Article: Gender diversity: A matter of merit or mandate?


Gender diversity: A matter of merit or mandate?

Overemphasis on the 'diversity agenda' has led many companies to give priority to women candidates, sometime even at the cost of merit.
Gender diversity: A matter of merit or mandate?

Hiring more women and ensuring they rise up the ladder has become more than just a fad today as businesses see the real value that women bring in


Existence of quota is a de-motivator for most women as it gives them a feeling that they are not equal in the world therefore needs extra push


Overemphasis on the ‘diversity agenda’ has led many companies to give priority to women candidates, sometime even at the cost of merit.

In the recent and on-going campaign for a diverse workforce and primarily focusing on gender diversity, there have been instances where some organizations are holding up male candidates in order to meet their quota to hire women workers. Amidst this drive to hire more female employees to attain the perfect balance at the workplace, there are questions on whether leading organizations are perhaps even ignoring a fair candidate in their quest to hire ‘right’ in the given context.

Women on top
Hiring more women and ensuring they rise up the ladder has become more than just a fad today as businesses see the real value that women bring in. Further, the mandate to hire a certain percentage of female candidates in order to build a balanced talent pipeline has its genesis in the strong belief that women can add value to business. While some look at it merely as a way to capitalize on a ready pool of untapped talent, there are others who believe women are better at decision making, bringing new innovation, as well as have the ability to multi-task. In today’s hyper-competitive environment, when a number of decisions are taken on gut instinct because of a variety of reasons, organizations see a clear benefit from having better gender diversity. And to add to this, according to Companies Bill 2011, appointment of at least one Woman director has been proposed to be mandated in certain companies, which would be prescribed by the government.

In the backdrop of such advancements, many leading organizations are on a spring board to hire women employees as part of their ‘diversity policy’. And in some companies, this even extends to recruiting companies having to line-up a certain mandatory percentage of women candidates, before a position can be closed. Such cases have in fact raised concerns – while the diversity agenda is great, are its rules so strict as to overlap on meritocracy of candidature in case the hiring manager is unable to line-up the required number of women candidates?

Mandate vs. merit – a prevailing tussle
The overemphasis on propagating the ‘diversity agenda’ has resulted in many companies giving it priority and sometime even at the cost of merit. There is a valid question hanging before companies on whether or not it should hire for diversity or hire for merit. The truth is that more often than not, there is a clash between the two – merely because there are more male candidates in the market for certain job types. Most organizations are cognizant of the situation and already cater to such dilemmas in order to take the appropriate call. Prithvi Shergill, Chief Human Resources Officer, HCL Technologies explains, “At HCL Technologies, all our internal and external job postings can be applied by any employee, since we are a gender neutral organization. We have not had any instance in the past that showcases denial of a male candidate over a female candidate or vice versa.”

KPMG’s diversity agenda too is to hire the right talent, based purely on merit. Sangeeta Singh, Partner-HR, KPMG shares, “The recruitment process is completely based on merit where every candidate is assessed on various parameters like their knowledge of the job, technical expertise, communication skills etc.” Vinita Shrivastava, Director, HR India, Harman International explains that while they would prefer to have a diverse workforce to meet the diversity objectives of the organization, they lay extreme stress on meritocracy. She adds, “The recruiting team sends us relevant profiles of male as well as female candidates. We may relax our criteria to an extent during the initial HR screening. But when we have to finally select a candidate, we rely 100% on merit. A woman candidate in this case would be given an offer only if she is better than the male candidates who applied for the position.” Neelam Gill Malhotra, VP-HR, CSC India shares, “The WIL (Women in leadership) intiative at CSC is dedicated to attracting, retaining and motivating women with deep industry experience and broad perspective to support our increasingly global and diverse client base.”

There is also a new high seen in hiring of women candidates from campuses as well this year. IBM India has this year hired more women than men during its campus recruitment. Of the overall campus recruitment done by IBM India till June this year, 52% were women, up from 38% in 2011 and 32% in 2010. Companies in India have taken the issue of bringing diversity in their companies seriously. Of the 265 engineers that SAP Labs India hired from colleges this year, 42% are women while for Cisco India, the figure is 22% this year.

The headhunter’s gain
In a bid to improve their gender diversity ratio, companies are embracing to all measures to ensure they hire a sizeable number of women. And this is also seen in few companies offering higher fees for headhunters who are able to line up women candidates. The Times of India recently quoted, “While Deutsche Bank offers a 2% additional fee to a recruiter for bringing women candidates to the bank, Executive Access, an executive search firm, says it earns an additional 10% fee payable if a female candidate is hired by an organization. There have also been cases where clients have demanded that only female candidates be placed with them.”

Is the forced quote all good?
While most companies, in their zeal to reach a milestone on gender diversity for whatever reason, have gone to the extent of fixing a quota, the same might not have always seen a positive impact. Moushumi Bose, Founder, Divinity shares, “In my years of being a diversity and inclusivity lead and more number of years of being a women, my views on quota that too for women have been the same......I.e. avoidable.” She explains that going full hog to promote women can prove to be counterproductive in the short term as well as the long term. This is true because no deserving candidate, male or female, would like to be pointed at by the world as having made it NOT through his or her merit. For men, quota or preferential treatment for women erodes the confidence and their belief in the values of the organization they work for. For women, they would rather be judged for their competence which alone should speak for their success than be known as a 'push case'. Existence of quota is a de-motivator for most women as it gives them a feeling that they are not equal in the world therefore needs extra push. Further, from an organization point of view, it clearly portrays a culture of inequality in identifying and promoting talent. Nirmala Menon, Interweave Consulting opines, “The perception of women being undeserved beneficiaries is a very likely fall out of a quota. It will demoralize the men and the women as no woman would want to believe she got where she did as a ‘favor’ done. It will have to be handled sensitively and cautiously so it does not backfire on the women who are hired.” However, despite the fallouts of such an approach, there seem to be more organizations joining the diversity game, than not.

But why the an urgency …
Research indicates that diversity has a positive impact on innovation. Prithvi shares, “As we add more HCLites from diverse backgrounds, it is important that we create an inclusive workplace that promotes new ideas and does not exclude any individual from participating or contributing to the growth of our organization. The productivity increases exponentially when people of all cultures work together towards a single inspiring goal.” Diversity in workforce is representative of diversity in skills, behaviors and abilities, which further contributes to more advantage for the business. Sangeeta adds, “There are different skills and sensitivities that different people bring to the table and this melting pot of differing abilities creates a rich and unique culture – which the organization is proud to have.” Fostering diversity helps an organization bring in a fresh perspective to today’s situations or challenges and help shape new ways of working which enhance the ‘value zone’ in the interaction between people and customers in their interactions.

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Topics: Diversity, Strategic HR

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