The real change: What gender diversity needs

In the workplace, the critical issue is finding the right mix of push and pull to help women simultaneously realise their personal and professional ambitions

Published: 14, Mar 2019

Karthik Nagendra is the CEO of ThoughtStarters, Co-founder- Pink Ladder, Management consultant, Life Coach, & Mentor.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The recent World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report says that gender parity is over 200 years away. And, we need to drive home the urgency, of progressing gender equality—in society and at the workplace. In this context, it’s heartening to know that achieving gender parity is on the CEO agenda, globally. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of conversation on diversity and inclusion (D&I), both within companies and externally. This is the first step—acknowledging that there is a problem that needs attention.

However, organisations cannot approach the D&I agenda with a ‘check box’ approach. It needs to be embedded through the organisational DNA and integrated tightly across the talent-management lifecycle. At the same time, women too need to work towards furthering the cause.

What’s holding women back?
A recent research carried out by Pink Ladder (a gender diversity enablement company) to gauge the Confidence Index of women professionals in India, throws up some interesting statistics. While 80 percent of women professionals in India aspire to become CXOs, over 70 percent of them don’t have a clear career strategy to align to these aspirations, and shockingly, over 60 percent women professionals feel they lack the skills needed to take on CXO-level positions.

To move ahead within organisations, especially in a high-performance culture, women need to identify and capitalise on every opportunity to make themselves visible. However, the Pink Ladder survey highlights that only 30 percent women are comfortable in promoting their achievements and improving their personal brand internally within the organisation. Public speaking (internally and externally), which is an important part of senior-level roles, is also being given the short shrift with only 40 percent women comfortable with this skill.

Building the organisational framework
Organisations need to embed and drive the gender diversity agenda from the top down. Leaders looking at building truly diverse and inclusive organizations need to first have in place the right organisational framework to support gender diversity. Here are a few areas to focus on: » Equal Opportunity (EO) Policy: A good place to start is to put in place a robust EO policy that clearly states zero tolerance for any biased decision making based on gender, disability, sexual orientation, and so on. Equally important is to walk the talk on communicating and role modeling behaviors.

» Women and Maternity: The legislation in many countries including India now is supportive of women in terms of getting the well-deserved break because of maternity.  However, organisations need to complement the law by having systems in place to smoothen the transition back to the workforce for these women.

» Making diversity part of business: As we’ve mentioned before, it is imperative to get the line and business leaders to take personal accountability to lead D&I and have them leverage HR more as an internal consultant in driving the change.

» Male champions: D&I management cannot be a movement “by women and for women” only. To make it truly inclusive, organisations need to identify and cultivate male champions of change.

Managing socio-cultural issues and unconscious bias
While the above are initiatives companies can take in a more direct manner, focused action is needed to address socio-cultural challenges and to prevent unconscious bias stemming from these issues.

For example, the issue of high-potential women professionals leaving the workforce early on in their careers. Especially in emerging markets like India where the socio- cultural environment plays a very important role. Offering benefits such as childcare centers, while important, are not enough. Effort needs to be made in building an ‘intentional career mindset’ among emerging women leaders. Focus needs to be on achieving gender balance through organic growth, and that requires a transformational mindset and tremendous change management.

Unconscious bias is really the bedrock of an organisation’s D&I strategy. It is deep rooted in the socio-cultural context of where organisations operate. So, when we say ‘remove’ unconscious bias, we are, in many ways, talking about undoing the very social conditioning and ethos that employees bring with themselves into the workplace. It is a mammoth cultural mindset transformation journey. What organisations can do, realistically, is chipping at the block through iterative communications, awareness building, education and training, rewards and recognition systems and the like.

Creating and leveraging the support ecosystems
To succeed, women need what men have had of years—a strong and reliable support network, both within and outside the organisation. These networks support and reinforce a woman’s self-belief and self-advocacy. This external support system can be provided through a blend of workplace interventions and personal relationships and coaching. In the workplace, the critical issue is finding the right mix of push and pull to help women simultaneously realise their personal and professional ambitions.

In the workplace, for example, it is a great idea to create a women’s network or provide mentors and coaches to guide them by providing individual recommendations to build resilience, overcome negative challenges holding them back, and so on, go a long way.

Sharing and learning from success stories
In India, the technology industry has been the most visible one in driving the diversity agenda. However, we also have a lot of organisations from other industries such as healthcare, banking, retail, and so on, which are effective in their approach, and should share best practices and success stories with each other to ensure we are able to make a real impact towards reducing the gender diversity gap.

The author is a CEO of ThoughtStarters, co-founder- Pink Ladder, management consultant, life coach, and mentor.

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