Article: Want to empower your female workforce? Deloitte’s Chief People Officer spills how they're nailing it


Want to empower your female workforce? Deloitte’s Chief People Officer spills how they're nailing it

Deepti Sagar emphasised that the flexibility offered by the company not only provides women with the capacity to pursue their ambitions and fulfil their responsibilities but also encourages male professionals to effectively share the workload.
Want to empower your female workforce? Deloitte’s Chief People Officer spills how they're nailing it

While the presence of women in offices is undoubtedly a crucial aspect of empowerment, true enablement entails creating an environment where women have equal access to opportunities for growth, leadership roles, and career advancement. It involves breaking down systemic barriers and biases that hinder women's progress and ensuring that they have the resources, support, and recognition they deserve to excel in their chosen fields. 

Furthermore, women empowerment entails fostering a culture of inclusivity and respect where women's voices are valued and their contributions are acknowledged and celebrated. It involves promoting diversity in leadership positions and creating pathways for women to assume leadership roles and make meaningful contributions to their organisations and communities. Empowered women not only contribute to the success and innovation of their workplaces but also serve as role models and mentors for future generations of women, inspiring them to pursue their aspirations without limitations. 

Ultimately, women empowerment is about creating a level playing field where women have the freedom to pursue their passions, achieve their goals, and make a positive impact in the world, highlighted Deepti Sagar is Deloitte’s Chief People & Experience Officer for India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Bangladesh, in an exclusive interview with People Matters. 

Deepti, who is a member of Deloitte’s Executive Committee in South Asia and represents India in Deloitte’s Extended Global Talent Executive, explained it requires a collective effort from society, organisations, and individuals to challenge stereotypes, dismantle barriers, and champion gender equality in all aspects of life. When women are empowered to thrive professionally, the benefits are far-reaching, leading to greater economic prosperity, social progress, and a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

Excerpts from the interview: 

What do you envision as the future of hybrid work and its impact on women's participation and advancement in the workforce?

Hybrid empowers both, women, and men. At Deloitte, it’s our default setting precisely because it offers a best-of-both-worlds scenario: the comfort of working from home and the connections of working from an office. But yes, it does offer some unique advantages for women professionals.

While we witness a near equal gender split at the entry level, the proportion of women decreases at each progressive career level. Some of it may be voluntary, but a lot of it is because life’s milestones demand a difficult choice. Deloitte’s Women at Work study has reported that in India, women, even if they are equal or primary breadwinners, shoulder a disproportionate share of childcare and other household responsibilities. 

In an ideal world, that shouldn’t be the case. But while that improves, we need to create an enabling environment that plugs the loss of talented women professionals due to prevailing societal norms. That’s where hybrid comes into play for the advancement of women in the workforce. Its flexibility doesn’t just give women the bandwidth needed to fulfil ambitions as well as responsibilities… it also gives male professionals the necessary nudge to share the load effectively.

Are there any strategies or initiatives your organisation has implemented to ensure equitable access to opportunities and resources for women in a hybrid work environment?

Going back to the Women at Work report, one of its findings was also that women professionals fear that availing flexible work options will result in them being overlooked for important projects and promotions. The fact remains that even if organisations effectively address conscious biases through policy measures, unconscious biases are tricky to detect and counter. 

Sensitisation sessions apart, a good way to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias in a hybrid set up is to have inputs from multiple quarters when it comes to important decisions about performance and growth. At Deloitte, employees are encouraged to raise Performance Snapshots from not just their reporting managers, but all the stakeholders with whom they have worked. Year-end decisions are also a collaborative exercise, so that professionals get the credit the deserve.

What tools or practices does your organisation utilise to facilitate effective communication and collaboration in a hybrid work environment?

A vast majority of our workforce are Gen Zs who are very comfortable using both virtual and in-person mediums for communication and collaboration. So, we use both in equal measure. We have frequent virtual connect sessions with the leadership, mechanisms to submit feedback and inputs virtually, AI-powered tools and apps that promote anytime-anywhere-any subject learning, social media-inspired recognition, and rewards platforms, lively Viva Engage (Yammer) communities, and internal chatbots; combined with lively in-person roadshows and townhalls, spirited informal gatherings, sports leagues, volunteering opportunities, and more.

How do you ensure that managers are equipped with the necessary skills and resources to effectively lead diverse teams in a hybrid work setting?

In preparation for each milestone of their professional journey, Deloitte professionals undergo a rigorous and multi-faceted training programme that prepares them to be effective in their forthcoming role. This includes being respectful and inclusive leaders that foster the growth of everyone in their team. 

Moreover, all team leaders and coaches undergo frequent orientation sessions to guide them on how they can nurture others in their role. We want to drive home the point that as a knowledge-centric organisation, our talent is one of our biggest strategic assets, because of the diverse perspectives they bring to the table. Team leaders’ approach should be one that empowers team members to be their whole selves and to put their best foot forward.

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How do you address concerns related to equity, fairness, and accountability in a hybrid work environment?

Accountability goes together with trust. When the pandemic hit and we moved to a full-time work-from-home model overnight, team leaders were suddenly in a position of not being able to constantly know what their team members were doing. Team members too knew that there’s no direct day-to-day supervision. But contrary to work not being done, team members stepped up and delivered exceptional results under those extraordinary circumstances. 

The key was team leaders’ visible and vocal belief that even if they can’t physically be in the same room as their team, that their teams will continue to uphold their responsibilities. This continues under hybrid, with just the right amount of nurturing in-person intervention.

Fairness goes without saying in process of reviews and evaluation. When it comes to equity, we are committed to a periodic gender pay parity review to ensure that any discrepancies that may have accidentally crept in are promptly addressed and merits always gets its due.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to other organisations looking to leverage hybrid work models to empower their women workforce?

Hybrid can prove to be the catalyst you were looking for all this time when it comes to empowering your women professionals to grow and thrive. While it may be a product of the pandemic, its utility far outlives those testing times. Hybrid works best when you follow a fit-for-purpose approach instead of one-size-fits-all: instead of having a top-down mandate of the perfect home: office ratio, empower each division to take that call depending on the nature of their work and the kind of challenges that women professionals in that line of work face. 

The purpose of an office space should be to deepen connections, collaboration, and camaraderie, not just to mark attendance, which means that not everyone needs to show up in-person every single day. We have been following hybrid since March 2022 and our attrition is at record lows, with an increasingly equitable gender split – I safely assign some of the credit to hybrid.

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Topics: Diversity, #InternationalWomensDay, #HybridWorkplace, #HRTech, #HRCommunity

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