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(originally published by Booz & Company)


How Female Talent Could Transform Emerging Economies

S+B: Your survey also indicates that companies in India are achieving some pretty remarkable results in terms of loyalty and retention; 92 percent of the Indian women in your sample described themselves as loyal to their employers, and 85 percent said they were willing to go the extra mile at work. Are there lessons here that multinational companies can apply to their talent models in the West?
RASHID: Companies in India really make an effort to gain buy-in from their employees’ extended families. For instance, Ernst & Young started a global shared-services center in Bangalore in 2001; the partner leading it, Sharda Cherwoo, was a native of India who had been based in New York. She decided at the beginning that she wanted to recruit 50 percent women, and one of the things she did was to introduce family days. Employees’ families, including their in-laws, come in to see how women, in particular, spend their days and how highly they are valued in the company. Cherwoo said that after one of these days, she received a letter, written on an old typewriter, from a man who thanked her for hosting and said, “My daughter-in-law will be working for Ernst & Young forever.”

HEWLETT: Throughout the developing world, there’s nothing more freeing for a 28-year-old woman than having her in-laws on her side. Just think: Fifty-nine percent of Indian women live with their elders, compared to just 3 percent in the United States. But among some ethnic groups in the U.S., that number is much higher, and the number is also high in Latin America, Japan, and other areas. So companies can look at what their counterparts in India are doing with extended families.

RASHID: Another thing that made a huge difference at Ernst & Young is that healthcare benefits are available to the extended family. Cherwoo said a number of women came to her personally to thank her for this; one woman’s father had a heart problem, and he was alive because he had access to this kind of healthcare.

HEWLETT: Because the public health system in India is nonexistent.

RASHID: Kind of like in the United States. We’ve heard from some of the companies that we talk to in the U.S. that for our minority populations here, this could be a real opportunity to engage and retain multicultural talent. When you have African-Americans and Hispanics living in extended families, offering these kinds of benefits makes a huge difference.

S+B: It might surprise many Westerners to learn that eldercare is a much more pressing issue than child care for women in the BRIC countries and the UAE. Are multinational companies aware of this and helping female employees accordingly?
HEWLETT: A few are. Citi, for instance, is finding that employees are more interested in using flexible work programs to address eldercare issues than child care issues. But I think that it’s a brand-new fact to most multinationals, because the storyline in the West for so many years has been that the real challenge occurs when you have a 2-year-old.

Many global companies will end up refashioning their benefits packages for emerging markets, because the opportunities and the challenges facing accomplished women there are really quite different. This came home to me very clearly about 18 months ago. I gave a talk at the Second Arab Women Leadership Forum in Dubai. It was a wonderful conference, with 600 women from all over the Middle East in very significant positions. But the design of the conference had been subcontracted to a U.S. group, and the first session was on the challenges of day care. In the Middle East, where women often have servants and extended family members to help them, child care is not the issue of the day. There were many other challenges that could have been raised, such as how women can travel for work when that is not considered culturally appropriate. But the organizers had just imported the agenda of a U.S. women’s conference, and it backfired. People walked out of the session.

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