To have a gender diverse workforce is being seen not only as instrumental in improving a company’s performance but also as a mandate that firms can no longer choose to ignore. Companies have started to realize that the benefits of embracing diversity are both perceptible as well as imperceptible, and they are ready to travel the road far even if it comes at a cost of a slight dip in efficiency. Such is the quantum of this thought that advocates organizations to have a workforce that includes workers of both the sexes, who can work in “collaboration” rather than “isolation”.
If we look at diversity, we have other invisible forms of differences among people that include educational background, functional specialties, working style, thinking style and even personality traits. Gender diversity perhaps focuses only on gender without addressing hibernated identities emerging from differences from values, beliefs, attitudes, needs or cultures, and it may actually hinder the development of inclusive cultures by overemphasizing differences rather than commonalities. But in totality, gender diversity has its own perks which by far outweigh any other inclusion policy implemented by any firm. The various advantages of gender diversity that cater to the basic organizational requirements can be explained through the following aspects:
1) Discrimination and fairness perspective: Involves focus on justice and fair treatment of all members as a moral imperative
2) Access and legitimacy perspective: Based on the recognition that the company’s markets and outreach are culturally diverse and therefore matching with the company’s own workforce is a way of gaining access and legitimacy to those markets.
3) Learning and integration perspective: Based on the belief that skills, experience, and insights of a diverse workforce is a valuable resource for learning and growth and it is highly valued in a workgroup for the attainment of its goals.
Having a gender-balanced workforce can have many advantages. It promotes innovativeness and superior performances and outcomes and is also a catalyst for improving talent pool, morale, returns on assets etc. Some of the findings cushioning the advantages of a gender-balanced workforce are:
- In a study considering Fortune 500 companies, it was found that top 25 percent of the firms that comprised women in the top senior level management yielded 30 percent more returns to the shareholders than its peers.
- A survey by C. Herring (2009) "Does diversity pay? Race, gender, and the business case for diversity" American Sociological Review) found that gender diversity and racial diversity are associated with increased sales revenue, greater market share, and greater relative profits.
- A study commissioned by Times of India group 2014 was to examine the relationship between companies with women on their boards and profitability reports a positive impact of women representation in top leadership and as board members, on Return on Equity.
The premise for such findings is the fact that men and women bring different viewpoints, diverse and varied market insights and a broader repertoire of skills for problem-solving and innovation. Diverse organizations are the ones that offer open platforms and opportunities that foster creativity, increased financial performances, innovation, organizational adaptability, better problem solving and information processing, employee retention, enhanced profit and corporate image. The connection between heterogeneity and more efficient work outcomes has been even more pronounced when the work involves tacit knowledge such as knowledge workers driving the big MNC’s and consulting groups of the 21st century.
The path to success
India has slipped to 108th place on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2017 Global Gender Gap index. While the data displayed significant participation of women in primary education, the weakest indicator for India is in economic participation and opportunity for women. Low Labor force participation and income disparity were a major cause for contention. The gender gap is significantly greater for India than any other developing country. The main reason for the economic disparity in organizations in India can be attributed to the working conditions, lack of support for women to manage household and office, and scant opportunities. More positively, India succeeds in fully closing its primary and secondary education enrolment gender gaps for the second year running, and, for the first time has nearly closed its tertiary education gender gap. However, it continues to rank fourth-lowest in the world on Health and Survival, remaining the world’s least-improved country on this sub-index over the past decade.
Several steps were taken in this regard, including emphasis from the companies to re-recruit women in their 30’s and who have taken a break from their career to look after the family with experience in technology, are positive signs of increasing sensitivity towards women’s woes and steps in addressing them. While the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act has increased the duration of paid maternity leave available for women employees from the existing 12 weeks to 26 weeks, many HR policies including flexible work hours and work from home options by organizations are also attracting several talented women to the corporates.
Changing perceptions of gender diversity amongst males should be the next in line for the organizations. Men are much less aware of the challenges women face at workplaces. Many times, they find measures to improve gender diversity to be biased and unfair towards men. Sensitizing the employees about the issues must be included in the agenda for HR strategies adopted by the firms.
Some examples of certain companies which made gender diversity as a part of their culture and policy include Accenture which stood out as an employer whose efforts on women empowerment were appreciated more than usual. Women especially appreciated its efforts to welcome women back to the workplace after maternity leaves and its active efforts to coach/mentor women. Asian Paints and Nestlé were appreciated for their efforts at diversity-mindedness while considering talent pipelines and career progressions. GE was appreciated for its XLP – an accelerated leadership program for high potential women in leadership. The graduates of the program have historically had a magnificent career trajectory. Oracle and Amazon stood out owing to its flexible work arrangements, specifically, the option of working from home for most roles and on most days. Volkswagen India, in 2015, initiated a skill-development oriented initiative for women at their facility in Pune, India which also aimed to improve the gender diversity ratio from the then 12% to an aspirational 30% by 2025 across all departments.
Foster conducive change
Gender diversity in itself is not an end in itself, and there is no particular solution. Well-crafted gender initiatives require a holistic approach that looks into recruiting, developing, promoting, and retention of women employees. Critical elements and programs include targeted recruiting, diversity training, leadership development, mentoring and coaching, sponsoring, women’s networks, role model campaign, high-impact and stretching assignments, progress tracking through metrics, and diversity targets for managers, and career design with greater flexibility. To sum up, in order to foster an environment conducive to change and to create change with long-lasting effects, it is crucial to create personal and workplace awareness on gender issues, to recognize the problem by fact-based health check and establish accountability through quantifiable goals, and to create an effective career planning process and institutionalize it into daily business practices.