An equal world is an enabled world. Be it in our personal lives or at our workplaces, the onus lies on us to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and help create an equal world where opportunities are not distributed on a discriminatory basis rather accept and embrace diverse needs of the new-age workforce.
Which is where the role of leadership in creating an equal workplace becomes even more important. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Priya Singh, Senior Director - HR at Lowe’s India, the Bengaluru-based retail technology and analytics center for Lowe’s Companies, Inc. (NYSE: LOW) shares why she prefers the concept of equity at work over equality at work and what leaders can do to create diverse and inclusive workplaces.
At Lowe’s India, 2000+ associates focus on technology, analytics, and shared services to help serve a customer or serve someone who serves our customers. In her role at Lowe’s India, Priya provides leadership to align the organization's people strategy with business objectives, thereby helping build a transformational and diverse organization.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview-
What do you think about the overall concept of “Equality” at work?
The main theme I focus on is equity rather than equality. Equality means we provide everyone with the same thing while equity means we provide people with things they require to get on the same platform. Whatever policies we make or benefits we create, we make sure that we have equity at the back of our mind and everyone gets a level playing field.
Why do you think we aren’t able to think about equality beyond “gender”? Do you think the overall concept of “gender equality” is the reason why women are treated differently and equally?
For us at Lowe’s, meritocracy has always been the focus. If I look at my diversity numbers, overall we have 32% and at the leadership level, we are at 27%, which we have achieved organically, without having a number play. So for us, it has always been a meritocracy. We also have looked at diversity in terms of thought not only gender. We have veterans and people from armed forces on board. We have also made a small start in terms of PWD. These are all baby steps that we are taking given that we have been just for five years in the market.
But I totally agree that we have to move beyond gender diversity as it is a given.
Everyone understands the business case for diversity. So those discussions are not part of our board room discussions any more-it is more about inclusion. So what we focus on is we have a diverse set of people- how do we make sure that everyone is able to express themselves and bring their best selves to work.
What are some of the key things organizations and leaders must do in order to create diverse and inclusive workplaces?
The biggest thing is to create a safe environment-you can put in place the best policies, best compensation models but if an employee does not feel safe-not just physical safety but in terms of being able to take a risk, being able to make a mistake, being able to make those choices and express themselves-that is important. And that is what we have constantly worked towards.
Simple things can be done to make workplaces diverse. For instance, most organizations have an open door policy. But how effective is it what matters. So when we select our leaders, we make sure they are approachable. We also ensure that we hire people with a diverse set of thoughts. We make sure if one person is an introvert, then the other is an extrovert.
Was there an incident when you experienced inequality at work?
I have not experienced it personally but I can share one incident that has been shared with me by my team member. So a team member of mine is extremely passionate at work and a go-getter. But her manager in the evening would constantly tell her to go home as he felt she needed to spend more time with her family. The thing was she had a perfectly good support system and she loved being at work. So then I had to make the manager understand that though his intent is very good but it is her choice in the end.
What views do you hold for the question, "Can women have it all?" How can women create a better work-life balance for themselves?
I think everybody’s definition of having it all is very different. Whenever we make a choice in life, we end up living with the consequences and you do end up compromising something or the other. So at any given point of time, do I have it all is very situation-based. So someday I have been able to juggle everything from attending my child’s PTA meet and balancing work and have it all but there are days when I have not been able to juggle everything and did not have it all.
Also when it comes to work-life balance, work is also pretty much part of our life. So it’s all about your priorities in life at that given point of time. For instance, there will be a time when you will have to give your family priority and work will take a back seat and vice versa. And that’s perfectly fine, and as managers, we need to understand that. People will go through ups and downs-its life and keeping them separate is a myth. All of it is your life.
What are some of the most notable differences between a male and a female leader?
There are differences in people but I won’t get into the gender binary part of it. Because of the social conditioning we go through in life, we all approach leadership very differently. And even my style of leadership will be very different from other women leaders. When we start talking to people in terms of gender binaries, the expectation from them also changes accordingly. And when a person does not confirm to that belief, that’s where the issue comes in.
For instance, we always say women leaders should have higher EQ. Quite often, social conditioning has prepared women for a higher EQ. But if as an organization, I don’t provide her with the inputs of a higher EQ that she requires, it might result in her getting termed as super aggressive. Hence we need to take a step back and say all leaders are leaders. Because of social conditioning, I might approach things in a different way. So I don’t see them through the lens of a male or female leader. Hence if there’s a leadership development program, everyone goes through it.
On this Women’s Day, what message would you want to share with organizations and leaders on creating an equal/ equitable workplace?
I would say their first priority should be creating a safe workplace.
Leaders need to constantly question themselves. And if they are not hearing anything from their team members, I would question whether the environment is actually safe or not. So they should be very, very deliberate about creating a safe environment. Walk the talk.
Secondly, move way from tokenism. There is a lot of focus on the numbers and many times these numbers just become a token of what we are supposed to do. Are we being truly inclusive-I can’t say. Hence organizations need to move away from tokenism, taking a deeper look at themselves, and what is needed to do.
Lastly, focus on creating an equitable environment. We should take the time and make an effort to explain why are we doing certain things and have healthy discussions. Because when we don’t express our intent, it just becomes tokenism.