USIBC and U.S. Consulate General Mumbai’s Empowering Women in the Workforce
Remarks by U.S. Consul General David J. Ranz
January 28, 2021
David J. Ranz: Thank you so much, Nisha. Good evening to those of you who are joining us from India. Good morning in the United States. I would like to thank the U.S.-India Business Council and you Nisha for partnering with us to address what I regard as one of the most important challenges we face today. And I am honored and truly thrilled that such an eminent panel of world-renowned executives have joined us to explore this topic in depth: Deepthi Ravula; Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, and Ann Cairns. And finally, I’d like to thank each and every one of you for joining us today. It is my highest hope that frank discussions such as these will translate into concrete action and tangible progress, and perhaps inspire the changemakers of tomorrow.
The message I have for you today is simple: there has been a collective failure in global efforts to empower women to play an equal role in the workforce.
Despite the multitude of government and private sector initiatives aimed at ensuring women’s access to education, capital, and equal-opportunity business environments, we continue to fall short in essentially every way.
This is a problem for the United States; it is a problem for India; indeed, it is a problem faced to some degree by every country in the world.
Moreover, this problem does not affect women only. By stacking the deck against approximately half of the global workforce, we, the community of nations, are standing in the way of our own socio-economic progress.
I want to start by sharing a few facts and figures from the World Bank and World Economic Forum that illustrate the severity of the problem and how it permeates every facet of our lives.
Firstly, the World Economic Forum reports that women’s global average annual income stands at just $11,000 in Purchasing Power Parity, compared to nearly twice that, $21,000, for men.
Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender wage gap won’t close for 100 years. Think about that: when your great-great-granddaughter graduates in 2121, she might have a shot at entering an equal workforce. Maybe.
The gender gap is even more profound when it comes to Economic Participation and Opportunity. If we continue along the same trajectory as we witnessed between 2006–2020, it will take 257 years to close this gap worldwide. To put that in context, imagine sitting around in 1764 thinking about the good times to come in 2021.
Things are just as bad at the highest levels of corporate leadership worldwide, where women account for just 24% of senior roles. Even fewer are CEOs of the world’s largest corporations; just one in twenty Fortune 500 companies was led by a woman in 2018.
Although women are gaining representation amongst Executive Committees in Fortune Global 100 companies, at the board level, they remain a small minority. In 2017, women accounted for 22% of Executive Committee roles in the Americas, 15% in Europe, and just 4% in Asia.
While this is a global phenomenon, the situation is particularly alarming in India.
Figures from the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index indicate that just 25 percent of women formally engage in India’s labor market, compared with 82 percent of men. This is one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the world for women, ranking India 145th out of 153 countries.
This figure is even more worrisome given the fact that the women’s labor force participation rate in India has actually fallen from 35% in 1990 to 25% now, despite significant educational gains and robust GDP growth. India is the only major economy in the world to witness such a negative trend in women’s participation in the workforce.
Among India’s senior officials and managers, women account for only 14 percent of leadership roles—putting India at 136th in the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index—and just 30 percent of professional and technical workers.
The Government of India has reported that only 10 percent of startup founders are women, and women fill just 22 percent of positions in the field of artificial intelligence, despite India having the second-largest AI workforce in the world.
And for a big picture view, if you look at just the raw numbers, before adjusting for the type of work or population or the other tools economists use, if you just break it down and ask, what is the average salary of an Indian woman compared to an Indian man? The answer is an Indian woman is making about 20% of what an Indian man is making. That compares to an average American woman, who makes about 65% of an American man; an average Chinese woman making 60% of an average Chinese man; and an average Bangladeshi woman making 40% of an average Bangladeshi man. These numbers are all terrible, and alone should serve as a call to action to set things right.
But salaries and glass ceilings don’t tell the whole story. On top of being underpaid and discriminated against in the workplace, women also face enormous pressure to be both fulltime professionals and fulltime homemakers. According to the OECD, the average Indian woman performs six hours a day of housework–or nearly an entire, second, unpaid job. The average Indian man? One hour.
Or take this data point from Oxfam’s Time to Care-2020 report: women and girls in India contribute 3.26 billion hours of unpaid care work every day, representing the equivalent of at least $271 billion in unpaid income in India a year. This burden of unpaid work negatively impacts women’s economic gains and traps them at the bottom of the economy.
Now let’s be clear: while addressing our collective failure to empower women in the workplace is a matter of justice and equity, it also makes basic economic sense. No country can reach its full potential while excluding half its workforce from full and equal participation.
According to the IMF, reaching gender parity would boost India’s GDP by as much as 27 percent.
The World Bank reports that India’s GDP growth rate would climb above nine percent if women had an equitable share of jobs, and that India could boost its growth by 1.5 percentage points per year if just 50 percent of women could join the workforce.
And perhaps counterintuitively, when more women participate in the labor force, men also benefit. A 2019 IMF study found that as women’s complementary skills raise productivity, wages are boosted for everyone. The IMF study echoes an earlier McKinsey Global Institute report, which noted that India could add up to $770 billion to its GDP by 2025 if equal opportunities were given to women.
So, there’s a clear problem, and a compelling case—based on both justice and equity, and simple economics—to do something about it. And some work is already being done.
The U.S. government has long had programs to promote women’s economic empowerment in India and beyond. The 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, a U.S.-India partnership, resulted in the Women Entrepreneurship Platform, which provides networking, mentorship, and financing information to some 13,000 members. More recently, the U.S. Agency for International Development – or USAID – launched a partnership with Mastercard to co-fund a women’s economic empowerment program in India called Project Kirana. The program launched last November to help expand women’s access to the digital economy by providing training and digital financial services to women business owners. The initial phase, to be implemented in Uttar Pradesh, expects to impact 3,000 women, with follow-on activity in Lucknow, Kanpur, and Varanasi. And the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, or DFC, recently announced plans to mobilize $6 billion in private investment for global women’s economic empowerment, helping to address one of the major challenges for businesswomen in particular – overcoming barriers in access to finance.
The Indian government has taken many steps to address women’s empowerment as well. For example, India is among the handful of countries that has instituted quotas for women on boards of public companies. India has also instituted quotas at local government councils, enabling many women to enter politics for the first time.
While these are positive steps, we have to plainly acknowledge that quotas are controversial and not a panacea for parity. For example, in a 2017 study in Spain, researchers looked at the effect of gender quotas in local elections. While those quotas increased the number of women elected — a positive development — they did not significantly increase the probability of women reaching non-elected leadership positions.
So thus far, we have identified the problem; reviewed arguments involving justice, equity and simple economics for finding a solution; and discussed a few things that are already being done at the national and institutional levels. My focus today is on what we – all of us participating in this forum – can as individuals do to advance women’s economic empowerment.
Since my arrival in Mumbai in 2019, I have challenged members of the business community – including American firms based in India – to be more active, engaged, and creative in their efforts to promote full equality and participation by women in the workforce. I’ve pressed business community leaders and others to ask: what norms and policies are impeding this shared goal?
And I’ve distilled their feedback into three key areas that will have an impact at both the micro and macro level.
First: Top management professionals – both men and women – must set a tone that signifies their support for women leaders. It is incumbent on people in positions of authority to lead in a way that lifts others up, with particular attention to women. In the workplace, for example, when top management models the behavior that signifies support for women leaders and indicates zero tolerance for sexual harassment, there will be no more questioning the authority of women managers; no more double standard in justifying decisions made by women in leadership roles.
Second: We must acknowledge and proactively address the long legacy of policies, practices and norms that thwart women’s equality. Entrenched, systemic inequities will persist as long as we enable them or choose to ignore them. Addressing this sordid history requires much more than a commitment to making gender-blind decisions today. We must instead work actively and in our daily lives to reverse inequality.
And third: We must all view the place we have earned in our professions – whether woman or man, high on the ladder or midway up – as a position from which to pay it forward to those working their way up. Reaching out to mentor, to sponsor, to coach, and to share the path forward, we elevate those coming along after us, particularly encouraging women who are rising up through the ranks.
Here I want to underscore the critical difference between mentorship and sponsorship. As a female colleague once said to me, women do not lack mentors; they lack sponsors, or put another way, advocates. In other words, men are always happy to offer advice, which if anything can inadvertently serve to reinforce the imbalanced power dynamic between men and women. But it is a completely different matter to actively promote the career of a colleague; to put one’s own reputation on the line to push for her promotion, to insist she be offered a training opportunity, to speak up if she is facing sexism, or to recommend her for a new job. It is very likely someone advocated for you on your way up. Someone who didn’t just pick up the phone when you called, but someone who picked up the phone to make a call on your behalf. I urge every one of you here in the audience today – whatever your gender – to commit to sponsorship for women in your professional lives.
Finally, there is something all men can do in their personal lives to support women’s economic empowerment. There is anecdotal evidence that men have been more involved in household tasks in India during the pandemic and lockdown. This is a practice we should carry forward from these difficult times. And it’s something the girls in our lives should expect from their partners when they are grown.
To conclude my remarks today, I want to outline some of what we are doing at the U.S. Consulate, to underscore that – when it comes to women’s empowerment – we endeavor every day to walk the walk.
We strive daily to weave gender equality into all our work—whether partnering with the Indian government and NGOs in Western India to advance equality for women and girls, or ensuring that the Department of State’s many exchange programs include an equitable number of women and girls as participants. Even something as simple as ensuring gender balance in our meetings with business, political, media, and other civic leaders has great value.
We insist there are equitable numbers of women and men on panel discussions that American officers speak on. I personally committed years ago never to participate in a panel that lacked gender diversity; if every man made the same pledge, we could put an immediate and permanent end to “manels,” that is, panels comprised exclusively of men.
Last month, the Consulate recognized the United Nation’s annual campaign,16-Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, through a series of gender-related programs and online initiatives.
In one program, we built on five consecutive years of encouraging filmmakers to produce short films that promote women’s empowerment and combat gender-based violence by working with a National Geographic photographer to tell women’s stories through still photography. Participants joined workshops to learn new photography skills and turned their eyes towards dramatic images from around our consular district that inspired us and made us reflect on the power of equality. We then conducted a competition and awarded the five pictures that best captured women’s security and empowerment.
Likewise our #SheTheChange digital campaign late last year highlighted the work of twelve innovative female social entrepreneurs based in rural and urban areas of Western India. The featured women shed light on their struggles and offered advice for the next generation of female social entrepreneurs.
In non-COVID times, visitors to our on-site American library, Dosti House, participate in research and programs that raise awareness about opportunities for young girls in STEM fields, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability. Our EducationUSA advisors help young women explore a path to undergraduate study in the U.S. To find out more or propose a training, mentorship, or other collaboration with us, I encourage you to contact our Public Affairs Section.
Our Commercial, and Political and Economic Affairs sections, which engage on policy, business, and economic developments in our consular district, follow a standard operating procedure that ensures we hear from women in all of our travel, meetings, and strategic planning. We have been building a list of key women in all five of the states we cover, and our staff actively recommends women leaders in all fields for me, the Ambassador, and senior visiting U.S. officials, to engage when in India.
This seems like a simple thing—building a list of contacts and then making it a priority to regularly meet with them—but it was somewhat uncomfortable when we first launched this effort to realize just how few of our regular contacts were women. We are actively seeking to remedy that in every field of engagement.
I mention these actions and programs not by way of patting ourselves on the back; with full recognition that they are but drops in the ocean. I only wish to underscore our commitment to partnering with India to advance our mutual objectives of women’s empowerment. We cannot rest until we achieve equal participation and equal remuneration for women in the workforce, at all levels and in all fields.
And when I say we cannot rest, allow me to share a specific example from our own recent experience here at the Consulate of a problem we faced, and how we are seeking to course correct. I mentioned earlier the photo competition we ran to promote images of women’s empowerment. While we are proud of this initiative, one key outcome was not gender diverse. We had a diverse award panel who conducted a blind review of the photo submissions and chose five winners, four of whom turned out to be men. When I inquired, it turned out that this was reflective of the participant pool, about 80% of whom were men – despite our explicit efforts to encourage participation by women.
So, what are we going to do about this the next time? First and foremost, we need to do a better job reaching women to encourage them to participate in our programs. Given male dominance of the Indian online universe, for example, we need to expand our outreach efforts beyond social media. This may be more complicated and time-consuming, but it is necessary to achieve the outcomes we seek.
Another possible solution is to make diversity of awardees – including gender diversity – an explicit criterion for our awards panels. This would obviously require a review process that is not completely blind, but again, some flexibility, creativity, and effort is be needed to reach our objective of gender equity.
I offer this anecdote to underscore my key message – promoting gender equity requires examining every decision through a gender lens; asking pointed and often uncomfortable questions about suboptimal outcomes; and committing to take steps to course correct. This is not something that will be achieved solely by equal opportunity policies or by establishing Diversity & Inclusion committees, although these are useful and necessary steps. Gender equity can only be achieved through daily persistence from each and every individual in this virtual room, and beyond.
We have hard work and a long road ahead of us, but I believe that with our collective attention and efforts from people like you, we can anchor and accelerate the progress we’re making.
To employ one of my favorite expressions, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with just one step; we have taken many steps, but clearly have many, many more to go.
And while my focus today has been on women, it is important to underscore that inclusion does not stop with gender. Every workforce is strengthened and enriched by maximum diversity. I encourage you to support entrepreneurs from ALL segments of society, to explore ways to expand the inclusion of groups who benefit from India’s economic opportunities, and in so doing strengthen economic growth by increasing equity and tapping into the country’s rich, multi-cultural heritage.
I would like to once again thank you for your time and kind attention. Your being here today to engage on this important topic demonstrates your openness to examining this problem, and I hope your commitment to addressing it. I look forward to working with you in our collective efforts to lift up and support women in the workplace. Thank you.