If India were to rebalance its workforce with women participation, the country would be 27% richer, says a study by The Economist. Over the years, there has been a steady focus on addressing the gender gap in corporates around the country. This feature looks at diversity programs at Verizon India - which was ranked in the top 10 list of the 2018 Working Mother & AVTAR Best Companies for Women in India
One of Verizon India's programs to address gender diversity is ‘Wings - back to work’. The two year old program was aimed at getting women on a break to join the workforce. “The objective of the program was to tap into a talent pool of women who were not considered ‘mainstream’ in talent acquisition,” said Gopinath P, General Manager and Head of HR, Verizon
The eligibility criteria was straightforward: Qualified women who chose to take a career break anywhere from six months to up to five years. Instead of earmarking jobs for the women, candidates applying as part of the program had access to all open jobs in the company. Women in the program also had a three month ‘warming period’ to help adjust to the new workplace environment.
Over the last two years, the program focused on a key organizing principle: personalization. “There is no one size fits all approach,” Gopi said.
“Each business had a different need and each participant had specific issues around managing work and life, so there is a need to tailor make the process.” Gopi noted
So, what does the process entail?
One critical focus area was skill upgradation. Each participant went through an orientation program that helped them integrate back to the workforce. During the warming period, the company also instituted a two-three week project specific training.
Dipika Bhatia, a technology analyst at the company, who joined the workforce after a five year break said that skilling was a necessary step to join back. “Technology had progressed and within the programming language itself there was a shift from one framework to another,” she said. The combination of class room training, on-the-job training and work from home option created the flexibility to learn and prove herself. The process meant that Bhatia was also paid on par with industry standards.
Creating a supportive ecosystem
To help women adjust to the work environment, the company instituted a buddy program for one-on-one feedback and support when needed.
The company also instituted a program for line managers on unconscious bias. To help sensitize line managers, the company engaged an external agency to talk about the expectations and needs of the women. “These sessions were geared at giving the right orientation regarding work and culture,” Gopi said.
Based on the suggestions of the employees, the company introduced a fully funded day care with a third party vendor. The facility was launched within the company and is not just restricted to women employees.
Retaining working women
While “Wing - back to work” was geared at helping women on a break to join back the workforce, the ‘gradual return to work’ program was another important program geared at helping women continue to stay employed.
Reji Rajendaran, a Senior Manager at the company was one of the earliest beneficiaries of the program. She spoke about her journey of going through a difficult pregnancy with twins. And how the flexible policies under the program helped her as a manager but also take the required time away from work.
Under the program, women are given the option to take leave much before their due date or even after their leave period pre and post-delivery.
Part time work with half pay was another option that helped women stay in touch with regular work.
“A program like ‘gradual return to work’ really pushes managers to tailor make the benefit for the specific need.” Reji said
Given her long break, Reji’s work responsibilities changed. But it also created an opportunity to rotate jobs and diversify her skills.
The success of programs driving diversity rests in the care for the individual employee. Initiatives like ‘Wings - back to work’ and ‘Gradual return to work’ show that workplace policies don’t have to be written in stone, they can give room for flexibility when needed.