Companies as diverse as Google, Goldman Sachs, Siemens, and PepsiCo are facing a common challenge: the need to capitalize on the explosive growth in emerging markets including Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRIC countries) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). To do so, they have dedicated themselves to recruiting, hiring, and retaining top talent in these countries — no easy task in markets where turnover is often very high. These leading companies have tapped into a source of talent that many of their competitors have thus far overlooked: the women in these countries who represent more than half of university graduates and as much as half of the workforce. (See “The Third Billion,” by DeAnne Aguirre and Karim Sabbagh, s+b, Summer 2010.)
Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ripa Rashid believe that companies can no longer afford to maintain this blind spot. The authors of Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women Are the Solution (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011) surveyed 4,350 men and women in the BRIC countries and the UAE to understand women’s goals and aspirations, the obstacles that women must overcome in the workplace, and the factors outside the office that hold them back. They also profiled more than two dozen companies, including the four mentioned above, that are taking innovative approaches to attracting female managers and employees, and reaping remarkable results in terms of loyalty, retention, and engagement.
Hewlett (whose consulting firm, Sylvia Ann Hewlett Associates LLC, has an exclusive alliance with Booz & Company, s+b’s publisher) and Rashid discussed this new aspect of the war for talent with s+b in their New York offices in September 2011.
S+B: What first piqued your interest in women in emerging markets?
HEWLETT: We felt two powerful lures. One, obviously, was that these are the growth markets, and there are talent constraints in these countries. But, second, we felt that almost everyone had missed the boat in terms of seeing the extraordinary potential of women. There are books on the “China miracle” or the “India miracle” in which women aren’t even mentioned. Or worse, the narrative about women focuses on poverty and oppression and illiteracy. The general thinking in the West is that the most these poor, exploited women can hope for is a little bit of microfinance. I’m not trying to say that isn’t half the reality. It is. But there is this other story of tremendous vitality and aspiration.
S+B: And to what degree is this on the radar of Western multinationals that are expanding into emerging markets?
RASHID: The best, most forward-thinking companies are genuinely attentive to global nuances. In some ways, they can do more in emerging markets, where they have a blank slate. Companies are willing to take risks there in terms of their business model, and I think the same applies to talent models.
HEWLETT: It’s a huge opportunity for global companies to be the employer of choice in an otherwise patriarchal world.
S+B: What did you find as you began looking more closely at each of these countries?
RASHID: India came out of this research as the most innovative in terms of what companies are doing with female talent. Eleven percent of CEOs in India are women — which is four times more than the Fortune 500 has ever managed. One reason is that the business process outsourcing industry was at the heart of India’s initial economic growth spurt, and by definition it required flexibility and unusual work hours. That kind of work model attracted a lot of women. Moreover, companies in India were willing to take risks with their talent model.