Gender balance & diversity in SMEs
“Before God we are all Equally Wise & Equally Foolish” - Albert Einstein
There is already enough evidence in the world to show the positive impact of women’s leadership. Women have successfully built and run countries and cities, economies and institutions. Gender balance in workplace should not be viewed as a western fad or a good to do deliverable or merely achieving a global mandate! In a true sense, gender diversity and balance aids the business and has a real positive impact on the business performance. There is no denial of the fact that diversity also enhances creativity, new attitudes, new ways of working and innovative solutions to the same problem.
Amway is a good example of how diversity and balance positively impacts business! We are one of the few very business models which encourage women to be an integral part of our business. A significant percentage i.e. over 60-70% of our Amway Business Owners are females, they are the core pillar in driving the success of the Amway business.
In order to have diversity and strengthen team dynamics, we in Amway have also embarked on hiring female associates in Account Management Sales positions known as Strategic Account Managers which earlier had more of male employees due to the extensive travel requirements. We now have over 40% women leading large sales teams. With the gender mix, there is a clear positive impact visible and felt. The same is reflective in the Employee Opinion Survey @ Amway too.
For some organizations achieving these two involves a cultural transformation. Gender stereotypes are hard to break and, like it or not, we are all prone to engaging in stereotyping at one time or another. An organization needs to continue to encourage its employees to go beyond stereotypes and recognize the contributions that each individual, can make to the workplace and to relationships at home.
Hiring for diversity is step one towards gender balance however a more critical step is creating a culture of Inclusion. Hiring for gender diversity without focusing on putting in place a culture & policies that support women employees during different life stage needs leads to valuable women employees dropping out of active employment to meet family responsibilities like parenthood, illness in family etc.
We @ Amway show care for our women colleagues and partners through a deliberate intent and strategy in place. Many of our benefit programs and amenities are aimed at supporting them through life’s various special stages.
For instance, in Amway, to ensure a better work life balance for women & to promote diversity in the organization several initiatives have been taken under the umbrella of Women centric policies:
- Women employees are eligible to take Work from home once a week
- To ensure safety, security all female employees are eligible to take office cab facility post working hours and while travelling from airport/ railway station
- In addition to the 26 weeks of Maternity Leave mandated by law, we allow flexibility in the form of telecommuting facility.
- Nursing Break: Feeding mothers can avail one hour of nursing break for 15 months.
- Learning Academy - We conduct interactive and engaging sessions through external speakers and our business leaders on various topics like work life, gender sentivity and more
In the work environment we ensure deliberate inclusivity through all equipping employees with networks, development support & enabling tools. In our “Top Talent” – a coveted program which nurtures high performers and high potentials; our women population in the critical pool is over 40%.
It’s also heartening to see the progress and steps that Small & Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) are taking towards enhancing gender diversity. In the SME sector there are several Indian promoter based companies who are encouraging women folks from their families to take leadership positions, in addition to hiring even at levels below. For instance, there was a point of time, when delivery services were restricted to the domain of young boys which is no more the case. There are many such examples which we are witnessing in today’s times.
And SMEs are not doing this for the sake of imaging themselves as “best employers” – in my view such inclusion is adding a lot of value to business in terms of scaling up their business operations. Besides getting a larger base of talent pool, the SMEs are also able to penetrate new sections of society which otherwise they have not reached out to in the earlier instance. Such diversity not only promotes a healthy culture of inclusion, it also is very clearly a business enabler!
In the context of a country like ours, it becomes socially relevant to enhance gender diversity. As per International Labour Organization (ILO) even though the Indian Economy grew at a healthy average of 7% between 2004 & 2011, female participation in the country’s labour force declined from over 35% to 25% – this is indeed a worrying trend. Hence the underlying focus of achieving gender balance is building a workplace that eliminates the discrimination and the barriers to the full & equal participation of women in workforce.
Diversity is indeed a sustainable competitive advantage to any organization!