Q1. How has your journey been till now, especially with regard to companies developing their own diversity and inclusion initiatives?
The journey has been an enriching one for me. It has been one marked with great learning experiences. If I look back at my career chart, my focus has always been to move from role to role rather than simply shifting from one company to the other. It also helped me develop better insights into some of the deeper problems that women employees often face. Some challenges are explicitly discussed, while others are less talked about. It was in Infosys that I had an opportunity to engage with people who were dedicated to addressing the gender imbalance in the workforce. Further to this, interacting with various women at senior leadership positions made me realize the benefits of investing resources in creating strong diversity and inclusion initiatives.
One of the most interesting aspects I observed is that in their first set of discussions women employees would often say that they haven’t faced organizational bias. But once the conversations set the pace, they could identify problems and barriers they faced. But when one starts to take a closer look to identify the problems and barriers they face, one finds that the problem is caused because factors like unconscious bias rarely become a topic of conversation within companies. One of the most common barriers is the existence of unconscious bias. This bias is not only pertinent to women but is also faced by most minority groups. Often managers assign roles, responsibilities, and opportunities to employees based on certain pre-conceived notions. Finding solutions to address such key problems were the motivating factor for me to be where I am today.
Q2. I your experience what have been some of the core issues that HR professionals face when it comes to rolling out D&I initiatives within India? What has been your vision with Catalyst to address the same?
In comparison to some of the developed countries in the western world, the conversation on diversity and inclusion within the Indian subcontinent has started fairly recently. As one of our research studies found out, most Indian companies have in place well-intended D&I initiatives but they are not fully achieving the desired goal of creating more inclusive workplaces for women.
While the focus on creating an inclusive ecosystem is there, it is also important for D&I leaders to make a business case for it. Once business leaders understand the impact of having a strong end-to-end diversity initiative—which looks at talent acquisition, engagement, retention, and one that manages attrition—it will be easier for companies to build and retain a diverse workforce. This applies to all aspects of diversity and is not restricted only to women.
In India, there are few companies that work towards having a larger discussion on connecting D&I initiatives with business goals of the company. By creating such causal links, HR professionals today can gain the much need commitment and sponsorship from the company’s top leadership to create robust D&I initiatives. This in turn also facilitates HR professional establishing strong measurement and evaluation goals. Hence it becomes necessary to for HR professionals to work with organizational heads more closely to help them see the larger picture. To help them realize the connection between having a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture towards business productivity.
Catalyst helps organizations build the business case for diversity and inclusion. Most of our research tools and training programs are aimed towards helping businesses foster a more inclusive workplace. This is done by creating a good business case within the company for D&I initiatives and empowering managers and leaders to identify biases more closely in order to remove them from their day to day functioning. Catalyst’s research help member organizations to understand how D&I initiatives contribute to business growth. We work with businesses to help them identify barriers like unconscious bias and ease bottlenecks in their talent pipeline through training and seminars. Our tools look at improving processes — from recruitment to retention— to help organizations restructure their programs and build sustainable practices. Catalyst’s efforts are aimed at creating a gender balanced workforce within companies.
Q3. What are some of the barriers today that HR professionals face when it comes to executing a comprehensive D&I initiative?
Across the globe, there have been many significant barriers which are applicable even here in India. Cultural barriers like patriarchy always end up becoming a crucial factor when it comes to increasing access to opportunities for women in the workforce. Things have definitely evolved but like any other form of a cultural shift, this too would take time and conscious effort to address. Only then can tangible results will be more prominently visible.
In one of our recent studies, we found that since a majority of the caregiving roles have traditionally been, and still are with women, most employer preferences get warped and biased when it comes towards offering career growth opportunities to this stakeholder group. This has been a critical factor that ends up influencing manager’s decision on providing opportunities to their female employees. Many new mothers are often ignored when it comes to them getting higher job growth opportunities. When such biases are at play, well-meaning but misplaced care usually results in some managers overlooking women for such opportunities.
This often ends up creating a culture within the company that loses out on it female talent as they move higher within the organization. It, therefore, becomes necessary for companies to give employees the agency over making their own decisions; instead of taking a decision on their behalf. Enterprises should also discuss employees’ aims and aspirations before taking decisions with regard to opportunities, roles, and responsibilities.
Other than this there are other preconceived notions on what a male employee should be like and what a female employee should be like. There are still some qualities that are preferred as a part of a male employee but not when exhibited by a female employee. A Catalyst report highlights the challenges and gender stereotyping women leaders face due to being evaluated against masculine leadership traits. For example, women leaders are considered either too tough or too soft in their approach but never just right. Similarly, they face higher standards and get lower rewards than men. Additionally, women leaders are perceived as competent or likable but never both.
Furthermore, a different research has shown that although women fairly have an access to the same number of mentors as their male counterparts, the seniority of such mentors are not very high and they usually are from positions which have a less significant role within the company. While all diversity and inclusion practices have been in existence for quite some time now, the need of the hour is to bring in a conscious and concerted effort to kick in and deal with such issues at workplaces.
Q4. What have been some of the best company practices in the field of D&I initiatives?
One way through which companies have been able to make a significant change in their D&I initiatives has been by involving senior leadership to systemically improve such initiatives. Companies that encourage leaders to start being intentional in their approach will move forward in building an inclusive work culture.
Organizations should communicate with employees and help them understand the company’s commitment to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. Monitoring and tracking of D&I initiatives is also essential as it helps in identifying opportunities for culture change interventions. It is important that HR professionals treat the workforce like a cohort unit where the focus is on creating an equal platform in terms of pay, gender, and opportunities.
Every year, through our Catalyst Award initiative we recognize organizations with innovative initiatives that address the recruitment, development, and advancement of all women. The one thing that has been common throughout such companies is that their senior leader's role model an inclusive culture. Companies like P&G and Unilever have over the years had a strong leadership backing for their varied approaches to making their workplace an inclusive one.
Moving ahead, companies need to pay a closer attention to how the results are improving at every level of the organization and link it with business goals to create a sustainable impact.