Do women take fewer risks than men at the workplace? At the Fortune India Most Powerful Women in business summit, the jury that adjudicated at the debate on the topic gave their views in a later discussion moderated by Fortune India deputy editor Aveek Datta.
The jury comprising Padmaja Ruparel, co-founder of Indian Angel Network; Kaku Nakhate, president and country head, Bank of America India; and Meena Ganesh, MD and CEO, Portea Medical took a different view of the term ‘risk’. Instead of confining to risks related to business, they discussed personal, social, and emotional ones that working women have to face. For example, emotional risk, said a jury member, could arise from a guilty feeling of leaving a small child at home.
And the degree of risk varies depending on other factors. Ganesh said that working women in the lower strata of society face far greater risks when compared to their richer and more educated counterparts in cities. “They not only face professional risks but also personal ones because they face strong opposition from their family members for going out to work,” added Ganesh. And many of them may be the first generation of women coming out to work for the first time.
Nakhate discussed the factors that women look at when evaluating risks. She said they look at consistency and always have a long-term vision in mind. Having a long-term goal is far more important than suddenly jumping into something without thinking through it. This does not benefit just them, but the company or the business they work for. “So women do a much better job in terms of risk management,” she added.
Ruparel said women take fewer risks but calculated ones than their male counterparts because the real reason for many stepping out of the house is actually to put food on the table. Many a time it is out of necessity rather than out of choice. For these women it means standing alone and deciding whether she was doing the right thing.
On the issue of ensuring gender diversity, Nakhate discussed how her organisation was making a conscious effort to be more inclusive not just on gender issues but also for the LGBT community. “We take strategic bets on women and invest in them,’’ said Nakhate.
All three agreed that having a proper work-life balance was important to bringing more women into the workforce. After all, the latest data shows that fewer women are joining the workforce for various reasons. For Nakhate, it is about keeping in constant touch with women who have gone on maternity leave and may not want to rejoin the workforce because they have a small baby at home.
They also pointed out that the number of women entering the startup ecosystem was dismal because joining the workforce can cause a lot of disruption both at the workplace and in their personal lives. “To be a part of the startup community, women will need to start pushing the boundaries because it is still an evolving ecosystem,” said Ganesh.