‘The importance of Gender Diversity at workplace’ is one of those issues that are often spoken about in conferences, reiterated in survey findings, and yet seldom are a priority unless there is a mandatory obligation for companies to comply with.
With the exception of a handful of countries such as Norway, New Zealand, Iceland, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, Philippines, women are generally under-represented in the corporate sector in a large number of countries all over the world.
Even in the Tech companies that are known to promote employee friendly culture, diversity remains an issue. Google admittedly has a gender gap, so has Facebook. LinkedIn, too would like to improve its gender diversity numbers says the company’s Vice President of global talent, Pat Wadors. Twitter was criticized for filing the I.P.O. without a single woman on the board, subsequent to which it appointed Marjorie Scardino as the first woman director to its board.
Among the factors that hinder gender parity at workplaces, ‘Cultural Inertia’ emerges as a predominant reason that holds back the adoption of gender diversity practices.
In Japan, for instance, women have been identified as the most under-utilized resources. A traditionally conservative country, Japan did not encourage its women to remain in full time employment, notwithstanding their high level of education. Faced with the problem of an ageing population and shrinking workforce, Japan is now waking up to the fact that utilization of women talent pool is crucial for the revitalization of its economy. ‘Womenomics’, a term coined by Kathy Matsui in 1999, now forms a vital component of Abenomics, the set of economic reforms advocated by the Prime Minister Shinjo Abe.
India Inc. too has a long way to go for bridging the gender gap at workplace. In India, while entry is easier and a reasonable percentage of entry level positions are filled by women, the percentage of women declines sharply as we move up the ranks. What happens in between the levels is an oft-repeated story.
Owing to the absence of trusted care takers and lack of adequate infrastructure to support working from home, a number of women opt out of work after maternity to take care of domestic responsibilities. This even includes highly educated women like Engineers, Doctors and PhDs. Many of these competent women with career aspirations do not find enough opportunities to join back work. At the same time, even among those who manage to continue working with support from family members, many women find their career growth slowing down after a while. The lack of opportunities for women to progress within the organizations, combined with a firmly entrenched patriarchal mindset results in a few women making it to the top echelons of the corporate sector.
Only 7% of the director positions are held by women in India. This percentage is quite small as compared to Norway where women hold around 41% of the board seats. To facilitate the presence of women in the Boards in Indian companies, The Companies Act 2013, has made it mandatory for listed Indian companies to have at least one woman in the boardroom. This has led to some companies organizing mentoring programs to groom women employees for Board positions.
Having women on boards can provide the push for gender diversity, particularly when selected from outside the owner – promoter families.
As gender diversity is strongly correlated with the corporate culture, besides affirmative policies and actions, managing gender diversity may also require a shift in corporate culture in order to make the workplace more conducive to the needs of working women.
Some basic practices that are pretty commonplace in many organisations are often not quite suitable for women employees.
An example that comes readily to my mind is that of managers expecting people to stay back late after office hours on a regular basis, more as a matter of habit than due to need. I recall, early in my career one of the bosses in a Leadership role in the company where I worked, would proudly acclaim ‘My boys work 24 X 7’. Overstaying after office hours was seen as a sign of commitment towards work, so people complied. Important meetings were mostly scheduled late in the evenings and often prolonged for hours together, which made it difficult for women, particularly those who had small children, to attend the meetings, resulting in them missing out on crucial developments.
While the extent to which productivity increased due to overstaying and having meetings after office hours on a regular basis cannot be ascertained, but the feeling of not being able to live up to management expectations was certainly a big de-motivator for women. Scheduling important meetings within the office hours could have increased the participation of women in meetings.
As the women also have the primary responsibility to look after the family, they have a higher demand on their time outside office. Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi’s recent statement ‘Women cannot have it all‘ sums up the struggle behind the balancing act that women have to maintain to juggle work and family.
If Management is sensitized to utilize their own time and that of their team effectively, it will work wonders for creating favorable environment for women at the workplace.
Identifying and changing habits that may not necessarily be productive but can be counterproductive in the long run due to the hurdles created for the women employees may help in improving employee engagement at work.
Creating favorable environment does not imply shielding women employees from responsibilities or not assigning important tasks to them. If women are not assigned important tasks or given higher responsibility, they lose out on the experience of executing those tasks and it hinders their professional development and career progress, as they may not develop the confidence to take up significant tasks due to the fear of not being able to perform on those.
To prepare women for performing in leadership roles, managers need to encourage women to take up important tasks while supporting them to fulfill the tasks.
Another front on which women miss out is the ability to network effectively within the organization. While Men often exchange views or discuss issues over a smoke or a drink, with peers from other departments, women often do not get sufficient avenues for networking, other than their immediate lunch group. As such they often miss out on information or awareness about opportunities that may be present within the organization.
Use of technology and social networks for sharing information to increase the exposure of all employees not only women, about industry trends, events and opportunities within the organization is a good option to look at. Though it will not replace the need for in–person presence or networking, but it can be useful to all and certainly of immense value to the women employees in any organization.
This, of course, is not an exhaustive list. I am sure you will have many other things to add on. The point I want to stress upon is that conscious efforts by the management to make such small shifts in corporate culture can go a long way towards creating equal opportunities for women at the work. Woman-talent pool, when leveraged, can bring different insights to organizations and result in innovation that is essential to sustainable business growth.
Lastly like any other Change Management initiative, Gender Diversity initiatives can be successful only when driven by the top management with the intent to achieve Gender Parity, rather than just checking the box.
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