Major companies have been seeking to increase the number of women in their workforce for decades. At first, their efforts were typically spurred by a compliance mind-set, aimed at demonstrating good corporate citizenship and warding off class action lawsuits. Women were hired, but rarely given more than cursory support. This resulted in disproportionately high attrition rates, especially at the managerial level.
In the 1990s, companies realized that this attrition was a waste of valuable resources. In addition, the “war for talent” heated up, and the job markets for the best and brightest became less tied to economic cycles. Companies recognized the need to draw from the broadest base of talent possible and began to develop strategies aimed at retaining women.
In the past decade, as Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ripa Rashid so ably describe in their new book, the need to hire and retain female talent has gone global. They point out that women already make up 30 to 50 percent of the workforce in emerging economies. But if nations such as China, India, Brazil, and Russia hope to sustain their fast-paced economic growth, women will have to make up a larger percentage in the future, and more of them will have to ascend to leadership positions.
The excerpt below demonstrates how the global technology company Infosys Technologies Ltd. focused on the hiring and retention of female talent and dramatically improved its results. Whether the company can make the shift to developing women at strategic levels remains to be seen, but it is clear it has successfully taken the first steps on that journey.
— Sally Helgesen
An excerpt from Chapter 8 of Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women Are the Solution
In the early years of the new millennium, Infosys, the Bangalore-based information technology giant whose name is practically synonymous with India’s booming business process outsourcing industry, was running out of young engineers. Like every other company in the burgeoning field, it was engaged in a fierce war for the best and brightest university graduates. Unlike many of them, Infosys specifically targeted women as a solution — not only to expand the potential pool of top talent but also to tap in to a wider range of intellects. “Diversity brings in creativity and innovation,” explains Nandita Gurjar, senior vice president and group head of human resources. “We are a very large organization, large enough to form a society on our own, and we want to make sure that the Infosys society reflects the greater society.”
The Infosys Women’s Inclusivity Network (IWIN) was launched in 2003, when 17 percent of the Infosys employees were women. Today, 34.1 percent of the workforce is female — in absolute numbers, more than thirty-six thousand women. Women make up 40.3 percent of entry-level workers, 24.2 percent of midlevel managers, 6.5 percent of senior managers, and 6.2 percent of top-tier leaders, nearly double the number of six years ago.
The key reason for those impressive figures is IWIN. The program has three aims: to persuade more high school girls to study engineering in college; to attract more female engineers to Infosys; and to make it easier for women to maintain their careers at the company after having children.
The core element of IWIN in making Infosys a female-friendly environment was identifying the stress points at which women tended to leave the organization and creating policies that helped them deal with those stresses. Surveys showed that many Infosys women dropped out after getting married; the numbers skyrocketed after the birth of their first child and [the dropouts] were almost universal after the second. “There was no formal process of retaining women employees or attracting former employees who had left to have children and might want to come back,” says Gurjar.