It was the Summer of ’76, when the scoreboard at the Olympics first showed that change was in the offing, and that the scoreboard needed a full revamp. The record set until then in Gymnastics – and the maximum recording capacity of scoreboards - was 9.99, but something dramatic had happened. Someone had cracked a near impossible feat - a perfect 10! Nadia Comaneci, the first person in the world to crack a perfect 10. A woman. History was made! It heralded a new benchmark for mankind, besides scoreboards having to change to reflect 10.
Cut to 1979, another cliché was being created, to do with a perfect ‘10’. An anecdotal juxtaposition of the measure of a woman and Bo Derek’s now famous run on a beach in Greece. Memory of the latter is probably more vivid than the former. And those different ends of a spectrum by which women are judged by most, is just to make a point that the world has moved on since then. And positively, so this analogy is no longer true. Women have come into their own, and powerfully so. Across business, politics, industry, music, the arts, science, information technology and high-level boardrooms, women have gone from glory to greater glory, replete with successes and the guts and gumption needed to survive in a male-dominated world. How times have changed.
I have witnessed the evolving role of women professionals from close quarters as an industry hand for over three decades. It is, therefore, a privilege to share some perspectives from my experience.
It is 2014:The paradigm has changed. We see the finest of professional and talented women rising to the uppermost echelons of boardrooms, in positions of responsibility, carrying the ambitions of their companies into the future, besides having utmost clarity on their own intent and ambition. Some of the most admired global brands and many of India’s finest too have women at the helm of affairs. Look around, count them and see how successful they have made their respective companies. As we progress, in the remotest of places, we can see woman power emerging.
When you educate a woman, you educate a generation. How apt and how true! These societal steps will be giant leaps as we programme our minds into thinking the best for women.
Laws such as the recent diktat on compulsory inclusion of women on Company Boards will also drive the change. We have by now discovered that commitment, professional integrity and a strong emotional quotient are powerful qualifications to succeed in an otherwise equal and competitive world. Actually, the best way to approach this is to think of men and women being of one gender in a company: colleagues. And then may the best and most talented emerge the winner.
IMPACT’s 50 Most Influential Women being recognised here have our collective admiration: Just total the combined turnover of the companies they steward, and the responsibility being bestowed on them.
New ideas. Smart thinking. Relationships and team work. These are perhaps attributes which even men can bring to the table. But what women add are delightful dimensions like compassion, empathy, sensitivity and instinct, qualities that are revolutionising the professional world we live in today.
There have been many professional legends in marketing, media, advertising and politics even in the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s. But a key change is the drive and determination I see in women professionals today. A job is not just an economic contribution, it is about personal ambition. And it comes with encouragement from family and society, at least in the more progressive households.
Being part of the industry and an organisation that has actively encouraged women professionals, I have seen how competent talent and leadership attributes contribute to our business relationships and growth charts. Our success is measured by the quality of the people who make it happen.
The question is: Is this enough? I think there’s still some way to go.
We need to identify the real, magnified or perceptual barriers that still exist. That sees numbers dropping off as we move up the hierarchy. Look at any morning flight across our metro cities, and count the number of women off to conduct business elsewhere, and therein lies a tale. The number must increase. At a recent event the Finance Minister was addressing, his query about the number of women in the front eight rows of the audience turned up the fact that there were just three senior corporate women! The point was well made. That will change. That must change, if we wish our nation to progress.
Organisations must create a positive culture that encourages equality and supports a healthy work-life balance and ensures safety of women. There has to be policy protection and acknowledgement of the fact that many women will take time off to raise a family, and that we must collectively encourage them to return and pursue their ambitions.
Think of a company without values like aesthetics, design, fashion or flair and what that brings to contemporariness, branding and marketing - and you will truly realise the power of the ‘W factor’. Today, we can no longer indulge in gender-based conversations.
It has to be about correcting the imbalance. And creating the new normal. At JWT, we crossed that barrier many years ago, and are proud of the culture that we have created across levels. In every category, discipline or skill, we average a very high representation of women. At the leadership level, the ratio increases, and we are proud that it is in the region of 45%+. We are truly blessed!
The author is Colvyn Harris, CEO, JWT South Asia.