In corporate India, we tend to believe that the representation of women in the workforce has improved, and the only hurdle we need to conquer is increase the representation of women in leadership positions. According to the World Bank estimates, women make up 48% of the India population and India has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world. Reports suggest that the female labour participation has fallen to 16% in 2020 from more than 26% in 2005 and 34% in 2000 and saw a marginal improvement in 2021. The equity issue needs to be tackled at a socio-economic level across the globe.
Apart from this, we need to have policy changes at the government and organisational levels that will arrest the prevalent practice of breaks, interruptions, and concessions women make for family and parenthood reasons in every stage of their career. Parenthood often represents an important breakpoint in the formation of “traditional” gender roles. Providing fathers with access to paid parental leave will encourage and enable men to take an active role in childcare from birth. Until this social bias of child-care responsibility is sorted, we have little hope to neutralise the knock-on effects, such as for women’s ability to build wealth and economic power.
People Matters interviewed Tania Chatterjee who is presently serving as Director - People & Transformation; India Lead - Inclusion, Wellbeing & Culture, India at NatWest Group. Awarded 'Top 100 Training & Development Leaders in India' and 'Top 100 Training & Development Minds' by World HRD Congress, Tania’s rich expertise as an HR Professional is drawn from her 21 years of cumulative experience as a strategic business partner in the areas of people, culture and organisation development.
She comes with extensive experience across Human Resource Partnering, Leadership Development, Diversity and Inclusion, Performance Management, Talent Management practices and Employee Relations. Tania also holds strong cross-geographical experience having worked with senior stakeholders and teams in India, US & UK, largely for leading Corporates in the Financial, Technology and FMCG business sectors.
Prior to her corporate career, Tania worked with an international NGO, affiliated to the UN, 'Initiatives of Change (IofC)' which is a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behavior, starting with their own. She attributes her professional ethics and career choices to her experience with IofC. Here are excerpts from the interview.
What are your top three DEI priorities for 2022?
The top three priorities for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and NatWest Group India are: (a). ensure consistent efforts to hire, develop, and advance women in leadership positions; (b). increase the representation of Persons with Disabilities (PWD) professionals and professionals from the LGBT+ community in our workforce; and (c). continue our commitment to explore ways in which we foster a great place to work for all colleagues to thrive, irrespective of age, gender, ability, and ethnicity.
What is the role of technology in accelerating the DEI agenda?
Technology is acting as a great enabler in progressing the DEI agenda. It is accelerating access to information, reducing the bias, removing infrastructure barriers, and empowering decision-making through analytics. All professionals, including those from under-represented communities, now have equal access to information about companies and open jobs more than ever before, and they use that knowledge to apply and accept positions. Rehabilitative and assistive technology is improving quality of life, independence, and workplace participation for PWDs. AI-powered talent acquisition software and virtual learning tools are improving the way organisations are finding, screening, selecting, and developing individuals in an organisational set up. We are at a unique stage of human development where we have the power to create and use technology that will promote inclusion. And we must use it ethically.
Do you think employers are ready to translate the intent of equity into action or will the shift from policy to practice take longer? How can they fast track the shift?
Most progressive employers use their talent data sources on recruitment, development, promotion, and policies to tackle the challenges of DEI. These are a helpful start but alone cannot ensure that inclusion is felt among all local level staff, across the various diversity strands. In order to fast track the well-intended DEI initiatives percolating through all levels in the organisation, there needs to be a formalised approach of listening to employees’ experiences. Listening forums and inclusion surveys are powerful methods in which we can get qualitative data from the employees. The process will enable organisations to unearth events of microaggressions prevailing in pockets, felt barriers with prevalent biases, lack of sponsorships and support, and feelings of no clear career path. Once organisations use this information to engage with their staff and remove these barriers that the systemic change of diversity and inclusion will be felt by all employees.
How do you see the role of managers in solidifying inclusion? How essential is manager sensitisation to enabling sustainable inclusion?
People managers have a very crucial role in building a culture of inclusion. Employees who believe their immediate managers are opposed to or unaware of diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies, are less engaged than employees who believe their managers are supportive of and committed to those strategies. Progressive people managers demonstrate their commitment by ensuring diversity of talent pool is not compromised during recruitment, selection, and career advancement of employees. Many managers genuinely feel less confident when it comes to speaking about D&I. There are, however, some ways that managers can demonstrate their allyship at work, such as, join Employee Led Networks (ELN) promoting inclusion, follow the DEI initiatives within the organisation and openly talk about them, ask for feedback from employees, and welcome discussion on biases letting colleagues share their lived experiences.
With a multi-generational workforce working in a hybrid environment, how is your organisation enabling an ecosystem of empathy, inclusion, collaboration?
The hybrid workplace environment has acted as a great enabler to bring all generations on a common platform. At NatWest Group, our virtual working and collaboration is enabled by the everyday use of Zoom cloud meeting/video conferencing facilities, Microsoft Teams, and Workplace by Facebook. In the last 24 months, there have been several occasions where our multigenerational workforce has formed agile teams to volunteer for COVID-19 emergency response taskforce, community giving/charity, Well-being Committee, D&I Council, and Climate action groups. Participation in these action groups foster a sense of purpose and embeds a culture of empathy, care, and collaboration. Some basic aspects across generations that may have caused friction and bias in the past on flexible schedules, work from home, relaxed working conditions, and casual attire are non-issue in today’s context. As an organisation, we continue to challenge stereotypes and biases, and encourage cross-generational mentoring (companion learning) and reverse mentoring. We encourage leaders to demonstrate flexibility and care for employee well-being as per individual needs.
Particular to gender diversity, how do you see the role of men in enabling and accelerating gender equity?
We need to acknowledge that in our society the core of patriarchy is rooted in our individual family units and that there are different roles, such as a bread-earner, caregiver and domestic worker. Society has evolved over the years and women have started contributing equally to the family income by participating in the labour force. In parallel, 21st century men are participating in child-rearing and household work more than ever. Sadly, this change is not consistent in every family, household, community, and workplace. It is also not reflected in government laws and policies, for example, lack of adequate parental leave in our country and several other developed economies.
We need more male allies in our fathers, brothers, spouses, and colleagues to join the movement and challenge the systemic inequality faced by women in workforce participation and progression. A detailed study conducted by ASSOCHAM Social Development Foundation revealed that about 40% of working mothers want to quit jobs to raise their kids and spend quality time with family. In India, at just 17% of the GDP, the economic contribution of Indian women is less than half the global average of 37%! We need male allies to agitate, demand, and demonstrate positive action for a real gender balance in the family, society, and workplace. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that equal participation of India women in the workforce has the potential to increase India’s GDP by 27%. We must turn the tide to realise the developmental potential of our women, and concurrently, our economy and country.
We celebrated Women's Day on March 08. How do you propose to #BreakTheBias?
At NatWest Group, we celebrate International Women’s Day throughout the whole of March. The objective is to provide our colleagues an opportunity to participate in a wide range of events, developmental sessions, and campaign on the theme #BreakTheBias. The month-long activity will ensure leaders, people managers, and individuals take time to build their awareness and learn about organisational resources that they can use to have a positive impact on gender bias and inequality at work.