How Can India Inc. Walk The Talk On Truly Including Women At Work?

Diversity and Inclusion are becoming buzzwords in industry circles. Here we unpack what needs to be done in practice.

Diversity and Inclusion are becoming buzzwords in industry circles. Here we unpack what needs to be done in practice.

Diversity and Inclusion (D & I) are symbiotic terms that can mean a lot of things to different people. The scope may not necessarily be confined to the commonplace understanding in terms of gender specific D & I but can also refer to other parameters including language, color, race and geographical origin.

However, without being awed by its inherent subjectivity and overarching reach, let us understand D & I as a progressive concept that envisages a larger role for women in workplaces.

An equitable and inclusive workplace ensures a happy work culture, automatically resulting in greater productivity, which is once again, great news for the organization!

While a few well-known names of women who head banks, MNCs and PSUs come to mind instantly, we certainly have a long way to go. While women constitute 48.5% of India’s population, only 27% women participate in the work force.

I recently had the opportunity to attend D&I Logues, an event organized by Catalyst, a non-profit organization that works to further the inclusion of women at work. This left me with many learnings as well as thoughts on what is truly needed to exponentially raise the presence of women at work in India.

What should India Inc. do to structurally inculcate D & I into the workplace?

How should India Inc. get down to executing D & I?

Well, there are a couple of interesting and extremely doable solutions. We must remember that the numerous structural ways of ensuring that a company is D & I healthy assumes the motto – it takes each of us to make a change for all of us.

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So let’s get started with seven organizational solutions!

First, the prerequisite for the success for any D & I initiative is the active engagement of men in every conversation. Pair men with women mentors. Organizations must provide men with generous paternity leave. The change always begins at home.

Second, male managers must not be given the responsibility for hiring at least at the initial two to three entry levels of the organization. On the contrary, managers must be held accountable for hiring and retention of female employees. This will ensure two things. One – the organization will have a proportionate employee gender balance at the initial stage. And two – once hired, it will be the manager’s responsibility to ensure that the journey up the corporate ladder is as gender neutral as can be!

Third, apart from holding regular inclusive leadership activities, organizations must conduct workshops especially for men duly led by men. Such workshops should not just ‘sensitize’ the male workforce, but encourage them to ‘appreciate’ the genuinely varied nature of women’s experiences.

Fourth, mentoring and going a step further, ‘sponsorship’ can truly help in empowering women in their careers. Research has shown that women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. Though mentoring is good, it is not enough to help women advance. Sponsorship is a more influential, professional relationship that has greater benefit for career progression. The sponsor is responsible for promoting the woman employee’s talent and making it visible.

Fifth, managers must be made accountable to not just monitor performance of the employees assigned to them, but be accountable to act as a supporter of the employee’s career. Just as a woman’s ownership of her own career is important, similarly, accountability of the manager for the development of her career is equally important.

Sixth, create and identify people in the organization who can serve as role models for women employees. Many a times, in a weak moment, all that a woman needs is another inspirational woman who says, “Don’t worry…it is a passing phase…I have also gone through it”.

Seventh, engage with a consulting organization outside the company, utilize their subject matter expertise and specialist help, and collaboratively work towards bringing about the necessary transformation.

The HSBC-YSC partnership co-creating commendable D & I impact!

At D&I Logues, I had the chance to listen to a session on a partnership between HSBC Bank and YSC, a premier leadership consultancy, enabling the implementation of the ASCEND program.

Three years back, HSBC faced a major issue – a realization that they were producing excellent women managers but no women leaders. So they got their leadership together and engaged YSC to help generate more awareness around women in HSBC with respect to their strengths, their aspirations and inhibitions that were holding them back.

Over time, YSC and HSBC evolved certain macro themes that stood out in common for all the women. Based on those themes, YSC crafted specific workshops and began working with two groups of 60 identified women of HSBC with variable years of experience.

Apart from tools like action learning and peer to peer coaching, the most significant ingredient of the program was involvement of senior management in the programs and workshops at each stage. The workshops helped women to frame their careers and deal with unconscious bias.

The impact of the ASCEND program was evident. One, 70% of the targeted women underwent a change in role – a promotion or a lateral move or a horizontal move. Two, taking a step ahead, it was also realized that growth was not all about promotion. It was about dealing with complexity and challenges, and that was highly satisfying. And three, it also led to empowerment of the targeted women in a unique way. Because each woman now knew 60 other women in the organization who she could approach and network with, she was not an entity by herself but part of a larger group, which was psychologically empowering!

What about change at the individual level?

I also believe that a very important step towards attainment of D & I, apart from the above seven structural solutions, lies at an individual level which is – “Ladies – please assert yourselves!” Seek and ye shall find! Demand your rightful place! But yes, make yourself excellent first!

I am of the strong belief that we, as women, must congratulate ourselves for having reached this far…We have broken traditions, we have moved out of our homes, we have taken up jobs and we create our own independent identities. However, we must not stop at this.

While D & I is not about fixing the women, but about fixing the workplace, yet, we must be aware that while every career woman is a working woman, every working woman may not be a career woman! There is a significant difference between the two.

A career driven woman does not compromise with her dreams easily. When confronted with the quintessential question of maintaining work-life balance, she bravely find her moments of truth and makes time for it. She is aspirational. She is unapologetically ambitious. She is mindful that she is privileged to be able to make choices to do what she wants with her life.

Thus, while organizations and stakeholders perform D & I activities, women – please remember – courage, resilience, commitment and the strong will to move forward, have to come from within. The beginning and the end of every D & I lies in your own DNA!

Interested in learning more about Diversity & Inclusion in practice, and how to make it happen in your own team or organisation?

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About the Author

Anusha Singh

I am a corporate communications consultant, columnist, and former lawyer. I help organisations speak to their stakeholders effectively. read more...

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