In the last few decades, the world has witnessed rapid globalisation – this has helped economies to expand, react faster and integrate technology across all quarters. While this trend has led to a rise in employment, it has also brought to light the inequality between men and women in the workplace. Let’s discuss more about Women Leaders Promoting Diversity in the Workplace.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2019 by the World Economic Forum presents a poor picture of gender equality at workplaces in India. The country ranks 119 out of 144 countries on the gender equality scale, slipping down a few positions every year.
Further, the gender diversity ‘Benchmark for Asia’ report states that India has the smallest percentage of women in the total workforce (between China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore), and the largest pipeline leak occurring earliest in women’s careers – between middle and senior level positions (48% decrease).Studies suggest that the early 30s are a common age group for women to leave full time jobs. The report on women inequality suggested a 10% increase in women workforce in India could add USD 770 billion to the country’s GDP in the next seven years.
Globally, too, the numbers are dismal – over 2.7 billion women around the world are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men. Further, women are paid 23 percent less than men and do not have access to as many employment benefits.
If equitable progress is the vision for a globalised economy, economic empowerment for women is a must.
Corporates lead the way
An increasing number of corporates in India are now actively looking to make their workplaces more inclusive for women. Inclusion and diversity are now critical when it comes to hiring; that’s not all – HR policies are also being formulated to make women more comfortable and safe at work. From creating women-friendly policies to enhancing development opportunities, and working towards a greater female presence in boardrooms, much is happening to make corporates gender-diverse.
In 2017, Vodafone launched the Vodafone ReConnect programme to bring women back into the workforce after a career break. As part of the programme, women can either work full-time or at flexible hours. Also, the company worked towards providing digital technology for underprivileged women from emerging markets like India and Africa.
Another great example is Genpact India. The company has long-term and short-term hiring and promotion goals, apart from diversity and inclusion. Genpact’s Career 2.0 programme aims to bring back women to the workforce, after a career hiatus. Generally, the lack of childcare and other challenges force women to take a long break from their careers. When they are ready to join in full force, the high levels of competition prove to be a hurdle. With Career 2.0, Genpact has challenged this norm by prioritising and sensitising employees towards recruiting women who are on a career break.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), female participation in the labour market is 27.2% compared to 78.8% for men. While women are increasingly pursuing higher education, they continue to be underrepresented in corporate India. Research suggests that only 1 in 5 C-suite leaders are women.
Diversity and Inclusion are not just buzzwords that look good as part of HR-driven programs. It is also about adopting an organisation-driven culture, where leaders and managers serve as role models, value diverse perspectives, and creates an environment that empowers everyone to do their best. Tech giant Microsoft India is one such organisation that believes in gathering, listening to, and absorbing as many perspectives, and bringing out the best in each other.
“Over the last decade, corporate India has made progress in recognizing its responsibility and the inherent value of making its workplaces more inclusive to all genders. This has leveled the playing field for many resulting in an increase in the representation of women in much of corporate India. In the last decade, India has also taken important steps to help women have more choices around life events by enacting important legislation around maternity benefits & child care. That said, significant work remains undone and the pace of progress continues to be slow. If the last decade was about building a foundation, this decade needs to be about accelerating our progress on representation and inclusion of women in all parts of society,” says Ira Gupta, Head of Human Resources, Microsoft India, to TBC.
As leadership advisors, Egon Zehnder understands their role in guiding and crafting diverse, inclusive cultures with their clients. Their Leaders and Daughters Initiative is an annual global forum inviting today’s leaders to create a more inclusive environment for the next generation of female leaders — their daughters and mentees. They also have a ‘25 by 25 Initiative’ that partners with clients and candidates to reach the goal of 25 female CEOs of Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 companies by 2025.
Pallavi Kathuria, Managing Partner at Egon Zehnder India, adds, “At Egon Zehnder, we believe that the world needs great leaders, and our mission is to drive lasting positive change through leadership, both for our clients and internally. Building diverse leadership teams and developing inclusive mindsets is crucial to achieving this mission. In order to promote diversity and be inclusive, it is important to address recruitment, integration, and development practices.”
The former Product & business leader at Microsoft in Redmond & India further adds, “As a leader myself, I try to do this by focusing on bringing together capable individuals who share a common purpose, but who have diverse outlooks, approaches, backgrounds and interests.”
It all starts at the top
Organisations need to drive the gender diversity agenda from the top down. Leaders who are looking to build truly diverse and inclusive organizations must have the right organisation framework to support gender diversity.
“These values percolate from the senior leadership – developing sensitivity and an inclusivity mindset in senior leaders, while also hosting regular training and conversations, really help in transforming cultures. Valuing and promoting women and members of marginalised groups, mental health support, flexi work options & child care support, etc – having a holistic approach to developing overall safe work cultures helps in fostering diversity, gender equity at work,” says Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO – SHEROES.
SHEROES is India’s first women-only community platform that aims to resolve day-to-day challenges faced by women.
Promote genuine inclusivity
Babita Baruah, Managing Partner, GTB believes that inclusivity has a direct, proven correlation with productivity. She has been a part of JWT’s Worldwide Diversity Council and Women Leadership Team. Mentoring women at work is very close to her heart, and she has initiated programmes at the workplace as well as spoken in industry forums on how women can be encouraged to work.
She says, “It is not a good-to-have people initiative, but a core strategy for an organisational culture. Inclusivity leads to equality of thought, perceptions, status. It leads to diverse ideas and solutions. While gender is one part of inclusivity and there are many other equally important aspects, gender inclusivity is something I personally drive at work. In my opinion, numbers do not always reflect genuine inclusivity.
The question to ask is whether we see a healthy mix in key decision making roles or managing P&Ls or in domains like sales and finance. Are there leakages in the pyramid, leading to a glaring thinning of women leaders, while the entry level has a strong gender representation? Women leaders in senior leadership roles that can initiate changes in current culture, hierarchies, recruitment and promotions, opportunities on meritocracy, shift of values to embrace empathy, integrity along with performance, will be key to progressive change.”
When it comes to maternity breaks, organisations must complement the legislation to smoothen the transition back to workforce for these women. A leader in Enterprise Solutions, SAP Labs, has a comprehensive policy to support working mothers. From maternity leave to work-from-home options, and flexible working hours, and an in-houses childcare centre, it has covered it all. These initiatives have brought down the attrition rate among their women employees who take maternity leaves – from 40% to 4% now.
Goldman Sachs, too, has launched a Maternity Management Program that offers support services to women during their maternity leave, and after they return to work.
Need for a paradigm shift
Progressive companies are increasingly looking for ways to employ and empower more women at work – not just as a moral obligation, but also as a long-term business strategy. McKinsey’s ‘Delivering Through Diversity report’ found that corporates who embrace gender diversity on their executive teams were more competitive and 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.
It has been estimated that reducing the gender gap would add USD28 trillion to the value of the global economy by 2025 – a 26% increase. Moreover, companies and societies will grow when women gain greater financial independence.
Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) ‘We See Equal’ Campaign, which was designed to fight gender bias and work towards equality for all, depicted boys and girls defying gender stereotypes. The company has a history of addressing this issue effectively, and also has 45% of its managers and a third of its board as women.
Another program, High-Tech Women Rise by Accenture’s Advanced Technology Centers, saw great success. It seeks to help women build long-term careers in the tech industry. In this program, accomplished women who have shown immense potential in the past, and who are in their mid-career levels are identified and trained to be certified as ‘Technical Architects’.
According to PwC research, IT-BPM companies are increasingly understanding the importance of customising their programmes and initiatives to suit the changing needs of women employees across different stages of their career.
A diverse and inclusive business makes companies, and society stronger. Today, women need what men have had for years—a strong and reliable support network, both within and outside the organisation. “As we start this new decade I am optimistic that together we can make this the decade in which we empower women to achieve more.
Allyship can be an immense multiplier here. Being an ally means making intentional decisions to understand, empathize and act in support of the inclusion of women at work. We all get a chance to be an ally every day and so this International’s women’s day I’m choosing to be more deliberate about being an Ally. My encouragement is to find a way in which you can commit to something that you will do to further the cause of inclusion of women in the workplace,” adds Ira Gupta.
Passionate about women empowerment, Shilpa Sharma, co-Founder, Jaypore and Creative Entrepreneur and Curator, asserts, “We women need to learn to manoeuver their way in a male dominated world. We must speak our mind, not wall ourselves off from conflicts or succumb. We must just be bold about who we are.”
In the workplace, the critical issue is finding the right mix to help women simultaneously realise their personal and professional ambitions. If this dream is achieved, it will be Women’s Day every single day!
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