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India opens boardrooms to women but few mid-career dropouts return

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NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Tanu Anand, an Indian international tax accountant with 13 years experience with multinational firms in India, Singapore and Hong Kong, lost hope of resuming her high-flying career after having a baby last year.

“I sat at home for eight months rather depressed and very low in confidence. All of a sudden here I was, this person with all this international experience with top firms, sitting there with no opportunities or prospects,” said Anand, 36.

“I went for many interviews, but they wanted to put me on a slow career path because I had a baby. There was no balance where I could be a good mother and a good employee. I honestly thought of giving up and starting a bakery.”

A new law may have forced India Inc. to open the boardroom doors to women, but years of sidelining them has led to a high dropout rate among professionals like Anand – resulting in a shortage of women to fill such positions.

Around 530 out of 5,711 listed firms have been fined by the Bombay Stock Exchange for not having at least one woman director by the deadline. Other companies appointed relatives such as wives and mothers-in-law who are seen as proxies.

Research by Catalyst, a non-profit focusing on women in business, finds the shortage is due to the fact that far more women drop out of the corporate workforce early on in India than in other countries.

Catalyst’s 2013 report “First Step: India Overview” found that nearly half of Indian women drop off the corporate employment ladder between junior and mid-levels, compared with 29 percent across Asia as a whole.

The main reason cited is the lack of support given to women who want to return to work after having a baby, such as extended maternity leave, crèche facilities and flexible hours.

“…the pipeline is not available. There are not enough women in senior management currently to occupy all the positions that are opening up for women,” said Shachi Irde, Catalyst India’s executive director.

“Organisations have to focus on inclusion at all levels right from the beginning to ensure that they have a healthy pipeline to move up the ladder.”

INVISIBLE AND UNRECOGNISED

Studies conducted by Catalyst, Mckinsey, Credit Suisse and others repeatedly show that board diversity leads to better performance in terms of productivity and profitability.

A 2012 report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, for example, found that stocks of large cap companies with at least one woman board director outperformed those with all-male boards by 26 percent over a period of six years.

Yet, despite increased efforts by companies and governments around the world to lift the number of women in senior corporate roles, their presence remains stubbornly low.

Women hold just 12 percent of boardroom seats worldwide, and only 4 percent of board chairmen are women, according to a June report by Deloitte after studying almost 6,000 firms in 49 countries.

In India – despite the prominence of a few businesswomen such as Biocon Managing Director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar or HSBC country head Naina Lal Kidwai – the lack of women on boards is even more pronounced.

Just 7.7 percent of board seats are held by women in India, compared with 17.5 percent in South Africa and 15.6 percent in the United Kingdom, the Deloitte report showed.

As in other countries, Indian women climbing the corporate ladder face the usual unconscious gender biases, being perceived as unambitious, not capable enough, or misplaced home makers, experts say.

“Bosses often think that due to family commitments, women cannot stay late in the office, attend events where they can network or take on extra projects. As a result, women are often passed over for promotions,” said Sarika Bhattacharyya, co-founder of Biz Divas, a non-profit promoting female leadership.

“Women themselves are also not visible enough, even when they are ambitious. As a culture and as a gender, we have always been told from a young age to be humble and not boast about our achievements.”

UNTAPPED TALENT

Anand’s fate changed in May when she saw a Facebook post from multinational Genpact, looking for qualified, experienced women wanting to return to work but within a flexible environment as part of their “Career 2.0.” programme.

In less than two weeks, she went through six gruelling interviews before being offered a job as an assistant vice president under a flexible working arrangement.

“The way it is today is that I work hard to strict deadlines but I work with my own flexibilities. If there are no meetings, then I can take my work home. This gives me the opportunity to oversee my young child as well,” she said.

Research conducted by Genpact estimates there are 1.5 million qualified Indian women like Anand, who have dropped out of corporate jobs largely because they cannot find suitable employment after starting a family.

“We thought as part of our initiative to bring in gender diversity, let’s introduce a programme aimed at attracting these mid career level women who have taken a sabbatical and are looking to get back into the mainstream,” said Urvashi Singh, senior vice president of human resources at Genpact.

“We are getting some really, really good talent and we are really excited about this. We have had a terrific response on social media.”

The Career 2.0. programme, launched on Facebook in May, has resulted in more than 1,000 applications and more than 10 women being hired at middle and senior levels such as assistant vice president.

Catalyst’s Irde says that initiatives like these, together with mentorship programmes and policies such as child care facilities and flexible working hours, are key to boosting the number of women breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling.

“There is a growing realisation in India Inc. to have diversity in the workplace – whether it is in the boardroom or any other level of management,” said Irde.

“There are enough women there, but you need to look beyond the traditional sources of recruitment to find them.”

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla, editing by Tim Pearce)


Source: R-Business

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Australian law firm files $72-million class action against Volkswagen

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SYDNEY Law firm Maurice Blackburn will launch a class action lawsuit on Thursday on behalf of Australian owners of scam-tainted Volkswagen AG seeking total damages “well north” of A$100 million ($71.59 million).

Volkswagen is embroiled in a global recall scandal, and faces several class action lawsuits, after tests showed that thousands of vehicles had been fitted with devices designed to mask the level of emissions.

More than 10,000 Australian owners have already registered for the class action that targets the German parent companies involved in the emissions scam, not just the local subsidiaries, Maurice Blackburn said.

“I am extremely disappointed that, because of the company’s deceitful conduct, I’ve now got a car that is emitting dirty diesel,” Audi owner Robyn Richardson told a news conference in Sydney.

“I am here to bring them to account for what they’ve done. I’m here to deter other companies from behaving similarly,” said Richardson, one of the lead applicants for the class action in Australia.

Maurice Blackburn Principal Jason Geisker said the litigation, on behalf of more than 90,000 car owners, will seek to recover the full cost of the vehicle, plus damages for misleading and deceptive conduct, among others.

Volkswagen Group Australia (VGA) declined to comment on any “impending legal matters” but apologised for any disappointment and inconvenience.

“VGA assures all its customers that the affected cars are technically safe and the necessary measures will be undertaken at no cost to them,” it said in a statement.

“We will do everything we can to fix this problem and regain the trust of our customers.”

Volkswagen already faces a handful of shareholder lawsuits, including a securities-fraud class action in Virginia against its U.S. divisions and a planned claim by Dutch investor association VEB on behalf of investors who bought VW stock through a Dutch bank or broker.

The company is also battling dozens of class actions accusing it of fraud for selling supposedly low-pollution, high-horsepower, fuel-sipping vehicles that have declined substantially in value since the revelations.

Litigation funder Bentham Europe, a joint venture between Australia’s IMF Bentham and U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management on Nov. 5 said it was talking with Volkswagen’s 200 largest investors about filing a lawsuit in Germany, as soon as February, claiming negligence and breach of securities law.

($1=1.4023 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


Source: R-Business

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Gold climbs off five-year low as dollar pulls back

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Business News | Thu Nov 19, 2015 8:29am IST

MELBOURNE |

MELBOURNE Gold prices revived on Thursday from their lowest in more than five years the previous session as the dollar fell back, releasing its stranglehold on commodities and making gold more affordable for buyers paying with other currencies.

Federal Reserve officials on Wednesday continued to flag December as a likely time for interest rates to rise after seven years near zero, with two expressing confidence they will be able to pull off a rate hike smoothly despite fears of an abrupt market reaction.

“I’m convinced that the start of the (rate hike) cycle will see relative dollar weakness as investor money flows into other regions and other types of investment, away from the U.S. where the cost of capital – and doing business will also grow,” said Chief Investment Officer Jonathan Barratt of Ayers Alliance in Sydney. He added that a rate increase could also boost gold’s appeal as a hedge against inflation.

Spot gold was up 0.6 percent at $1,077.20 an ounce by 0216 GMT. Prices fell to 1,064.95 an ounce on Wednesday, the weakest since early 2010.

U.S. gold had risen 0.8 percent to $1,077 an ounce.

U.S. housing starts in October dropped to a seven-month low, weighed down by a steep decline in the construction of multi-family homes, but a surge in building permits suggested the housing market remained on solid ground.

The dollar fell back from seven-month peaks against a basket of currencies early in Asia on Thursday.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Michael Perry and Joseph Radford)

Source: R-Business

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