An equal world is an enabled world. Be it in our personal lives or at our workplaces, the onus lies on us to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and help create an equal world where opportunities are not distributed on a discriminatory basis rather accept and embrace diverse needs of the new-age workforce.
Which is where the role of leadership in creating an equal workplace becomes even more important. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Shilpa Khichi, CHRO, Cipla Health, shares her thoughts on equality at work and what leaders can do to create diverse and inclusive workplaces.
What do you think about the overall concept of “Equality” at work?
Equality at work means no individual should face or fear discrimination based on their gender, sex, age, race or any such factor. Discrimination does not necessarily have to be direct; on days, it walks into the work environment as a disguised and indirect entity. It can harm a person emotionally as well as affect his/her productivity.
It is critical to create and maintain a healthy, warm, inclusive, welcoming work environment and needs to be incorporated voluntarily at every single level. An all-pervasive concept, it can be induced by taking careful and unbiased steps on matters related to career progression, talent development, talent acquisition, etc. and ensuring open and transparent communication to maintain harmony and coherence.
Why do you think we aren’t able to think about equality beyond “gender”? Do you think the overall concept of “gender equality” is the reason why women are treated differently?
The concept of diversity in India has mostly been limited to gender inequality so far because in spite of women constituting a substantial part (almost 50%) of the workforce, very little has been done to include, facilitate and encourage this group to participate and contribute. Unfair treatment of such a high proportion of the workforce is bound to impact the economy and thus be obviously visible. Unfortunately, the inequality faced by women has been a cultural and societal practice that is experienced not just at the workplace but right from birth, education rights, health & hygiene, family commitments, etc. Even if a woman manages to reach the race track, she is still on a hurdle race while men are on a flat race.
Having said, that, fortunately, in the last few years there has been a growing sense of consciousness both amongst society and the corporate world that are recognizing the strength of the women workforce and realizing how it is exponentially beneficial for the business, economy, and country.
With many such believers taking up the cause, there has been a positive change in the attitude towards women at the workplace and in society at large. Several organizations are becoming increasingly conscious around equality not being restricted to gender, but also encompassing factors like being differently-abled, sexual orientation, religion, race, caste, and others.
What are some of the key things organizations and leaders must do in order to create diverse and inclusive workplaces?
Across industries, organizations are working relentlessly towards driving home, diversity and inclusion. It is not a one-day process, but some ways through which one can ensure them include encouraging leadership structures wherein team members feel free to share their ideas, are heard and welcomed. Employees should also be empowered while giving them more responsibility as well as accountability.
Additionally, mentorship programs can be introduced. Under these systems, employees have a mentor who helps them improve in their area of work by constant sharing of experiences and encouraging them to partake in new opportunities. Modern times have witnessed a large number of other methods to bring in these key elements, and it all depends on what approach the organization takes to infuse them.
Was there an incident when you experienced inequality at work?
No, I have been fortunate to work in progressive organizations where women were treated fairly and justly, as equal contributors to the business
What views do you hold for the question, "Can women have it all?"
Of course, women can have it all. They are known to play multiple roles right from being themselves, irrespective of the stage in life they are in - a mother, a wife, a daughter to being a professional, a strategist or an advisor. The most essential element which is required to ensure that they can have all they desire is work-life balance. A culture that allows them to be productive and work seamlessly, and at the same time not miss out on the little joys of life is very important. As custodians of human resources with a focus on female employee welfare, we aim at including policies such as work from home and flexible maternity leaves, as well as providing facilities that benefit them professionally, and personally.
How can women create a better work-life balance for themselves?
Women need to do the following in order to maintain an ideal work-life balance – prioritize their personal life in tandem with the professional one; keep communication open with their HR as well as employers; master the art of delegating work (without burdening subordinates); ensure flexibility of office timings; limit distractions at work in order to be as productive as feasible; make time for themselves a.k.a. 'Me time'; and compartmentalize by drawing a firm line between their home and workspace which is especially important in the case of working mothers.
What are some of the most notable differences between a male and a female leader?
Studies conducted in 2019 have found that 29% of women tend to hold senior management positions in organizations, and 87% of global businesses have at least one woman in a senior management role.
“In general, it has been observed that women leaders tend to be more nurturing and focused on growth and development as compared to their male counterparts.”
On the other hand, male leaders are known to achieve certain goals through a disciplinary and reward-giving approach (incentives), whereas female leaders in addition to the nurturing approach also focus on ways to achieve their goals, by making their teams more productive and motivated.
Furthermore, men tend to be skilled at self-branding, by effectively putting forth their achievements and accomplishments, while women are known to be more silent and modest about the same.
On this Women’s Day, what message would you want to share with organizations and leaders on creating an equal workplace?
One of the primary ways to create a workplace known for being 'fair and equal' is to improve the gender ratio, and ensure an equal strength of male and female employees across levels. Additionally, there needs to be a focus on building the capability of the latter via leadership training programs, along with ensuring a flexible work environment and organization policies for all. Promotions and appraisals also need to be fair, and based purely on merit, as well as encouraging women to aim for leadership roles. More importantly, an inclusive mindset needs to be created across the organization along with harboring an environment that is conducive and gives impetus to fairness, respect, dignity, and autonomy amongst the workforce.