Gender inclusion makes business sense

Pitchfork Partners, which I’m part of, recently partnered with ‘Break The Ceiling Touch The Sky’ – a success and leadership summit for women in corporations. While the day-long event touched upon various issues – from how women are changing the face of business to making men the champions of gender equality – the best argument for gender inclusion came from Al Rajwani, MD and CEO of P&G India. “It’s not just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense,” he said.

In fact, the business case has been apparent for a while. Several studies show that corporations with more than two women board members deliver better returns on equity than those who don’t.

Companies with women in leadership positions consistently do better. Nasscom pointed to an ‘Economic Times’ study several years ago that Indian firms headed by women had a compounded annual growth rate of 35% compared with 21% registered by the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE)-30. Their profits grew by 56% over five years compared to the BSE-30 firms’ 27%.

Despite the evidence, India lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to corporate leadership roles held by women.

According to a Grant Thornton survey last year, India ranked third lowest in the world in proportion (15%) of business leadership roles held by women. Japan at 8% and Germany at 14% were the only countries that fared worse.

The global average was 22%, unfortunately down from 24% in 2014. Almost a third of businesses, the survey said, had no senior women leaders.

Most businesses, it would seem, are apathetic to the sentiment expressed by Parag Pande, MD, HR, Accenture in India, Sri lanka and Bangladesh, at the summit: “You will be wiped off the map if you ignore the female talent pool.”

Here’s why the panelists said gender inclusion and equality should matter to companies.

  1. It makes business sense: Women account for 60% of college graduates but only 3% of leaders worldwide. As we’ve seen above, businesses that have strong female representation in their leadership do better – and corporate heads understand this. The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) 18th Annual Global CEO Survey reported that 85% of CEOs whose companies have an inclusiveness strategy said it improved their bottomline. “You get what you measure,” said Rajwani at the summit. “Track how many women are joining your company, how many stay, and make interventions for inclusion.”

    Many CEOs are now crafting diversity statements and making sure their companies and the world at large know of them. Among them is Intel’s Brian Krzanic who, at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show, unveiled the ‘Diversity in Technology’ initiative. Intel’s programme includes new hiring and retention goals and a $300 million budget to build a pipeline of female and underrepresented talent.

  1. Gender inclusiveness impacts talent management: According to PwC research, 86% of female and 74% of male millennials consider employers’ diversity, equality and inclusion policies when deciding whether to work for them. Equality is good for the economy too. In India, gender equality could result in a GDP boost of 27%. In fact, women make a massive difference but it often goes unacknowledged. As Suresh Narayanan, CMD, Nestle India, said: “Women should believe they start from a position of strength. Their contributions are enormous.”

Here’s what a corporation’s typical inclusivity evolution would look like.

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As Rajwani said: “Gender diversity and inclusion is a journey. Get started.”

 

The cricket store that’s a shrine to the game

When I was a schoolboy, Dhobi Talao in South Mumbai seemed like Ali Baba’s cave. I would gaze longingly at the cricket bats in the shop windows of the city’s sports goods hub, drawn there by my love for the game and the ache brought on by my lack of talent. The world seemed to fade away as I stood there mesmerised by the beautiful, shiny bats, among them then-rare foreign brands such as Gunn & Moore and Slazenger.

India had just won the World Cup for the first time and it was common for conversations in school to centre on the kits of our cricketing heroes. Brands such as Sanspareils Greenlands (better known as ‘SG’) and SS Sunridges (often shortened to ‘SS’) were becoming popular and any child with a foreign bat, such as a Gray-Nicolls, was automatically the centre of attention.

I remember walking into the stores just to take in the smell – a mix of leather and perhaps the oils used to season bats and hockey sticks. The shelves were lined with helmets, balls, caps, sweatbands, wicket-keeping gloves. I would find excuses to linger, trying on sweatbands that I didn’t need or have the money for.

Today, a range of brands has flooded these stores, which in turn have tried their best to become hip. What hasn’t changed, however, is their basic nature – they remain mere retail outlets. All you can do is buy stuff there; there’s nothing to compel students or budding sportspersons to spend time in them, nothing to educate them about their sport or offer a glimpse into its history. There’s no memorabilia or reading material to engage you.

Simply put, these stores are now boring; there’s no compelling reason to visit one when you can buy most of what you need online.

That’s why I was delighted when on a recent visit to Pune I chanced upon the Sunny’s Sports Boutique – The Legends’ Cricket Store, aptly located on the corner of Professor DB Deodhar Road near Prabhat Road. (Deodhar was the ‘Grand Old Man of Indian Cricket’, one of very few to have played the game both before World War 1 and after World War 2.)

I had never heard of the store before, though I’ve lived in Pune in the past. I simply happened to spot the signboard during a post-lunch stroll and walked in because I had nothing better to do.

The treasures the store held hooked me – there were original signed team sheets, bats autographed by legendary line-ups, vintage books, paintings, plaques and all sorts of souvenirs. It wasn’t a store, but a shrine to cricket, a labour of love.

I wasn’t surprised that it was run by former cricketers – Jairaj ‘Raju’ Mehta, who played for Baroda (1977-81); and Shubhangi Kulkarni, who played for India (1976-1991) and is an Arjuna Award winner. So respected is this former India captain that there’s a gate named after her at Pune’s Nehru Stadium. That’s why I was secretly pleased that Kulkarni shares her birthday with me.

Mehta and Kulkarni turned out to be human encyclopaedias of cricket. They rattled off facts about old games, and had astute observations about current and past players. They were also articulate and incisive about the modern game.

What I found most endearing is that they didn’t care if I didn’t buy anything; they were simply happy to share their knowledge. I landed up spending the better part of an hour with them.

I never got around to asking them how business was, but from the store’s condition it seemed like it was doing well. I’m not surprised; with Mehta and Kulkarni there, and all the treasures adorning the walls, why would any player go anywhere else? It struck me also that a budding cricketer would benefit by spending time with them.

Like with bookstores, I see brick-and-mortar sports retailers being impacted by online stores. They need to find a way to engage their audience; it’s no longer only about good location and products.

Stores such as Sunny’s, I believe, are the way forward. They draw you in, make you want to know more about the game, to have conversations about it, find people whose minds you can tap, watch recordings of old games, read up on them…

I hope sports goods stores – especially those in Mumbai – take a cue from Mehta and Kulkarni. If they do, you can be sure I’ll spend a lot of time in them with my 12-year-old daughter, who too is sports-inclined and thankfully possessed of talent that I could only dream of as a child. Who knows, maybe we’ll even spend some time with Mehta and Kulkarni.

* Click on the pictures to read the captions.

Media and big business: Happily ever after or nasty break-up in the offing?

As night crept across the winter sky a few weeks ago, the discussion on the Express Tower lawns warmed up. Steve Coll – two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, book author and dean of Columbia Journalism School – was the picture of pragmatism as he spoke about challenges journalists face in this age and what the future will look like for them.

While Coll dissected several issues, including the changing nature of audiences, his views on journalists’ relationship with corporations were particularly illuminating.

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Steve Coll was erudite and incisive. As dean of Columbia Journalism School, he has an interesting view of the media and their relationship with corporations. Copyright: Ashraf Engineer

“Corporations are trying to adapt to the digital age the same way journalists are. They have discovered they can tell their own stories. They can ignore journalists and still achieve their goals,” said Coll to the very involved audience comprising media students, veteran journalists and corporate executives. Having been a journalist for nearly 17 years and in marketing communication for five years, I can testify that Coll got it spot on.
There is little doubt that the technology-driven change in media consumption is rapidly transforming journalism – and I believe this is essential. If audiences are changing, so must newsrooms. They need to adopt, for instance, analytics to spot and understand audience conversations, where they are taking place and the issues that are hotting up. The findings can help editors decide where to focus resources.

Coll was bang on when he said: “Technology is not neutral. It’s changed the nature of journalism and the relationship between journalists and audiences.”

But this technology is available to corporations too.

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Express Towers, which hosted the interaction. The building is the headquarters of the Indian Express group and occupies an important place in Indian media history. Copyright: Ashraf Engineer

In his column ‘Unstoppable rise of corporate media’ Tom Foremski wrote: “Every organization is a media company – not because they want to be, but because they have to be. They have to be seen in the world or they cease to exist, which is why organizations are ramping up their output of corporate media and they are just at the start of this trend… Organizations know that the value of high quality media content is essential to bottomlines…

As they increasingly invest in and operate ‘owned’ media, as Coll pointed out, corporations are realising that they need not depend on the media for getting their messages out. Journalism, on the other hand, needs corporate support to survive. For, if audiences don’t pay for quality journalism, who will? So far, the media you consume has been offseting its costs by carrying advertisements.

Foremski believes that special interest groups would pay for what they want you to read since you won’t pay for what you should read. The more ignorant you are of an issue, the worse your decision about it. This includes the way you form opinions about corporations.

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The view from the Express Towers lawn. That’s the iconic Oberoi Hotel, which was, incidentally, the site of one of the bloodiest massacres during the 26/11 attacks. Copyright: Ashraf Engineer

As the perception grows that the media is buckling to corporate pressure, audience trust is shrinking. A Gallup poll released in September 2015 asked more than 1,000 Americans whether they trusted the mass media when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly. Less than half said yes. Only 33% said they have a “fair amount” of trust in the media. A mere 7% had a “great deal” of trust in the media?

According to Gallup, which has been polling media perceptions since 1972, trust in the media has been falling since peaking at 55% in 1998 and 1999. Since 2007, a majority of Americans have distrusted the media.

While this is a poll of American audiences only, chances are journalists in India will face a similar situation sooner than most believe.

Media houses must introspect. As Coll said, “For serious, independent journalism to thrive it has to have an independent commercial base. Otherwise, it can’t stand up to pressure.”

Now’s the time to experiment with new tools, new delivery mechanisms and revenue streams. Pointing out that the new generation of journalists is well equipped to do this, Coll said the “second generation of data use” – measuring reader engagement, time spent, usage patterns, etc – can be used to good effect, even to attract advertisers. “Engagement should count,” he said.
For me, the biggest asset is the sheer drive and commitment that most journalists still display. “ ‘Change the world’ is still the driver for journalists,” said Coll. He was referring also to journalism students, who he meets all the time at Columbia. I sensed a similar drive in my students at media schools.

Coll was right when he said: “Every generation gets to invent its own narratives and journalism.” I believe that narrative will centre on high-quality journalism in the face of increasing pressure from corporations and diminishing revenues from them.