Corporate India Goes Full Steam to Improve Gender Diversity

FAIR POWER ALL THE WAY While companies are increasingly looking at having more women representation in boardrooms, they are also including men in gender-diversity policies to create a more balanced leadership at workplace

India Inc has aggressively pushed to close the gender gap and improve diversity this year, not because it is the thing to do, but because having women across management levels makes business sense.

Also, a mandate from the new Company Law and Sebi to have at least one woman on board has prompted companies to look for women representation in boardrooms and create a pipeline of women at senior levels.

“For gender diversity, while the improvements will be systemic, the acceptance will be personal,“ says Nishchae Suri, partner and head of people and change practice, KPMG in India.While culture and values at an organisational level will drive group actions for fostering gender diversity, Suri foresees an increase in the number of senior leaders who will own the agenda, narrate their experiences and champion tangible action.

Similarly, the top five gender diversity trends forecast for 2015 include an increase in the number of women hires at every level, inclusion of men in gender policies, arresting the leaking pipeline of women leaders, raising awareness of unconscious biases, and focus on CEO-led or government-mandated gender strategy.

Numbers To Grow

With an increasing percentage of women in its customer mix, telecommunications company Vodafone will hire more women across levels and functions -general management, sales, marketing, finance, technology, legal and human resources, distribution and retail, enterprise and mobile banking.

“Over the past two years we focused intensely on becoming gender balanced and moved from having 14% women in our workforce to 20% today. This focus will continue in 2015,“ says Ashok Ramchandran, director, HR, Vodafone India. The company’s Discover Graduate programme, under which it hires from business schools and technology institutes, focuses on 50% women hires at the entry-level. This, too, will continue, he adds.

At the Tata Group, the Group Executive Council is committed to double the count of women to over 300,000 from the existing 115,000 in the 540,000-strong workforce. The group has also stated its objective to develop 1,000 women leaders from this workforce.

“It’s a two-step process that looks to counter the unconscious bias as well as policy shortfalls,“ says Richa Tripathi, chief human resource officer, Tata Teleservices.

Programmes like Tata Second Career Internship -a career transition management programme for women professionals -should see more replication at individual companies, she adds. The programme is for women who have taken a break of six months or more and wish to reenter the professional space. Such women get an opportunity to take on flexi-hour assignments with various Tata Group companies.

Male Advocacy

The New Year will also see more companies including men in gender-diversity policies, a step forward from gender-only to genderneutral policies at the workplace.

“When you talk `gender’, you are being exclusive. But if you position it as a `balanced leadership’ pro gramme, you envelop the entire employee base,“ says Gayathri Ramamurthy, lead, diversity and inclusion, Capgemini India.

Inclusion of men in furthering the cause of women will see the emergence of male sponsors or mentors for the cause of womn en at the workplace, home and society, says Nishchae Suri, party ner and head of people and change practice. and change practice.

Srimathi Shivashankar, assistant vice-president, diversity and sustainability, HCL Technologies, agrees. “It is impossible to foster a work environment where women are respected and recognised without considering the viewpoints and outlook of the gender working beside them,“ she says.

Arresting The Leaking Pipeline

Companies will increasingly aim to arrest the leaking pipeline of women at every level, by strengthening policies that support women in critical life stages of pregnancy and childcare.

The life stages women face during the ages of 28 to 40 will need proactive corporate support, says Ramamurthy. “While companies are more sensitised today, organisational dynamics bring in natural challenges as women handle the dual roles of work and home,“ she adds.

Vodafone India, through its Pathways to Success career series, helps women in the middle management to focus on their careers, make the right choices in sync with their life stages, be aware of the glass ceiling and negotiate their way through, and build a personal brand.

Technology has arrested the loss of talent amongst the women workforce, and the trend will be leveraged further in the coming year.

“Organisations have started recognising the productivity and cost benefits of using digital channels, which have opened up opportunities for both the genders in several industries,“ says Manoj Biswas, managing director, human resources, Accenture India. Biswas cites the example of consulting, wherein technology allows young mothers to mitigate challenges of travel and meet demands of a client-centric role.

Reskilling women to enable them to return to work after sabbaticals and other personal commitments will also be crucial. “The focus here is to work on the 50,000 women who quit jobs for personal reasons in the information technology industry and bring this to a much lower count,“ says Shivashankar.

CEO-led Gender Strategy

For a diversity strategy to succeed over the long-term, organisations must accept it’s a complex issue, debate and test the business case for it, and develop a CEO-led communications platform to set the agenda. People listen to “what CEOs say, what we prioritise, how we act and what we measure“, says Raj Raghavan, director, human resources, Amazon India.

Unconscious Biases Capgemini this year used theatre as a tool to break into behavioural bias and create awareness. “We have found, through experience, project managers who have been sensitised to unconscious bias becoming more empathetic; independent of gender of the manager,“ says Ramamurthy.

The aim is to root it out from source.“Go looking for bias. Hunt it out without expecting punishment. You’ll get insights and more value,“ says Raghavan of Amazon India.

Source: The Economic Times ( Mumbai)

Date: 30th December,2014

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