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10 Actionable Steps On Gender Equality At Work Needed NOW: International Women’s Day 2022

As International Women's Day 2022 approaches, let us understand that we cannot sustain economic progress without taking concrete steps for gender equality at the workplace.

As International Women’s Day 2022 approaches, let us understand that we cannot sustain economic progress without taking concrete steps for gender equality at the workplace.

When I started my career in 1996, I was the only woman in my team. It is 2022 and I am still the only woman in my team. Has nothing changed in the area of gender inclusion and diversity in workplaces?

As International Women’s Day 2022 looms ahead, the snail-paced progress made in gender equality becomes starkly visible. This is due to discriminatory laws and social norms, which means that women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership and economic advancement.

Unless there are urgent, concrete steps taken immediately on making workspaces more gender equitable, it would be hard for economic and societal progress to remain sustainable in the long run.

However, conversation on gender equality cannot be limited to women alone and must consider all minority and marginalised genders.

One of the greatest deterrent to women’s empowerment is patriarchy and hence quite obviously, countries that have regressive social norms have the least representation of women in work spaces. A UN report mentions that in 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working. It is unfortunate that no country gets a perfect score on women’s workplace equality but Australia comes closest with 94.9 out of 100.

So what can be actually done about this at ground level in the Indian context?

Access to employment for women is dependent on many factors, ranging from economic and political conditions to the social fabric of a country. Let’s look at some of the generic but concrete, actionable steps we can take to ensure workplace gender equality is made sustainable, and that this gender equality in turn makes economic progress sustainable.

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Safety at work; and to-and-from work

That it took #MeToo in 2018 to tighten our laws around workplace sexual harassment is not just disappointing, but horrifying.

While the Vishaka Guidelines have been in force in India from 1997, Metoo revealed that most large and reputed companies weren’t serious about women’s safety at the workplace. POSH is now a mandate in all organisations however data still suggests that many sexual harassment cases go unreported. If we need representation of all genders in economic and political arenas, we must urgently ensure the safety of women everywhere.

Safety is not only protection from sexual harassment at workplaces but also physical safety in transit to and from home.

While the world shrinks geographically and jobs catering to overseas countries open up in different shifts, are women given equal access to these or do safety concerns prevent them from seeking out these opportunities? Are all companies ensuring safe transit for women, with periodic, stringent checks on service providers who ferry them back and forth? These questions deserve answers if we want to celebrate International Women’s Day 2022 as a milestone in gender equality.

Meaningful diversity reservation; not just on paper

While most companies follow some form of gender diverse recruitement, let’s look at the gaps that continue to exist today.

  • We still have a long way to go to ensure non-binary and trans people form a part of the workforce. We continue to attempt to attempt to empower cis women while largely ignoring other marginalized genders.
  • Even only considering cis women, we have a gender gap in STEM and in other male dominated fields of construction and manufacturing. Women are poorly represented in leadership and decision making roles in politics and business. Global surveys and research shows that companies who recruit more women inherently leverage the large pool of talent available. Women in leadership positions are critical to furthering economic, social and political progress for all.
  • Hiring of homemakers into the corporate world will open up an untouched pool of talent that until now, has not just displayed excellent leadership and management skills at homes but has been kept away from rightful remuneration and advancement. A leading private sector Indian bank has launched a special hiring drive for housewives, as an inspirational concept. The same bank has a gender non conforming person heading their diversity function, which has led to many people from marginalized genders being given an opportunity to be amalgamated into the workforce
  • It is unfortunate that while we are weeks away from International Women’s Day 2022, women are still being kept away from STEM, believing that they are better equipped to handle only nurturing roles like nursing. Reservation to ensure a minimum number of women qualify for seats in engineering colleges, and by extension engineering and manufacturing jobs would ensure that the talent that has been excluded up until now is acknowledged and recognised.

Attrition of women employees

Attrition of women from the workforce is an alarming issue. Despite entry level recruitment being high, how many women continue to reach mid and senior levels?

Women attrite because a disproportionate amount of the domestic load is on them. Not to mention child bearing and child care responsibilities. Gender based discrimination for upward mobility leading to the glass ceiling in corporates is a real problem as well. As a result of which we find abysmally low representation of women in mid and senior levels.

Universal access to reproductive and mental health

If we want to truly embody the International Women’s Day 2022 in spirit, women’s reproductive health needs to be given the importance it deserves in workplace policies, and the below immediate measures taken –

It is the right of every woman to have access to proper and easily available independent health care – for the prevention of or care required for pregnancy and motherhood. This should include insurance covers for all reproductive procedures, as well as post operative and post delivery care, both physical and mental.

Postpartum depression is a silent monster that is still not recognized as valid depression, requiring treatment and empathy.

Necessary & sufficient maternity leave – and paternity leave

Maternity leave for live births, still births, miscarriages, abortions, adoption, surrogate motherhood should be a right. As should be the reimbursement of any costs incurred for any of these.

In comparison to countries like the US that has provision for an abysmal 8 weeks of maternity leave, in India it was extended to 26 weeks in 2017 – a good step. Unfortunately, Paternity leave as a concept isn’t wide spread in corporates yet. Child care cannot be foisted singularly on women and men need to be held accountable for the care of the child.

In addition, all genders must be given the opportunity to take leaves for a child’s illness, innoculations, PTM meetings etc. Even wide spread training by corporates on fatherhood and creating policies that prevent shaming of fathers who need time off to care for their partner or child, would be helpful. Cess must be provided to mental health professionals, counsellors, and therapists at the workplace with a cover of all costs.

Child care access at the workplace

One of the main reasons for women to attrite from workplaces is the pressure of childcare on them. Societies that place the burden of child care solely on the shoulders of the women do have a lower employment rate for women and are predominantly patriarchal societies.

While it may take decades to change the social fabric of a country, organizations can have policies in place that would encourage women to return to work post delivery.

Many organisations have in-house creches that take care of the child while the woman works. This puts the mind of the mother at ease and improves her productivity.

Fostering a familial atmosphere, with allowances for women to bring their child to work or allowing for flexible hours and work from home options are other ways organisations can assist a woman with child care. The pandemic has established that it is indeed possible for people to work productively from their homes and what better time than this to instate policies of hybrid work models.

Educational support like reimbursement of the child’s fees etc would help the woman stay on in her job and while also lessening the financial burden on the woman.

Investment in professional development of women and marginalised genders

Research and data shows that most women invest little on their professional development after marriage and having children. How can they, when they carry the load of domesticity singularly and also work a full job?

There are organisations today that advance the cost of professional development for all employees in order to grow their individual skills. Women especially would benefit from these, if monetary concerns are a constraint, in addition to domestic obligations. Investment in development of leadership skills, core competencies and technical skills would have a direct impact on the increased representation of all marginalized genders in all job roles at senior levels as well.

It would bode well for both women employees and organisations to invest time and effort in coaching as well as training women on soft skills, confidence building and assertion so women are placed at the helm of decision making roles in politics, judiciary, academia and economics.

It would be a very good idea to have organically introduced awareness programmes that involve their families too – which could help in social awareness of those around these employees.

Direct financial investment and training

Financial awareness and managing money is an important first step for a woman’s independence but often times even working women are unable to own and control their own finances. A direct investment by employers in financial instruments benefitting women long term would be valuable. Coaching on managing finances independently would make women more self reliant.

Subsidies and aids on property purchase

More women need to utilize the options available to them to secure a roof over their heads. While home loans are available to all working persons, most times the EMIs are prohibitively high.

Organizations can bear the cost of down payments of homes owned singly by their women employees. This not only would encourage women to own homes, but would also contribute to the change in society in the long run. Too many women stay back in abusive relationships because the home they live in is not owned by them. The fear of being homeless is real. Organisations providing home assistance would also benefit by lower levels of attrition by their women employees.

Climbing the career ladder

Engaged people are less prone to attrite from an organization. That is true for women as well. Upward mobility is necessary to reaffirm a person’s worth as well as to keep her engaged and productive. While we have already discussed about representation in recruitment, some amount of reservation maybe needed in opportunities for upward and cross mobility.

When my son was 3 years old, there was an offer of a project in another city for 6 months. I wasn’t even considered because of the assumption that I would not want to leave my young child behind. However, since I had  a strong support system, I volunteered and not just got the project but also a promotion after. It is important to consider women as potential for all opportunities including those that are away from home or those that are in challenging circumstances.

International Women’s Day 2022 is not about roses, perfumes and chocolates. Capitalism has converted this too, to a lip service offering for one day a year while the other 364 days are spent without the privileges and access that are available to men. Like climate change that needs urgent intervention, organisations need to put in place all or at least many measures to reinstate women’s rights in workplaces immediately, so the economic and social progress we have made thus far is consolidated and sustainable in the years to come.

Image source: a still from the series The Office 

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About the Author

Poornima Kulathu

I am a banker, author, poet and an intersectional feminist. Speaking up on social issues, mentoring and coaching and cooking up a storm for friends and a certain strapping 21 year old boy are what read more...

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