Need of the hour: Family-focused policies to help advance gender parity at a faster pace

Creating a workplace and an economy that acknowledges the demands of caregiving can help ensure our post-Covid-19 recovery for issues relating to women returning to the workforce

Updated: Feb 11, 2022 02:24:36 PM UTC
Defeating gender biases is critical to achieving parity in the workplace. Image: Shutterstock

Over the years, as the nature of the workforce has evolved, the workplace too has changed. It’s been influenced by the complex changes in societal structure, polity, global mobility, the advent of technology, and arguably, how we approach work today. In this context, one element is undeniable, our conscious and constant approach to further diversity, inclusion, and equity.

In my experience as a talent leader, the business case for having more women in leadership positions is clear. I have witnessed the different perspectives and drive that women bring to the table. Yet even before the pandemic—which disproportionately affected women professionals—there were barriers to women’s advancement to leadership roles. Across the world, women have low representation in leadership positions. This is measured using the female-to-male ratio and worldwide, fewer than four women hold leadership positions compared to every ten men in business and politics. The numbers are further skewed in the Asia-Pacific, where only one woman is in a leadership position for every four men.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, it has been observed that women across the world are leaving the workforce. But this crisis also signifies opportunity. If organisations nurture a culture where women have equal opportunity and make substantial investments in building a more empathetic and flexible workplace, more women will stay back. As leaders, it is our responsibility to be more committed than ever to continue advancing gender parity despite the challenges that have surfaced this year.

Women want real leadership opportunities and want their job to fit well with other areas of their life, enjoy what they do and have an opportunity to make a difference. Women are calling to abolish sexism and offer gender parity in pay, experiences, and opportunities for success.

In the 25 years of my career, I have observed that businesses that show a commitment to gender parity, tend to attract and retain better talent. Yet, it isn’t always reflected in companies’ culture and policies. This, in turn, affects job satisfaction, employee loyalty and the rate of attrition.

From what I see, companies do not have the necessary systems, technologies, and concrete gender parity metrics to measure progress. Simply using superficial metrics such as counting the proportion of female employees does not give a clear picture. Instead, organisations should focus on more concrete aspects such as:

  • For what reasons do women leave?
  • What are the organisational initiatives undertaken to support and nurture a culture of flexibility?
  • Have the investments in talent programs been effective in addressing diversity and inclusion?

It is my firm belief that women belong at all levels of decision making. When we create an inclusive workforce, we can close the gender gap and enable everyone to achieve the progress that they deserve. In doing so, we ensure that we help women to grow, but also help the organisation to grow holistically. In today’s dynamic environment, organisations mustn’t just focus on quantitative growth but also on qualitative growth that ensures companies establish long-term social and financial value for their people and clients.

Gender parity, according to me, is the incomplete business of the twenty-first century, so we must do our bit to bring parity into our homes and workplaces irrespective of our gender. As they say, charity begins at home—let’s not discriminate between our co-workers based on their gender. An organisation must help its employees grow by providing them with a chance to prove themselves without bias or unfairness.

Let’s ensure that our messaging and narratives support gender parity and our actions can back up to what we promise our people. If everyone does its bit, the workplace can be a better place to thrive and prove one’s worth irrespective of gender.

Defeating gender biases is critical to achieving parity in the workplace. As a person who has grown up in India and is privy to its culture, I have personally seen that attitudes regarding women’s role as primary family caregivers are key reasons that women undertake a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work, choose to step out of the workforce, and face conscious and unconscious discrimination in the workplace. While this is not just an Indian problem, it is more predominant in the Asia-Pacific landscape.

There is little doubt that millions of women have faced an economic setback due to leaving the workforce in the past year. The global economy will miss out unless these women return to the workforce. During this time, companies can drive forward on family-focused policies that will help advance gender parity at a faster pace.

Creating a workplace and an economy that acknowledges the demands of caregiving can help ensure our post-Covid-19 recovery for issues relating to women returning to the workforce. Expanding access to affordable and high-quality childcare and providing a well-thought-out return to work policies for women are essential if companies need to bring back women long-term.

Lastly, at an individual level and an organisational level in our work to advance parity, diversity, and inclusion, I think it’s important to ask ourselves, “How can I serve as an ally for these important causes?” Our thoughts will only see fruition when we hold ourselves accountable to see meaningful culture change.

The writer is Global Talent and Enablement Services Leader, EY GDS.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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