India needs businesswomen at all levels

The world’s top businesswoman is Indian – PepsiCo’s Chennai-born chief, Indra Nooyi – and there are six more executives from India in the top 50, as many as from China, and fewer than only the US.

But Indian glee should be tempered. When it comes to bringing women into the workplace; China does a much better job. According to Credit Suisse, two-thirds of Chinese women are economically active – compared with only one-third of Indian women.

“The gap between male and female economic activity rates is very high in India (48%) compared to China (12%),” Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a report this month, along with this chart.

Interestingly, Chinese women are also better rewarded for their labours: on average, they retire at the same age as their Indian counterparts (55), but live 10 years longer (75 v 65). (It does add that “retired Chinese women often support their children and grandchildren by helping the younger households with child- care and house-work”.)

Chinese women’s ability to enter the labour force is based, in part, on their access to education. In China, girls are more likely than boys to go to primary and secondary school, and as likely to go into further education. In India, there is a sizeable enrolment gap (proportion of men minus proportion of women) at all levels – meaning that literacy is 20 percentage points higher among men than women.

In politics, India has shown its intention to overtake China: a new system, passed by parliament in March, would give one-third of seats in the legislature to women, compared with China’s quota of 22 per cent. India has had a female prime minister; New Delhi has a female mayor.

The country must show similar ambitions for equality in the workplace if it is to reap its demographic dividend and meet the expectations of its female citizens.

Some rankings of powerful women may favour India, as the “Women at the top” list has; others, like the Hurun list of female billionaires, may put China in front. But elite performance owes much to individual excellence and luck. Bringing women in at all levels requires something more.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.