Here’s why management courses need more women candidates

Here's why management courses need more women candidates

© Provided by Business Today
Here’s why management courses need more women candidates

With news about Indian women leaders soaring heights — Leena Nair becoming the first Indian origin head of the iconic French firm Chanel or Falguni Nayar’s exalted status as India’s first self-made female billionaire — the story of women managers in the corporate world, looks propitious. However, the signs at the very bottom of this funnel are a bit ominous. One look at the Common Admission Test (CAT) 2021 exam data and we find that there is a dissonance in the idea that the next generation of women leadership is a healthy pipeline. 

CAT is the eligibility test for a seat at top management institutes in the country where bright young managers of tomorrow are trained. Women are not represented here in equal numbers — of the 1.92 lakh candidates who appeared for the exam this year, only 35 per cent were women. 

This number is then fairly consistent for the actual enrolment ratio at the top business schools in India. Despite some IIMs offering extra points to women participants to encourage and increase enrolment, most institutes are happy even if they have 30 per cent women participants in their MBA cohorts. The ratio becomes even more skewed towards men in one-year MBA programs and executive management programs in the country.

This then also reflects in the women managerial numbers in corporate India. Only 190 women are in managerial positions for every 1,000 persons in India, according to the data released by Niti Aayog’s SDG 2022-21 report. One of the key targets of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number five of Gender Equality is to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. But India lags behind in this target in many ways and lack of women leaders is a real cause for concern. 

Engineering Education

Some analysts state that the lack of women in engineering education may be the cause for fewer women appearing for the CAT exam which has a high level of complexity in quantitative and logical reasoning. Despite 35 per cent of women appearing for CAT, none of them made it to the 100 percentiles list this year, and out of the 19 who scored 99.99 percentile, only three are non-engineers but all of them are males. 

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This idea also finds validation in the exam enrolment number for engineering entrance test. The Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) Main for February 2021 session had a difference of more than 2.5 lakh between male and female registrations. At an overall level, more men than women appear for the engineering entrance exams, and 75 per cent of those registered for the JEE Advanced 2021 were male. 

While most top MBA colleges still have majority engineering graduates in their batch, diversity that comes with different academic backgrounds and gender is welcomed, desired and encouraged. Perhaps the entrance exam pattern is more suitable for engineers or they are used to the rigour of competitive exams. However, there is a great need for a rethink on the issue and for a deeper study. 

It is not that women are not opting for higher education. Some other courses continue to swell with female students. According to the latest ‘All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE)’, in 2019-20 there were 100 females for every 100 male students in BCom course in the country. BSc and MBBS courses already have gender parity.

Some professional courses like medicine are touted to be more appropriate for women’s natural bent toward empathy and care and/ or families encourage them to be suitable for family life. That just might be a misconception — any serious career requires times and attention. Corporate careers are satisfying, highly rewarding and, with so many new policies in place, offer work-life balance. 

Family Support 

Times are changing but women are still required to take on the mantle of family responsibilities, especially when children are young or elderly at home require care. When a woman is juggling between home, work and her ambitions it becomes difficult. Often women choose the home front and let go of their dreams and aspirations of growth in the corporate world. Losing women at different stages of the managerial pipeline is indeed a loss for the economy. 

The trailblazing former CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi has said “many women end up choosing, if they can afford it, to drop out of the paid labour force…Some call this a ‘leaky pipeline,’ although I think that kind of language downplays the problem. The pipeline is way beyond ‘leaky.’ It is broken…”.

Firms are struggling to find solutions to retain women. The State Bank of India (SBI) under the leadership of Arundhati Bhattacharya had come up with two-year sabbatical option for women for child and elderly care. They managed to save careers of 600 women. 

Men in power also need to start discussing issues and find solutions for equal division of family responsibilities to encourage and make it possible for women to continue working, contributing to the economy and fulling their dreams. Research has proven that women were better leaders than men during the pandemic. Women have the potential to grow and take leadership positions in organisations. They need policies at firm level and empathy at family level to grow and succeed.

Role Models

There is no dearth of role models for Indian women from the corporate sector. Success stories like that of Vineeta Singh (Sugar Cosmetics), Sonia Syngal (Gap Inc), Soumya Swaminathan (WHO), and many others are there for young women to find inspiration from. SPJIMR’s two women alumna — Mansi Tripathy, VP Asia Pacific at Shell and Shalini Kapoor, IBM Fellow and CTO — have been recognised recently by world’s top MBA accreditation bodies AMBA and AACSB respectively for their powerful leadership that stands out internationally. 

This generation of successful women MBAs are hoping to see more of their ilk to join and support the corporate milieu. Corporates themselves run programmes to better their gender diversity and encourage women to come back after breaks. Even schools like ours run a specialised programme for returning women. The Corporate Affairs Ministry has mandated that there should at least be one woman director on the board of specified companies and definitely for listed companies. Yet these programmes would remain wishful thinking until enough women are trained and readied for the next generation of managers to lead India.


Women make great managers and leaders and the country needs them. They need to break the shackles of societal stereotypes that a corporate career cannot be conducive to family life. There are enough examples of women leaders managing them both very successfully. Management institutes and the hiring managers are ready and waiting for the next generation of competent women.

(Vineeta Dwivedi and Bindu Kulkarni are faculty at Bhavan’s SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR). Views are personal.) 

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