In generic terms diversity at the work place is not only about how comprehensive an organisation’s systems, policies and procedures are to encourage people from all walks of life to work but also providing space and opportunities for their engagement, development and progression.
Diversity not only implies inclusion of people from heterogeneous backgrounds – social, political, economic, geographical and cultural etc. but should also ensure ‘gender diversity’. In contemporary times, to entrust equal power and build leadership amongst women, not only means a quantitative increase in the number of women employees but also provisioning of an enabling work environment, facilitating their participation and contribution in the organisation.
Although there is still a long way to go, there has been increased consciousness and critical conversations among the leaders of the organisations, both at the governance and management levels, about women’s empowerment and leadership development.
Strategic People Planning
The first step towards building a diverse team is to ensure that people planning emphasizes on having a right balance across teams in the organisation. This means including (4Rs) right set of people at the right place and at right time with the right skills, predicting future talent demands. The organization must have inclusive, empowering and growth oriented strategies with ample opportunities and proper succession planning.
If only an enabling environment, suitable job, investment on capacity development, growth opportunities, equal remuneration for equal job and safe working environment is provided, the participation of women in work will increase and stronger leadership will emerge. Therefore, the attention of the highest levels of the leadership in both governance and management is needed to ensure (i) it is part of the organisation’s people strategies; (ii) percolates down to all levels as an organisational value; and (iii) to take required actions to ensure the above two.
Enabling organizational systems and policies
As stated above, in order to build a diverse and inclusive workforce, it is important to have enabling systems and policies which are facilitative towards nurturing and retaining such diversity. In addition to those prescribed by the law of the land, organisations should take innovative and progressive steps to encourage women to work but also support, nurture and develop their leadership. Barring special policies and procedures for women, a lot of norms work well if those are gender neutral and both, men and women, have equal space to support each other. A few examples of affirmative actions that enable engagement, development and retention of women at work are placed in the following paras,
Recruitment is an important driver in ensuring diversity in the teams. While recruitment must be merit based, affirmative actions are needed to bring-in right balance among the teams. From advertising a vacancy upto the final selection, the recruiter and the decision-makers at all significant levels must consciously apply requisite parameters to ensure right balance in the teams. If needed, it should be made clear in the advertisement whether people from certain gender and social background would be encouraged and preferred. If not, ensure shortlisting of appropriate profiles. The selection/interview panel must have a right balance with men and women panellists who are sensitive to the candidates while asking specific questions, particularly those related to their family and personal life.
Flexible working-hours & work from home
Although there are visible changes and several men are shouldering responsibilities equally, women continue to overstretch in terms of their responsibilities and management of their time, both at the personal and professional front. The progressive organisations offer flexible working hours and working-from-home to facilitate their people’s continuous engagement at work and work-life-balance. Such policies are not only applicable to women but also to men so that they can offer support to their families at home, including taking care of children. This works as a great support, particularly in the urban set-up where working parent/s, living without any support system, need to manage their home and professional commitments.
Maternity /paternity break
Many progressive organisations had the provision of six months’ (26 weeks) maternity break for women under The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, as against the prescribed 12 weeks, The Maternity (Amendment) Bill 2017 has made it mandatory for all employers to extend such provision (26 weeks’ break) to all its women employees. Such break can be availed partly prior and post-delivery, subject to the provisions of the law, and extended even beyond six month’s period subject to available leave in her leave account at the employer’s discretion.
Many organizations also have provisions of paternity break for men, encouraging them to support their partner in taking care of the new born child. These policies are also extended, within the applicable norms, to those adopting a child.
Child Care Support
Some organizations offer monetary support to the parents of new-born child till a certain age. The amount of such monetary support is trivial compared to the thoughtfulness of the organisation to offer such a support and helps in developing an emotional bond and ownership of mission between employee and the employer. Similarly, the policy of allowing women staff to bring their child/children to office (upto a certain age) along with a child-minder has been a good support and motivation for many.
In order to facilitate re-joining of woman staff to work, many employers provide crèche facility in their offices, supporting her to look after and feed her child at the required intervals. This provision has now been made mandatory under The Maternity (Amendment) Bill 2017, for every employer employing more than 50 employees. This is helpful to women employees, particularly those living in the cities with no support system at home or for the single parent, including those who adopt a child.
As a security mechanism for women employees, the organisations offer cab/vehicle facility to women staff operating late in the evening. Such provisions allow safer and easier mobility of women (or even men) working in the field, at remote locations, odd hours etc. Similarly, the hotel accommodation must have minimum hygiene and complete security for the women employees.
Internal Complaints Committee
To prevent and deal with the cases of sexual harassment of women at work place, many organisations had set up anti-sexual harassment cell and related policies in line with the Vishakha Guidelines of Supreme Court of India which were promulgated in 1997. This has been a huge deterrent for employers and among the employees in terms of prevention of such cases. It has also provided women a leadership role in orienting and dealing with such cases. The legal provisions have been strengthened further by The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act 2013, which also prescribes constitution of Internal Complaints Committee lead by Woman and not less than 50% of its members to be women.
Capacity Enhancement & Leadership Development
The empowerment of women at work or building and sustaining a diverse workforce does not end with recruitment and having policies and procedures in place. It needs implementation and concrete actions on those policies, continuous engagement, encouragement, enabling environment and capacity enhancement to achieve the ultimate goal.
There have been numerous conversations, debates and trainings on the feminism discourse. It has helped in orienting leadership and people at large in the organisations to understand power dynamics between various communities but also looking at the micro-level in terms of family structure, role of women and men in it and linking it with the workplace dynamics. It is important to engage with such discourse on a regular basis and include it in the people management and development strategies.
It is important to recognise and continuously invest in nurturing and building women’s leadership by providing opportunities for capacity development and growth, which would lead to the overall progression of an organization.