Article: Fostering diversity: Strategies for a representative workplace


Fostering diversity: Strategies for a representative workplace

Though strides have been made, women still lack adequate representation in aviation and beyond. Even in organisations with diversity initiatives, there's ongoing work required to ensure full and meaningful inclusion.
Fostering diversity: Strategies for a representative workplace

In the current corporate environment, D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) discussions take place periodically. However, the fact that such deliberations occur, is itself an implicit admission of longstanding D&I gaps in the institutional systems that must be addressed. 

Workplace biases and barriers 

Against this backdrop, it is most critical to start with breaking gender barriers and moving beyond stereotypes. One must begin by acknowledging that gender doesn’t define an employee, but individual capabilities do. Moreover, it is imperative to know that these barriers can often be unconscious biases, which are more challenging to manage than tangible issues. Therefore, open discussions among employees at all levels are required to raise awareness and address the gaps. 

Before moving further, one must clarify that diversity and inclusion are interrelated concepts, but the terms aren’t interchangeable. While diversity focuses on the representation of different groups within an organisation, inclusion relates to how well the presence, perspectives and contributions of these diverse cohorts are recognised, valued, and integrated into the working environment. For instance, a workplace that boasts of having employees from a variety of ethnic groups, nationalities, religions, etc. but only values or acts upon the perspectives of a select few, may be diverse yet cannot be considered inclusive. 

In such scenarios, talented but unrecognised employees would eventually feel demoralised and develop a sense of disconnection from the organisation. Research on company cultures done by ‘Great Place to Work’ offers interesting insights into this. It shows that when employees are treated fairly, irrespective of gender, race, age or sexual orientation, they are 9.8 times more likely to enjoy reporting to work, 6.3 times more inclined to take pride in their work and 5.4 times more prone to staying for a long time with a company. 

In a nutshell, an inclusive workplace culture attracts and retains varied talent. Not surprisingly, a Glassdoor survey notes that 76% of people actively seeking jobs state that a diverse workforce is vital when checking job offers. 

Also read: Pay gap worries 23% of salaried women in India, remote work valued only among 3%: Survey
Is gender parity an issue in your organisation?

Implications of institutional measures

Undoubtedly, many organisations in India’s aviation industry have been making earnest efforts to foster an inclusive work culture wherein all employees are treated with great respect and without discrimination on any grounds whatsoever. 

Few may know that India has more than 1,200 women pilots, as per the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation). With women comprising more than 12% of the overall number of pilots in India, this is twice the number in the US – the largest aviation market worldwide. 

Despite the number of women pilots in the country being robust vis-à-vis global statistics, it still isn’t good enough from the gender equity perspective. An overseas industry body highlights that 284,000 new pilots would be needed in the upcoming decade. This shortfall cannot be addressed without greater participation of women. 

Although women represent almost half of humanity, their presence in the workforce across industries universally is far below this number. Many years after the supposed emancipation of women, why do they still struggle for equitable opportunities in education and at work? Even when women relatively have better representation in select fields, such as hospitality, aviation, and healthcare, why are they still left out of leadership positions? These are questions that leaders across industries should ask themselves so that dedicated efforts can be made to redress gender inequity. 

Organizations must integrate targeted recruitment, inculcate diversity training and mentorship programs, enact a transparent policy system, foster open dialogues and consistent communication from senior leadership and create equal opportunities for all employees. Similarly, policies must be renewed, and inclusive behaviours should always be acknowledged. These measures can contribute to cultivating an inclusive workplace where every employee feels valued and empowered. Another important aspect is raising awareness amongst the workforce and there are several industry platforms, like conferences and networking events, that can be leveraged for this. Globally, aviation bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) with its gender equality program and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) with its 25by2025 initiative are tirelessly working towards ensuring higher representation of diverse talents in the industry.  

Decoding gender stereotypes

Coming back to aviation, why are women aircraft maintenance engineers (AME) not so well represented? While precise statistics on women AMEs in India are not readily available, a 2021 FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) study states that in the US, barely 2.6% of all AMTs (aircraft maintenance technicians) were women. One can only speculate that women AMEs in India may be roughly equivalent in number. 

On the contrary, a vast percentage of the cabin crew constitute women. For instance, more than 75% of the cabin crew in the US aviation industry are women. While the opportunity for women to take up this role is commendable, one cannot overlook the fact that this is very prominently based on stereotypes. Therefore, while job opportunities are welcome, gender stereotypes are not. 

Notably, gender biases and stereotyping in aviation, as well as other sectors, also prevail both in developing and developed nations. Nonetheless, efforts are ongoing in India to address gender equity issues. To elaborate, since 2013, the Companies Act requires that publicly listed companies with Rs.100 crore or more in paid-up capital or Rs.300 crore and higher in sales must have at least one lady director. 

Again, although the intention behind this rider is understandable, it poses a crucial query – why is a government mandate needed to include women in the corporate world’s higher echelons? This is the case because women still confront the proverbial glass ceiling in their working lives. 

Yet, it is in the interests of all organisations to ensure equal representation for women since it benefits the organisational cause too. A McKinsey report reveals that companies promoting greater gender diversity have a 21% higher possibility of recording above-average profitability. 

Ultimately, diversity and inclusion in the workplace are backed by business sense as well as common sense. Companies prioritising D&I at the workplace can soon be assured of more productive outcomes as a result of nurturing creative thinkers from across backgrounds, boundaries and demographics.

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Topics: Diversity, Culture, #InternationalWomensDay, #Corporate

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