. “Organisations are wary of people who have taken a break… I had worked as a project manager earlier, but people were telling me that I would have to consider a junior position,” she says. Things were looking hopeless till she heard about PayPal’s Recharge programme. 

Under this annual programme, 100 women from each location in Bengaluru and Chennai, who are looking to re-join work are invited to a one-day workshop with various sessions and interactions. Out of this group, 30-40 women are shortlisted for a boot camp, of which 10-15 are selected for positions at PayPal. Vasudevan aced it and now works as an engineering programme manager at PayPal’s Bengaluru facility. 


Vasudevan has shown exceptional tenacity. Usually, in India, women simply opt out and the situation seems to have worsened over the past decade. A study by one of United Nations’ agencies showed that, between 2006 and 2020, the participation of women in our labour force has fallen embarrassingly — from 34% to 24.8%. Between celebrating Indra Nooyi’s appointment as PepsiCo’s CEO (in 2006) and trying to silence Gunjan Saxena’s story by petitioning against it, something has definitely changed.

While the share of women in the workforce is thinning, the percentage of women holding senior positions in companies has remained pathetically low. According to a 2019, Credit Suisse Gender 3000 report, women occupy only 15% of the board seats in India and 3% of the C-suite roles. The report surveyed 3,000 companies across 56 countries, and India’s numbers earned it the 23rd rank on the list. This is despite the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) mandating that there should be at least one independent women director on the board of top, listed companies. In fact, even a month before the deadline of making these appointments, 20% of the top 500 listed companies by market capitalisation hadn’t done so. This included PSUs, outstandingly performing companies and legacy groups. Nothing — not the backing of a sovereign state or an excellent balance sheet or the years of experience — seemed to give these companies enough confidence to let women have one seat at the table.

In such an environment, any initiative to include women in the workforce and in leadership roles is welcome and even worth applauding. Therefore, through this article, we look at companies big and small that have gone the extra mile towards diversity and inclusion (D&I). We find out what they are doing and how it is helping them. 

Neha Bagaria, founder of women’s only job site JobsForHer, says these few companies are part of a growing sentiment that women are a poorly tapped talent pool. “When I started JobsForHer in 2015, there was a lot of bias around women who had taken a break in their careers,” she says. Today, there are at least 50 companies that are focused on hiring returnee women who may have taken a break due to pregnancy or other personal reasons. 

Anupam Trehan, head-HR (India and SAARC), Cisco, says, “If you look at the history around diversity, a lot of it is anchored from a compliance perspective. The shift has started in organisations where the focus is not only on having diverse representation in the workforce but also on building an inclusive environment to help employees be successful,” she says. Cisco, Trehan says, is focusing on creating a collaborative work environment with resources and support groups such as those for employees with children who have special needs and for those dealing with health challenges. 

For such initiatives to succeed, they have to be adopted by everyone in the organisation. Sandhya Ramesh, lead-diversity and inclusion, Great Place to Work® Institute, an initiative that works to create an inclusive, high-performance culture across various companies and puts out an annual list of Best Workplaces for WomenTM, says, “Working with over 1,000 organisations in India, has made us realise that creating a Great Place to Work® for all is a conscious choice made by leaders, managers and employees every single day. From accessibility of our workplace to the way in which we interact with our colleagues, workplace culture should be guided by meaningful policies that are respectful of all individuals who are part of the system.”

Mother lode

Experts say that one big change that helped women in India was the Amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, which provided additional support such as increasing maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 and ensuring that every establishment with over 50 employees has a crèche service. Many of the larger organisations such as PepsiCo, HUL and Genpact have tied up with crèche provider Klay for both onsite and nearside facilities.

Women are more likely to come back to work now and companies are less reluctant to hire them. In fact, companies such as PayPal with its Recharge programme and Intuit with Intuit Again, which is aimed at women technologists, go out of their way to support such candidates. “Some of the questions we asked ourselves are how can we help bring more women into the workforce of the future? How can we foster diversity and an inclusive environment with purpose?” says Jharna Thammaiah K, director HR, Intuit India.

Global real estate company Cushman & Wakefield has introduced a travel policy for returnee mothers who are still nursing and need to take care of their baby. “Any woman employee who is travelling for work can take her child and a caretaker — whether it is the nanny, the husband or anyone in the family, and the entire travel and stay cost are taken care of by the firm,” explains Deepali Bhardwaj, executive director of human resources at Cushman & Wakefield. 

Starting them young

According to the World Economic Forum, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women and only a third of female students choose to study higher education courses in subjects such as math and engineering. Hence, experts believe that building a gender-balanced pipeline is essential to creating a diverse workplace. Therefore, PayPal’s Girls in Tech programme goes to schools, particularly government schools, and brings girl students to their organisation every year. Jayanthi Vaidyanathan, director of human resources at PayPal, says, “We put them through a mini boot camp and educate them about what we do, expose them to our company where they interact with role models so that they develop an interest in tech.” The company also invites established women achievers to interact with the children.

Similarly, EY globally runs a Corporate Women in Finance competition, which recognises talented young women pursuing finance. The competition runs at country and global levels, and the national winner represents India globally. “This three to four-month-long engagement enables participants to work on business challenges, gain global perspective and help build a better working world,” explains Vineeta Raghuwanshi, associate director-human resources, EY India. The multinational has also launched an initiative called RecruitHer. Under the initiative, they connect with women aspirants and give them an exposure to the culture of EY through site visits and other online sessions. The company says that they have also sensitised hiring managers to ensure no biases creep up during the interview process. “Ever since the launch of RecruitHer, the women-hiring percentage has shown an upward trend of 1% YoY,” says Raghuwanshi.

Bringing about gender diversity in manufacturing, Alstom’s MD for India and South Asia, Alain Spohr, says is challenging given the limited number of women in mechanical, industrial, electrical or electronic engineering streams. In 2018, a study by Consulate General of Sweden in India found that women form only a measly 3-12% of the sector’s workforce. But Alstom has committed, as part of its global 2025 vision, to have women form 25% of its staff strength. Currently Alstom has around 13% women factory workers across four locations including Sri City (Andhra Pradesh) and Madhepura (Bihar) who work across fields such as quality, supply chain, assembly and production. Globally, as on March 31, 2020, the company had 21.4% of women staff across managerial and professional roles. In India, over 16% of its employees are women (with industrial sites accounting to more than 13%).

Another company that is trying to shake free off its sector’s legacy is Max Life. “In the insurance sector, a lot of the work is in the front end. There is an integral need to visit clients, often over the weekends and sometimes later in the evening when the customer is back from work, which makes it a bit more challenging for women employees,” says Shailesh Singh, its director and chief people officer.

Max Life set about righting it “brick by brick” starting with educating the leadership team. They then worked to end the bias in hiring, extended leaves and gave more incentives to hire women. Almost 80% of their employees are in the sales force where almost 45% of their sales agents are women, “which is one of the highest in the private life insurance segment,” he says. The share of women on the company’s rolls has increased from 16% to 50% and Max Life has two women-only departments, one in Mumbai and the other in Delhi.

Besides removing hiring biases that work against women, a few companies are putting in place programmes to groom women leaders. At HP, through their initiative titled Disha, they choose talented women from different parts of the organisation and put them through a six-month comprehensive leadership programme, during which they attend workshops and discussions, and also work on a real-time project. Besides that, these women are also assigned a mentor and a coach. “At HP India we believe in grooming our women employees to take on leadership positions. The India leadership team is extremely committed and leads the way on this!” says Saroj Pathak, chair – Diversity and Inclusion Council, HP India. Since 2017, including the first batch that had 37 women, three batches of women have completed their training. The 2020 batch is in progress. 

At Accenture, too, there is a programme, called the High-Tech Women, to fast-track the careers of high-performing women into the role of Technical Architects. “Under this 18-month programme, Accenture identifies high-performing women employees at mid-career levels and supports them through exclusive training and mentorship. More recently, the programme has a renewed focus on fast-tracking the career of women technologists in new technologies such as AI, automation and blockchain amongst others,” says Lakshmi C, managing director and lead - human resources, Accenture India.

Pandemic exigency

COVID-19, many from the industry say, has helped push company agendas on diversity and inclusion in the right direction. Bagaria says that the work-from-home option extended across roles has definitely helped. Earlier, companies used to allow this only in the lower levels such as for tele-sales, data entry or content writing. But now, they are extending this option for tech jobs too, such as for software developers, UI/UX developers, designers and SAP consultants. Many companies are even looking at carving out plenty of permanent WFH ones. All of this has opened up opportunities for women who have relocated to Tier-II or Tier-III cities post marriage.

To help WFH mothers, specific programmes are being tried out such as Monsoon Magic at consumer financial services company Synchrony. Through this, the company hosts virtual live events across topics such as arts, science, cooking and fitness for four to 14-year-old children of employees. They have also involved those in the 15- to 18-year age bracket in a a business externship programme, to help with live content and programming.

All the companies that Outlook Business spoke with agreed that unconscious bias was one of the biggest challenges that companies were facing when it came to promoting gender diversity. This change, Bagaria says, can come by including more diverse members in decision-making — from those in interview panels to those in boards. “Right now, the average working person in a company is a man. So, all the policies and programmes are built around men. If you want to get more women in, you will have to change the rules of the game. That requires effort and somebody at the top saying that they care enough to make that change happen,” she says. 

Bagaria adds that, when it comes to diversity, ultimately it is not just about “equality” but rather “equity”, that is, understanding that each employee is different and catering to their unique requirements rather than chasing a one-size-fits-all.

Lead Story

India’s best workplaces for women 2020

Outlook Business and Great Place to Work® bring you the third annual listing of India’s Best Workplaces For Women*. Read on to know what these admirable companies are doing right 

Published 4 years ago on Nov 06, 2020 6 minutes Read

Unconscious bias in hiring has been cited as one of the biggest hurdles women have to cross. Managers who think they are giving everyone a fair chance may ignore, for example, a woman applicant for a role that involves a lot of travelling or late evenings. CISCO takes these blindspots head on with their ‘Unconscious Bias Training’. Among other things, it teaches people to recognise it and create processes to minimise it. The company also coaches people on having ‘Courageous Conversations’, which is essentially about having an open and respectful dialogue, and supports a Social Justice Community, which pushes for inclusion. Through the Women of Essence series, senior women leaders share their journey and thoughts on leadership. They talk about making strategic decisions, dealing with fear, and disrupting and succeeding. The company’s Grace Hopper Celebrations is India’s largest gathering of women technologists and its Women of Impact is a full-day devoted to the professional development of women.



Women are few in the real estate industry. Women leaders are fewer still. To set that right, this global firm has set a benchmark for its leaders by making the organisation more diverse and inclusive. Its WIN or Women’s Integrated Network is an APAC-led initiative to accelerate the advancement of women working with the company. By sharing information and experience, members of this group help one another develop leadership skills and find career-advancing opportunities. The programme also provides mentors to women employees, gives them flexible work hours and arranges for group outings for better bonding. Besides these, Cushman & Wakefield offers a wide range of benefits and wellness programmes to help employees have a work-life balance. 



The month of October has been rechristened Flextober to talk about flexible working hours and the benefits it can bring. The company is using this opportunity to create awareness about an enabling work environment. Therefore, they are encouraging people to share their stories on how such a work environment has helped them become ‘Flex-tastic’. Besides this, the company supports working mothers from pregnancy till motherhood. With BIG (Back in Game) and Break and Beyond, the company helps women rejoin work after a break. It also trains and sensitises senior managers, directors and partners to becoming ‘maternity coaches’. This is particularly for any manager or team head who has someone reporting to them going on a maternity leave. This is meant to give the manager or team head more confidence in handling their team member’s return after her maternity leave.




 We have all seen memes and heard innumerable misogynistic jokes about girls not opting for science and engineering streams after finishing schooling. At GE India Industrial, this stereotype is turned on its head. With its WiSE (Women in Science & Engineering) initiative, the company ensures that women take on larger career roles in the space that is largely male-dominated. Every year, over 400 women participate in the WiSE symposium that provides them with a forum to interact and learn from leaders on how to carve out a successful career in the field of science and engineering. To crowdsource ideas on the special needs of women employees, the company also floated a 90-day challenge where employees were asked to share ideas on what can be done to make the workforce more gender-balanced. The top three ideas were piloted and the idea owners were allowed to design and lead the initiatives. 




 This mapping company is showing the way in how women employees should be treated right. At HERE Technologies, equality is of utmost importance and the company is committed to achieving gender parity and pay equity throughout their corporate leadership structure by 2030. Under the #BalanceforBetter campaign, the company has partnered with Paradigm for Parity coalition to curb inequality in the workplace. The company also supports the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), which is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. More than a conclave, the GHC is an opportunity for female technologists to showcase their company vision and culture of innovation, and HERE’s women employees are always in attendance. Truly, this location intelligence platform knows how to make its female workforce feel at home.




 HP is making commendable efforts towards providing a wholesome work environment for its employees. A standout feature of the work culture is the aspect of inclusion. The top management makes genuine efforts to reach out and connect so that employees are well informed, feel listened to and stay in alignment with the organisation’s purpose. The company’s Reboot programme, designed for women rejoining the workforce after an absence of a couple of years, is a testament to its inclusive policies. The women shortlisted for the programme work on projects from various cross-functional businesses in sales and assess their ability to transition back into the workforce on a full-time basis. To make the workspace even more welcoming for women, the company provides reserved car parking for expectant mothers, flexible working hours and ‘take your child to the office’ days.  



At this business and financial software company, employees live by the mantra of ‘bring your whole self to work.’ To achieve this, the firm has launched a leadership development programme to help women employees push the envelope. Termed as Women’s Initiative to Lead and Learn (WILL), the programme focuses on building attributes such as risk taking, being assertive and owning one’s career. The company also organises a #IamRemarkable session to encourage women and under-represented groups in the workplace to showcase their accomplishments. With these employee-driven initiatives, Intuit ensures that each and everyone in the firm, irrespective of gender or orientation, has a voice and a platform to be heard.


 Standing on five pillars of learn, listen, balance, brand and empower, Marks & Spencer continues to inspire employees and attract the best talent in the retail industry. The pool of in-house subject matter experts frequently organise and facilitate sessions to share their experience, knowledge and best practices. These peer-to-peer knowledge sharing sessions are beneficial for the people in the lower rungs of the company to upskill themselves. In order to retain women employees, M&S also offers policies such as career breaks and strong return-to-work mechanisms for mothers. With initiatives such as these and an occasional opportunity to walk down the ramp to unveil the winter collection, who wouldn’t want to work with the iconic retail brand?


 Be it making online payments easier or creating a happy and supportive work culture, people are at the center of everything PayPal India does. Developing its employees through multiple training sessions and exposing them to growth and career opportunities makes this tech firm one of the best companies to work for in India. Its employee-friendly policies ensure that the workspace is inspiring and balanced. A testament to this is the Mother’s Room facility on its premises. The rooms are exclusive enclosures to ensure privacy for working mothers and their newborns. PayPal also provides a cab service to expecting mothers during the last trimester of pregnancy, for commuting between home and the workplace. Aligning with PayPal’s global efforts, the India headquarters also organises wellness programmes for women such as regular pap-smear, breast-cancer, thyroid and bone-density tests. Truly, the company is a pal that every woman needs.



Girls can run the world, if not for the economic and social shackles holding them back. To help young girls break free, this financial services firm organises a four-day summit called ‘Goals for Girls’ to equip them with life and leadership skills. The programme is designed to provide a unique platform for girls to gain confidence, feel empowered and get an opportunity to create change. And while it is important to nurture future talent, Synchrony understands that the existing in-house women power should also be taken care of. For that, it urges its employees to participate in Pinkathon, India’s biggest women’s run, with the purpose of getting more and more women to adopt a fitter lifestyle. The company also regularly works on building awareness around women’s wellness.





Editor's Note

India Inc should take lessons from these outliers, so should Indian families

A few workplaces are moving towards equity for women and respect for their talent. Social groups should follow their lead

For several years, women have been asking to be allowed to work from home (WFH). Most managers and human resources (HR) hummed and hawed, saying it was too much trouble and that it would bring down productivity and do something nasty to team spirit. They did allow WFH on rare occasions, but not before letting the woman know what a favour they are doing her. The pandemic has put an end to such worries. 

Everyone including reluctant managers and HR personnel, are now on the WFH bandwagon. Businesses have been forced to look at the most efficient way to get work done and, guess what, they have discovered that WFH actually works and could potentially change things for the better. Who would have thought? That’s a win for everyone, across genders for the flexibility it affords them and businesses for the wider talent pool they can fish from. That’s the bright side.

The not-so-bright side is that the pandemic lockdown has doubled the workload on women. Working mothers have always worked two shifts — after a full day at the office, they end up spending hours caring for children and doing other domestic chores. The pandemic has added to this burden by pulling the plug on their support system, with the house help not showing up or not being allowed into apartment complexes. Women even have to put aside more hours for childcare, which includes helping out with online classes. 

A McKinsey-Lean In Study, Women in the Workplace 2020, recently found that one in three mothers has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers because of COVID-19. It found that, since the pandemic, mothers that are a part of dual-career couple are twice as likely as fathers to spend five more hours a day on chores. The authors of the study urged companies to take note of the situation and act to prevent women from opting out. Though the study was done for women workforce in the US, it could very well be a call to every company, wherever they are located.

Notwithstanding that, here is my take. The real change will come not just through companies promoting equity in workplaces, which consider the disadvantages women face and support them to overcome it, but through families and the larger society that extend similar empathy. The latter has to appreciate the potential and merit in creating a more equal society. Change has to begin at home.

Overall, to give credit where it is due, workplaces are evolving faster than families and social groups. There are a number of companies that are setting higher standards in promoting equity, and we are delighted to present them to you. May their tribe increase!