I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved. - Dr B. R. Ambedkar
The fate of a nation is directly linked to the state of its women. You educate a woman – you educate her family. You create opportunities for women – you see an entire community prosper. The higher a woman rises, the better it is for the entire ecosystem, because when women thrive, they, more than men, act as role models for others.
Yet, for long women have been struggling to be recognized and valued, both personally and in workplaces. And while corporate India may not be able to effect change for women at home, we can definitely do wonders for them at work. Research has shown time and again that gender balance fosters creativity and innovation, boosts employee morale and eventually leads to better business results. For organisations that want long-term growth, creating a supportive, empowering space to attract and engage women is essential.
Equal pay for equal work is the basic - to truly empower women and entice them to the workplace, there is a need to look at women’s lives holistically. A woman plays several roles to help the society evolve. Hence, she needs to be armed with the right tools to help her in this journey. Sodexo, with decades of experience across the globe and regular gender balance studies, has implemented several measures to enhance Quality of Life of women at workplaces. It has also been privy to best practices from organisations across the globe that foster the growth of its women.
Flexibility with empathy is key. Research says that around 25% of millennials are Sandwichers - individuals who take care of their parents as well as children. This is a hectic life especially for women, since they are often the primary care-givers. Flexi-work that is truly flexible is a life-saver for them. So, a location/time-agnostic culture where they can work from any place, any time, without it affecting their chances of growth, is important. Some organisations offer employee assistance programs, concierge services, office transport and better medical facilities, all in an effort to smoothen lives of their female employees.
Most organisations have a 3-6-month maternity/adoption leave policies. Some have a flexible maternity/adoption leave policy which implies need-based extension of the leave, topped up with flexi working for a certain duration. Offering a safe and modern creche/baby-sitting facility, nursing rooms, option of getting the baby to work when needed – all go a long way in winning women’s (and men’s) hearts.
Share if you care – through voluntary leave transfers. It’s a fact that some people might need more personal time than others. So, while some exhaust all their leaves and may need more for medical or personal emergencies, others may not use them all. A leave transfer policy that will allow employees to transfer their unused leave to those more in need is a win-win that has been implemented in organisations in India and abroad.
Increase the female talent pipeline. Nothing motivates the younger generation of women more than seeing a large number of senior women who are happy in their jobs – this gives them a sense of self-belief and faith in the organisations. In fact, a 2016 study by Mercer was clear that ‘failure to build talent pipeline threatens women’s workplace progress’. So, coach, mentor and retrain women so they can reinvent themselves and re-map their career.
Sodexo’s Women Work network in the UK and Ireland, for example, supports career development for women and works to achieve gender balance in the company. It organizes a range of mixed-gender events to help women share good practice, build their contacts and get involved in charitable activities. Helping women live a second innings is also a great enabler. The percentage of gifted women who leave the workforce due to personal commitments is extremely high. Yet, there are very few organisations that have understood the power of attracting women for a second innings. If you create special job profiles that will tempt more women to come back to work, be it consulting, contract, part-time, flexi-time or even project-based, you will entice more younger women as well.
Mercer’s report reiterated that ‘Women are perceived to have unique skills needed in today’s market, including flexibility and adaptability, inclusive team management and emotional intelligence Sodexo’s Gender Balance Study of 2018 found that the key performance indicators of organizations are substantially higher when they have a better gender - balanced team. Covering 50,000 managers across 100 entities worldwide, the study showed that operating margins, client and employee retention, employee engagement and safety showed an upward trend for organisations where women had 40-60% representation. Time for corporate India to read the signs?