The expert panel during Fortune India's "India's Most Powerful Women in Business Awards" today agreed on providing equal opportunities for women as men, inclusion, a well-defined structure to recognise biases in corporate, and having an agency to solve issues related to “unconscious biases” in corporate culture. The Fortune India event was held at the Jio World Convention Centre, BKC, Mumbai.

During the discussion, Marcella Wartenbergh, Global Group CEO, AWWG Pepe Jeans London, Hackett, Faconnable, who was also the Guest of Honour at the event, said she applies the rule of equal CVs of men and women to ensure diversity in her organisation.

"Then we see who comes out of that. We need to make a bigger effort right from scratch. It's not about men or women, but women also need to believe they can do it."

Daisy Chittilapilly, President, Cisco India and SAARC, says men have to be a part of the programme design. "Intentionality is a big part of it. Don't make the pipeline excuse."

She says there's also a need to ensure "intentionality" of women. "Intentionality not only on the part of the organisation but also on the part of women to voice what they want."

Pavitra Shankar, Managing Director, Brigade Group, says people need to see that women are bringing value to the table, which is important. "In terms of unconscious biases, some may be exposed in their family. The conversation should be about men being allies of women, not against them. We have to lean in together and that has to be the way forward. Understanding and exposure is the main thing."

Ritu Arora, CEO and Chief Investment Officer, Asia-Pacific, Allianz Investment Management, says when she joined the company, she was surprised to know 80% of the team was women in her company. "I asked the previous male manager, how he nurtured women-dominated leaders. He said he didn't think it was men vs women but a neutral issue. The moment there are conflicts about men vs women, conflicts start."

Vivek Pandit, Senior Partner, Mckinsey & Company, says it's difficult to recognise biases in a corporate environment, especially when one is in a position of authority. "How often HR asks, when managers are evaluating someone, do they support diversity? I looked at records of men who had a record of hiring men over women. It came down to things like: he needed more than her and for her, it was extra income. It becomes quite toxic and you can't fix that."

Similarly, says Vivek, there were other biases like, children of women who work suffer. "These echoed from women who left work and men whose wives were at home. We celebrate leaders, VPs, CEOs, who deliver incredible financial performance and shareholder returns, but how many CEOS are ready to be held accountable on gender equity."

Marcella agrees that such corporate biases exist, saying that these are real. "That type of comment, men do it. The first thing, we need to believe is we can do it. I always say we need to learn to live in a world, that's mixed. If you go to dinner, there are six men and women. I have two options, either I stay or leave. I should also integrate. Similarly, if there are six women and one man, the conversation is not about football or cricket, but the latest book, film, or bag, men have to either integrate or leave. But I think the first step is to make sure men are not excluded."

On possible solutions to addressing these biases, Daisy says accessibility is the answer. "Young mothers have to make a balance. Companies will have to give them flexibility on how they want to manage work. Secondly, resource groups must be there -- child care, facilities, parents, caretakers and networks. We need to accept such exceptional leaders who might want to come back. When they do come back, they can be outdated, you have to support them through the network. The readjustment period is there, a lot of things structurally can be done, we need to find ways to bring women back."

Speaking about the work-from-home culture, Pavitra says the top talent might not want to work from home. "The top talent in any company understands that you need visibility, you need flexibility. However, WFH should be an option, if that's the reason, remove that barrier for them, give them flexibility."

Will WFH fix the leaky pipeline? Ritu believes flexibility is welcomed, but visibility, presence, and network get even weaker when people are working from home.

On rechristening maternity leave as the parent till leave, Vivek says the enhanced parental leave, which has been made into policies in countries like Sweden, will help women get back into the workforce faster.

On gender pay parity in helping to bring more women into the workforce, Daisy says economic emancipation is important. "Train women in the workforce, and they will dominate and be high-potential leaders. But many of them have to hand over their money to their husband, mother or father-in-law. So will economic emancipation solve the problem? I keep on harping on agency, which no one can help for you."

Marcella says people need to educate kids early about equality. "It starts right from going to school. Women need to have the freedom to choose. Nobody should decide for us and we need to make those decisions."

Pavitra says if women educate themselves about financial matters, they have a voice. However, she says there's a need to make men part of the conversation.

Vivek Pandit says it’s very difficult to recognise biases and check male privilege when you are holding a position of authority and talking about how gender equity is so important.

On diversity reporting by companies, Ritu says she believes accountability and transparency will help any cause, and make a significant difference.

Marcella also spoke on necessary policy changes, saying reporting and mandates are good, but expertise in the team is also important. "We need need to have balance, so push and equality, leaders not seeking that will not survive. Men love to work with women and women with men. Any manager not supporting diversity will not survive in the next 5 years."

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