Impact of Mentorship and Networking on Women's Empowerment

Impact of Mentorship and Networking on Women's Empowerment

By: Revathi Raghunath, Chief Marketing Officer, Randstad India

Revathi Raghunath, leveraging two decades of diverse sales and marketing leadership, is dedicated to harmonizing Randstad India’s localized growth strategies aligned with Randstad’s vision of emerging as the most specialized and equitable talent company in the world. On a personal front, Revathi passionately works towards ensuring menstrual hygiene awareness and accessibility in marginalized communities.

In an exclusive interaction with Women Entrepreneur India, Revathi shared her insights on various aspects of gender equality and empowering women in society.

What are the key challenges that women face in today's society when it comes to empowerment?

The 2023 World Economic Forum gender gap report reveals a global gender gap of 68.4%, while the top 10 countries have achieved 80% gender parity. Among 146 participating countries, India has progressed to 127th place from 135th the previous year, particularly in education enrollment parity. However, given the current pace, it will take the world 131 years and India 149 years to achieve full gender parity. To expedite this progress, there are three crucial dimensions of empowerment: social, educational, and economic.

Social empowerment is paramount, encompassing women's freedom to make choices related to family, health, marriage, and finances. Deep-rooted social inequalities persist, impacting women's health, early childbirth, and marriage. Despite some progress, issues like anemia and menstrual hygiene persist, affecting young girls. Additionally, early marriages continue, leaving women isolated as they age, with limited policies to address their needs.

Education empowerment provides agency and meaningful choices. While India's literacy rate for women is 79% compared to 84.7% for men, low education completion rates limit women's entry into the formal workforce. Only 2 out of 5 girls complete 10 years of education, reflecting social challenges.

Economic empowerment translates education and social progress into practical outcomes. Women's roles in informal sectors, managing childcare and family needs, significantly impact the economy. Barriers like gender pay gaps, occupational segregation, and biases persist, limiting women's economic opportunities.

Addressing these dimensions is pivotal for India's gender parity journey. Empowering women socially, through education, and economically can accelerate progress and contribute to a more inclusive society and thriving economy.

What policies or initiatives are necessary to promote gender equality and empower women in society?

Promoting gender equality and empowering women is a vital step towards reaping the gender dividend, particularly significant for India amid its demographic shift. A burgeoning population of 1.4 billion by 2030, India's focus on the gender dividend is crucial.

The first step involves education, ensuring equitable access and retention of girls till they complete higher secondary. Education also includes access to skill development programs that equip women with relevant expertise for employment. Economic inclusion demands initiatives addressing gender disparities in the labor market, as well as, policies fostering entrepreneurship, formalizing industries that are largely women-led (e.g. handicrafts), and ensuring pay equity. In the formal sector, enabling women's leadership and encouraging their involvement in decision-making processes is essential.

Legal reforms must protect women's rights and counter discriminatory practices. Healthcare accesses, especially reproductive and mental health, are areas that require immediate attention and improvement. While social support and safety measures are necessary, engaging men as allies, sharing caregiving responsibilities, and altering societal norms are pivotal. Finally, empowering disabled women within the workforce folds is an imperative focus.

Gender-disaggregated data is paramount for informed policymaking.  All these measures collectively foster gender equality and women's empowerment, yielding a transformative gender and demographic dividend.

How do mentorship and networking programs contribute to women's empowerment and career advancement?

Addressing the disparity of female representation in leadership roles is essential. The lack of diversity is rooted in issues like pay inequity and advancement barriers. Effective mentorship and networking programs are crucial solutions. Research reveals that employees with mentors are promoted five times more often and feel empowered, boosting confidence. Women specifically benefit by gaining access to role models, fostering self-esteem, and creating a sense of belonging. Such programs counter isolation felt in male-dominated fields, nurturing a supportive community. Mentorship also provides access to opportunities and resources, aiding career growth. Crucially, it empowers women to advocate for themselves, addressing the gender pay gap and encouraging salary negotiation. In essence, mentorship guides women in developing domain skills, soft skills, and leadership competencies for a successful career path. The implementation of structured mentorship and networking programs holds immense potential for participants and organizations alike, driving positive change toward equality and inclusivity.

How to promote a more inclusive and diverse workplace culture to empower women?

Indian corporations are embracing a deliberate effort to enhance gender diversity within their workforce. Recognizing the value of diverse teams, companies are implementing initiatives like flexible work arrangements and mentorship programs to foster innovation and engagement. Notably, the number of firms with formal programs for returning and second-career women has risen to 75%, a significant improvement from 30% in 2016. Leadership roles for women have also expanded due to legislative mandates, with about 47% of the top 500 companies having multiple women directors. To sustain progress, companies are advised to document their equality strategies, foster allyship, address pay disparities, tackle bias in hiring, and normalize inclusive policies. Ultimately, prioritizing gender diversity, equity, and inclusion across all levels will drive women's upward mobility and contribute to organizational success.

What are the steps that can be taken to break down societal stereotypes and biases that hinder women's progress and limit their choices?

Societal stereotypes have cast shadows on gender-based roles, impacting hiring, promotions, and opportunities for women. Unequal pay is rooted in undervaluing traditionally female-dominated roles, hindering self-confidence and ability to negotiate higher pay. Safe environments are pivotal; speaking up should be encouraged without fear. Clear policies on workplace safety need to be coupled with enforcing accountability at all levels. Support groups like Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), and communities at the workplace to combat marginalization will also help break stereotypes. Biases tied to color and race must be confronted to ensure fair hiring and equitable growth opportunities. By addressing these stereotypes, recognizing biases, and fostering transparent communication, organizations can reshape workplaces and contribute to alleviating social prejudices.