Article: Are we truly creating a diverse workforce?

Diversity

Are we truly creating a diverse workforce?

A gender diverse workforce is slowly becoming a norm within many companies. But how close are we towards attracting, enabling, and promoting the different genders in a fair and equal manner?
Are we truly creating a diverse workforce?

Today is Women Entrepreneurship Day, and we take a look at whether we are really creating an atmosphere for diversity in organizations where the entrepreneurial spirit is getting plush recommendations. 

Diversity within the workforce is increasingly finding a favourable mandate within organizations. With shortening profit margins and the competition for talent increasing, having a diversified workforce which has an equitable access to growth opportunities, over and above of being the right thing to do, also makes business sense in the world today.  Traditional means of recruitment are often skewed towards men as most talent pipelines are still dominated by them. In addition to this, the play of unconscious bias on what one gender can or cannot do often becomes an impediment towards building a truly holistic and gender equal workforce. 

But things are changing and in an evolving worldview requires businesses to be responsive as well.  A similar case was reported when recently Tata Steel announced that it had planned to improve its diversity in the coming years. In the PTI report, a top company executive said that “the company targets to have 20 percent women in its workforce by 2020 as gender diversity ensures availability of different mindsets to deal with challenges” 

Explaining the need for such a move, Tata Steel chief diversity officer and chief group HR Atrayee S Sanyal said “Gender diversity is essential, and not having it can be detrimental to business. A diverse workforce ensures that we have different mindsets dealing with challenges in different ways, and this helps us strategise better,” 

Workplace diversity also ensures that companies today are able to attract the best talent while healthy and inclusive policies help retain the same. As Atrayee explains, “When diversity is recognised and employees feel included, they have a better responsiveness to changing customer needs. Everything, cumulatively, helps us progress and develop as a company.” It often becomes a critical factor in building a good reputation for the company. A mix of people with diverse views encourages innovation and problem solving, thereby leading to increased profitability creating more opportunities for the business to grow

A lot still remains to be done. According to the Monster Salary Index, the manufacturing sector was found to have the highest gender pay gap at 34.9 percent; an average gender pay gap of 27 percent. This gap shows that the problem of creating a diverse workforce is more than just a problem of numbers. 

The problems of faulty talent linkages and policy impediments

A key ally of companies in their efforts to create a good gender balance within their workforce, especially in the sectors which have been traditionally male-dominated, is to have access to quality talent pools which have equal representation. But this rarely is the reality. Both external and internal talent pools have skewed representation, and the pipeline eventually shrinks — fewer working women imply that there will be even fewer women available for top leadership positions. 

When asked about the difficulty in finding women with the required skills in manufacturing, mining, and engineering sectors Atrayee explained that the availability of women has been gradually improving. “It is a supply-led demand to a great extent. Engineering institutes need to have more women and only then companies can recruit women in these areas. We engage early with various leading institutes that help us capture the best women talent in the early years of engineering,” she added.  Thus galvanizing talent pools exclusively for women can often be helpful for companies.

Once in the system, it becomes important to retain women employees. To do this, there is a need to have devise policy interventions to offset the challenges that arise from systemic issues and the subtle and not-so-subtle discriminatory practices. For example, issues that come up with more women going for extended maternity need creative ways of troubleshooting. Atrayee explains how “Tata Steel’s Take 2 policy aims at filling these gaps due to maternity and childcare leaves by hiring women who are experienced professionals on a project basis for short-term engagement. This mutually beneficial as we have a good replacement resource for a woman and it also becomes a platform for those women looking to resume their careers.” Innovative policies like such help plug the ‘leaks’ that exist in an already shrinking talent pipeline, the impact of which becomes more visible as one move up the hierarchal ladder. 

In addition, companies also require strong policies and culture that ensures an anti-harassment and a bias-free work environment. Attempting to push up the numbers without addressing such issues can be detrimental to both the employee and the company.  

The larger debate

Skewed talent pools and shrinking talent pipelines point towards an issue in front of companies which want to create a gender equal workforce; a place where many often hit a wall. Many talent pools, especially in the case of India are still male-dominated and women are majorly unrepresented in the Indian economy. Of the ones that are presented, traditional gender perceptions still remains a key factor in what knowledge and skills they build vis-a-vis their male counterpart.

A large part of this problem stems from the fact that they still face structural issues that hinder their access to education, health, and an equal pay. A fact that’s echoed by the recent Global Gender Gap Index published by the World Economic Forum where India has slipped to the 108th position, a drop of 21 spots behind countries like China and Bangladesh. 

The report attributed much of India's decline in position on the overall Global Gender Gap Index to a widening of its gender gaps in healthy life expectancy and basic literacy between men and women.  The workplace gender gap in specific has been reinforced by the extremely low participation of women in the economy (136 out of the total 144 countries covered) along with low wages for those who work, the report noted, adding that "on average, 66 percent of women's work in India is unpaid, compared to 12 percent of men's. 

Such structural issues require a more concerted effort to bridge the gaps that exist at the various levels of the economy. From increasing access to basic education to promoting gender-based pay parity and equal growth opportunities players within both the private and public sector have a great role to play to remove much of the inequalities, which at the end of the day, are both economically and morally bad.

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Topics: Diversity

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