The last thirty years have seen women participation in corporate workforce increase substantially. Lot of companies profess the virtues of diversity and commitment to inclusive hiring with particular focus on women. I wonder though, if this is reduced only to slogans and limited to getting the numbers right? Or are companies truly making an effort to build an ‘equal opportunity’ workplace.
A recent McKinsey study on women in the workplace suggests that women hold only 38% of manager positions and that percentage keeps reducing as they move up to higher positions. The same study says for every 100 men promoted to manager-level roles, only 79 women moved up into similar roles. Eventually only 22% of women are in C-suite executive roles. While this may only be a sample, the trend it points to is worrisome.
Research shows that diversity at work leads to better innovation, productivity, creativity and consequently improved financial results. From my discussions with women friends working in leading MNCs around the world, I learnt that some companies are actively working on ‘all in’ initiative as lack of workforce diversity affects performance.
There are many programs to encourage investment in diversity. But to make meaningful progress, companies have to move beyond simply hiring women to showcase diversity. Diversity is not just about getting the gender ratio right. We need to change mind-sets and treat women at par with their male counterparts. There are often different expectations from females when assigning projects and evaluating performance. Having children and managing homes while working are seen as additional impediments rather than being recognized as skills of multi-tasking and managing priorities including a career. Often these guilt ridden women end up working harder to cover up for lost time in office since they have to leave on time compared to their male colleagues who are networking ‘after hours’.
Social mores and pressures are hard to break. As soon as Sania Mirza got married, she was asked, “When are you going to ‘settle down’?” Promotion of a woman is also gossip and rarely acknowledged as a reward for merit. In these circumstances, filling a workplace with women but not creating an environment where they can succeed is an even bigger injustice. Companies would do well to introspect what real gender diversity should mean? It is important that male managers consider the following:
A woman on maternity leave is not on a holiday
A woman opting to work from home after a baby is no less committed
or productive than her counterparts seen in office.
Women seeking flexibility in work are no less ambitious or capable
Women are not objects of gossip
These attitudes sometimes are apparent but many times may be sub-consciously playing on minds leading to discrimination and harassment.
It is critical that the tone from the top reflects in actual conduct what policies state in theory. Leaders should sensitize people on these aspects. Both male and female leaders should champion this cause within organizations and be agents of change. Gender diversity is a noble goal but measuring it has to move from mere statistics to actual ‘seat at the table’ for our women. That can only happen where mental barriers break down and actions speak louder than words.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this write-up.