Over the years, with consistent efforts, we have seen organizations and societies evolving to better accept both genders for the value they bring, particularly of women.
One can witness the positive implications of digitalization and emerging technologies as they offer significant opportunities for flexibility and empowerment. Having said that, being an optimist doesn’t mean one is removed from ground reality. But optimism helps cushion setbacks, makes struggles easy, motivates oneself to channelize energies to the next constructive thing, especially to address the challenges and gaps that women experience regularly.
From the lens of gender inclusion, we agree that women tend to bring in different attributes, leading to a balanced and empathetic organisational culture while enabling companies to increase their effectiveness. However, despite obvious benefits and numerous success stories scripted by women, their participation in the workforce has shown a declining trend. It is estimated that the participation rate of women in the workforce has declined from 26% in 2005 to 20.3% in 2019. (source? Please mention source)
Women’s careers are heavily influenced by 4M life stages as we like to call it, which include Marriage, Mobility of spouse, Maternity, and Medical care of family/ elders. All these aspects create significant disruptions in their professional career compared to men. These challenges need to be accounted for when we are envisioning and building our organisational culture and policies to offer women equitable opportunities of professional growth. Thus, a holistic approach is required to recruit, retain, develop, enable (including policies and advocate the cause of gender balance. as well as societal commitment and employer branding.
In line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), the United Nations identified gender inclusion as a critical priority for business leaders and organisations to prioritise and strive for. DEI is fundamental for comprehending diverse organisational perspectives and market sentiments, making it a core value and a critical business necessity. It is a key element that gives an organisation the competitive edge, inspires business results, innovation, and openness. Developing DEI objectives and integrating them into a larger organisational plan are critical steps for any business seeking to advance its sustainability strategy.
Organisations may like to formulate policies and practices at five levels to make the workspace more equitable and fairer to both genders. These are Hiring, Development, Enabling the work environment, Social Commitment, and Advocacy. However top leadership commitment and ownership is the foundation.
The process of creating an inclusive culture begins with the recruitment process itself. Often, we have come to realize that roles in organisations are branded for men or women. While this is sometimes overt, it is frequently done in subtle ways, sometimes inadvertently. The job description must be purposefully gender neutral. Additionally, sufficient checks and balances must be included into the interviewing process to ensure that gender prejudice does not affect candidate evaluation.
The same approach should be adopted when it comes to robust learning interventions -training, upskilling, and development, as well as performance evaluations. Organizations must embrace gender-inclusive policies to ensure that women have equal opportunity. There must be a greater emphasis on gender pay parity, with employees being compensated equally for equal category and volume of work. Equally crucial is the development and training of people managers to manage a gender diverse workforce effectively, and inculcate inclusive behaviors and approaches to retain women. Equitable environment is the key and is also the responsibility of the manager.
In terms of promoting an enabling work environment, concerted efforts need to be made to foster an inclusive culture. Effective measures should be implemented to eliminate or mitigate any unconscious bias that may have crept into people processes and assessments. Companies can provide unconscious bias training to educate, sensitise, and equip managers at all levels. Deeper understanding of the business imperatives and benefits by people managers helps this journey immensely.
Inclusive policies Great parental policies are a huge support. There are various steps that companies can take to keep women integrated into the organisation during their maternity leave. These steps include providing adequate maternity support through policies and practices, facilitating career mentoring during maternity leave, supporting with training and development if needed, facilitating their return with a meaningful role, and finally providing a flexible and performance-oriented work culture.
The culture change begins at the top, recognising this fact, women in leadership and across management levels needs to be a high focus area. A Leader's role in advocating gender balance and equity in organisations and in society at large, goes a long way in establishing the right culture. Finally, everyone can play a role in breaking the bias, hence accountability for individual and collective efforts goes a long way.