A Woman On Maternity Leave Is NOT On Holiday – Is Gender Diversity In Corporates Still A Myth?

Posted: September 12, 2019

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Is the ‘diversity drive’ in corporates truly being taken in the spirit to increase women’s inclusion, or is it only limited to slogans and getting the prescribed numbers right?

The last thirty years have seen women participation in corporate workforce increase substantially. A 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 McKinsey study on workplace diversity

A recent McKinsey study on women in the workplace suggests that women hold only 38% of manager positions. This 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 and eventually only 22% of women are in C-suite executive roles. While this may only be a sample, the trend it points toward 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.

What does diversity mean?

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. Mind-sets have to change and women should be treated at par with their male counterparts.

Having children and managing homes while working are seen as additional impediments. Instead it should be recognised 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’.

Gossip and everything else women have to suffer

There are often different expectations from women when assigning projects and evaluating performance. Social mores and pressures are hard to break. It reminds me of when Sania Mirza was asked as soon as she got married, “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.

What managers need to understand

Companies would do well to introspect what real gender diversity should mean. It is important that male managers consider the following:

  1. A woman on maternity leave is not on a holiday
  2. Women opting to work from home after a baby is as committed
    and productive as her counterparts in office.
  3. A woman seeking flexibility in work is no less ambitious or capable
  4. Women are not subjects of gossip

These attitudes sometimes are apparent but there are times, they may be sub-consciously playing on minds leading to discrimination and harassment.

Isn’t it time these things changed for women?

It is critical that people are sensitised on these aspects and the tone from the top reflects in actual conduct what policies state in theory. Both male and female leaders should champion this cause within organisations and be agents of change.

Gender diversity is a noble goal but measuring it has to move from mere statistics to an actual ‘seat at the table’ for women. That can only happen where mental barriers break down and actions speak louder than words.

Image credits: Pixabay

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Prerna Wahi worked in the corporate world for 7 years. In the past few years,

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