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How Women Can Win the Talent Wars in Emerging Markets

Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ripa Rashid |Co-authors, "Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets"
Wednesday, 7 Sep 2011 | 1:20 PM ET

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: How to Keep Emerging Markets Growing? Invest in Women by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ripa Rashid co-authors of "Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women Are the Solution."

With rolling debt crises blasting Western economies already weakened by the recession, hopes are resting on the developing market dynamos of Brazil, Russia, India and China to power countries and corporations back to growth. Keeping those engines humming is due, to a greater and greater extent, to the new power of women.

Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women Are the Solution
Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women Are the Solution

We tend to think of Third World women as oppressed and impoverished, a story compellingly described in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, "Half the Sky".But there is another narrative that demonstrates the brand new clout of highly qualified women in emerging markets.

Consider the following facts:

Across the developing world, women are increasingly outperforming men in the tertiary education system: in Brazil, 60 percent of college graduates are female.

Educated and ambitious, these women are determined to put their credentials to work. Over 80 percent of women in India aspire to top jobs; in Brazil and China, the figure is over 70 percent. In the United States by comparison, a mere 36 percent of highly qualified women are shooting for top jobs.

Such stratospheric levels of ambition are sustained, in part, by the absence of childcare issues. Working mothers in the BRIC nations are able to think big and aim high because they have more shoulders to lean on than their American and European peers. Between hands-on extended family, inexpensive domestic help and an increasingly wide range of daycare options, professional women in these geographies are not sidelined by motherhood.

But even the smartest BRIC women face a series of family-centered “pull” factors and workplace-centered “push” factors that conspire to force them off the career track.

Childcare may not be a burden but eldercare is. Fully 70 percent of highly qualified BRIC women have significant eldercare responsibilities. Unlike in the West, in there’s a huge stigma attached to placing parents in assisted living. In fact, “daughterly guilt” often exceeds “maternal guilt” as professional women in emerging markets struggle to balance career with responsibility to elders. With demographers projecting a leap in the percentage of the population aged over 60 across these regions, this burden is only going to increase.

Discrimination is an ongoing issue – in both local and global companies. Gender bias continues to limit women’s careers. In China, over a quarter of survey respondents (men as well as women) believe that women are treated unfairly in the workplace; in India the number is 45 percent. Problems of bias are severe enough to make nearly half of women in India, China and Brazil (55, 48 and 40 percent, respectively) consider quitting.

"Across the developing world, women are increasingly outperforming men in the tertiary education system: in Brazil, 60 percent of college graduates are female." -Co-authors, Winning the War For Talent in Emerging Markets, Sylvia Ann Hewlett & Ripa Rashid

Extreme jobs are another challenge, with 60 hour-plus workweeks common. In China, highly qualified women working for global companies average 71 hours a week, in Russia 73 hours. These workweeks are significantly longer than in the U.S. or Europe.

Finally, safety concerns are a harsh fact of daily life for professional women in these countries: Close to a third or more feel unsafe getting to and from work, and that number rises to over 50 percent in Brazil and India. As one Brazilian female executive explained: “In a small city, they break your window and steal your radio. In Sao Paolo, they put a gun to your head and say, ‘Let’s go to the ATM.’”

The rapid pace of change in emerging markets offers an opportunity for forward-thinking companies to gain critical competitive advantage by promulgating female-friendly policies. Attracting and retaining talented women is the surest route to continued growth, now and in the future.

Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett is founder and president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, and the author of ten acclaimed books including Off-Ramps and On-Ramps and Top Talent. She has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, 60 Minutes, Today, Charlie Rose, NBC Nightly News, Oprah, The View and NPR. Ripa Rashid, executive vice president at the Center for Work-Life Policy, has over fifteen years of experience as a management consultant and talent innovation expert in Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific for leading multinationals. Ms. Rashid has been featured by Bloomberg Radio, Fox News, and Newsweek.

Together they are now the co-authors of "Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women Are the Solution."

Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks

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