Five crucial lessons to build inclusive workplaces for women to thrive

Determining what inclusivity really means to the workforce, especially to women employees, and designing a strategic approach to inclusion will hold the organisation in good stead

Updated: Mar 8, 2021 05:21:39 PM UTC

Seema Padman is Vice President, Human Resources at Epsilon – India & APAC

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Covid-19 disrupted the world of work, amplified socio-economic, race, and gender inequities, and revealed many startling facts about women in the workforce. Data shows that women have lost more jobs than men, and the inequality at home has made women mentally, emotionally, and physically more vulnerable. It’s also believed that women will be more likely to experience long-term setbacks in workforce participation and income, as we make a move towards recovery.

The gendered implications of this crisis make it imperative for organisational leaders to prioritise inclusion right now, more than ever before. Organisations today need to be smarter and empathetic, by seeking input from a wide range of under-represented groups and voices, especially of women. According to a recent report, nearly 82 percent of women surveyed, said their lives have been negatively disrupted by the pandemic; about 70 percent of women who have experienced these disruptions are concerned that their career growth may be limited as a result.

Covid-19 ushered in circumstances under which, the way women work and live have drastically changed. It also brought with it unprecedented pressures that re-wrote the rules of work-life balance. As Stephen Frost says, “Unless you consciously include, you will unconsciously exclude.” So how are organisations gearing up to this challenge and supporting women employees?

Here are five crucial diversity and inclusion lessons to build inclusive workplaces for women to thrive:

Designing for inclusion
Being inclusive in our actions is easier said than done. Inclusion is an outcome of conscious, structural and behavioural changes. Organisations must invest in designing systems, initiatives, cultures, technologies, policies, and workplaces that are based on behavioural insights that can result in inclusive outcomes. For example, companies could relook at their onboarding process. Instead of making it a one-sided presentation about what is expected, how employees should behave, and ramping up new hires, inclusive companies and teams can view it differently and get to know their new joiners, their strengths, and give them space to settle in. Ask new hires to take a problem-solving assessment and share results with their managers who can use these insights to adapt the onboarding program which is a pivotal moment to make employees feel like they belong.

Men as allies
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is now predicting that we may have to wait another 257 years before achieving full gender equity at the workplace. Despite men being the vast majority of managers and executives, they are often left out of diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations. It is important to personalise men’s participation in diversity and inclusion (D&I) agendas and enable them to be integral stakeholders and allies.

Personalising inclusion
Everyone is unique with diverse perspectives, specialised knowledge, and skills. So, would it be fair to expect all employees to operate in the same way and thrive in the same kind of environment? For women too, no one journey is the same, be it for single, or married women, those on a career pause, w, or those at home or at work. Work, workplaces, and initiatives need to be customised and personalised to their physical and psychological well-being. This encourages them to truly bring their authentic selves to work and be successful. For inclusion to succeed, it will help to put people and experiences at the heart of it. It will help men be more aware and understand challenges that women face at the workplace and in turn, inspire action.

Make inclusion a core value
According to an industry report, 80 percent of respondents say inclusion is an important factor in choosing an employer. At a time when there are global conversations around inclusion, companies must embrace inclusivity as a cornerstone of their foundation. Determining what inclusivity really means to the workforce, especially to women employees, and designing a strategic approach to inclusion will hold the organisation in good stead.

Create accountability
Oftentimes, D&I programs fail or do not take off when leaders at the top do not embrace diversity and inclusion. Research shows that inclusive leaders demonstrate six key traits: commitment, courage, cognisance of bias, curiosity, cultural intelligence, and collaboration. Practicing these behaviors can foster a more inclusive work environment during Covid-19, and in the long-term.

Multiple studies and reports have highlighted how the feeling of being included enhances employee productivity and promotes an innovative mindset. This mindset is found to be six times higher at workplaces that have truly inclusive cultures. If you had to do the math, an innovative mindset, if raised by 10 percent worldwide, the global GDP could increase by up to $8 trillion by 2028. Bringing in more women in leadership roles can shape the culture of the organisation to be more empowering and create a sense of belongingness. Overcoming conscious and unconscious biases in recruitment processes, promotions, pay hikes, performance management systems, and leadership development programs would significantly increase the organisation’s ability to create a truly inclusive culture. And the time to embark on that journey is now.

The writer is Vice President, Human Resources at Epsilon – India & APAC

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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