Organisations that are intentional about their diversity agenda right from the early stages of recruitment are bound to achieve meaningful and measurable outcomes. In the past few months, the major strides taken by women in their careers, be it Leena Nair becoming the CHRO of Chanel or Falguni Nayaar kick-starting her brand Nykka's very own IPO, the possibilities for women to advance and embrace leadership roles are endless. But these striking achievements are set against a backdrop where there’s always room to do more and to do better when it comes to the career journeys of women professionals.
To take this discussion forward, People Matters in partnership with Sunstone Eduversity hosted an insightful conversation among pioneering women leaders this women’s day. Moderated by Alekhya Chakrabarty, Head of Marketing, Sunstone Eduversity, this webcast was joined in by panellists Ekta Singh, CHRO, AGS Health; Babita Basak, Head HR-Edelweiss Finance; Sweta Misra-Director, HR & Firm Compliance, Indus Valley Partners; Susan Mathew-HR lead-Business Partnering India/R&D International, LinkedIn and Samta Arora, Head of Learning, Sunstone Eduversity.
When asked about the challenges that continue to be faced by women professionals at the workplace, our speakers pointed out a number of examples from the persistent confidence gap, the pitfalls of a lack of flexibility, how unconscious bias goes unchecked and prejudiced coffee table conversation impacts the way women feel at their job. In the face of this, what becomes necessary is the ‘negotiating power’ among women and in order to make this happen, HR professionals and the organisations at large must re-examine their hiring strategies as well as their tie-ups with educational institutes for placements and the company culture.
Here are some key takeaways from the session that can enable businesses to take the right step forward in this direction.
Re-inventing your company culture and hiring strategy to become more women-friendly:
It becomes urgent that leaders have to be firstly aware of the critical career points when women drop out of their professions, these tend to be the stage of motherhood or maternity leave, the nature of job change for instance how increased travelling duties can increase the burden and finally, the stage of senior leadership which is important because it is at this level where women need to find support and role models which can be missing.
All of this can be tied up to the value of flexibility when designing and redesigning job roles for women professionals and empowering them to ‘take more risks’. But against this larger vision, at the ground level, what can be done is to empower male allies at the workplace who can support their women counterparts.
There is a need to build a networking forum of women professionals and those who have taken career breaks due to professional or personal reasons. Such networking, mentoring and coaching of women by women can be fundamental in ‘bridging the confidence gap’.
Women visibility and uplifting them as professionals at the company is also important which has to go hand in hand with enabling them to become change agents and carefully examining where women professionals are placed at the organisation and their possibilities for career advancement.
At the company level, some more suggestions shared at the session on what can be done to uncover biases and stereotypes perpetrated at the workplace is to check whether there are policies to support caregiving, sponsoring of women leadership roles and the intentionality of the organisation in enabling and sustaining an inclusive workplace.
At the recruitment level, there is also the need for inclusive wording and emphasising flexibility. Although there is no one fool-proof strategy but rather experimenting with multiple strategies, biases especially during the interview process have to be checked in.
Important questions need to be asked such as ‘Is the hiring manager aware and aligned with the organisation's diversity strategy?’
This is why training of managers and interview workshops becomes imperative to uncover biases; a diverse interview panel can also become a game changer. But building the women talent pipeline also needs leaders to check where the women applicants drop off in the overall hiring process because this will clearly point out where greater work needs to be done to become all inclusive at the hiring level.
The strategic role of educational institutes and campus hiring for the diversity agenda:
There is a heightened significance of women role models at the educational institutions, even more so in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities because a mindset shift needs to happen at the educational level. Three strategies to carry this forward would include: Firstly, to bring in women narratives and role models in the curriculum, then enabling honest and transparent conversations to seek unchecked biases and finally, encouraging women leadership at this level as well.
When companies come to campuses, they have to bring in the narratives of women professionals at their workplace to truly showcase that they are a diversity driven, wellbeing focused employer.
Only when this is done at the campus level can the women talent pipeline be developed. At the same time when campuses provide corporate mentoring and career coaching sessions, it will lead to positive results in the ways women embrace their professional journeys.
In line with considerable and well intentioned investments made by the company and the campus to drive the diversity agenda, women have to be empowered to approach the workplace with the right ecosystem of support so that no stone can be left unturned. Women Leadership is given space to grow and thrive only when unconscious bias is broken and organisations are ready to re-examine their policies for women professionals at every stage of their employee life-cycle.
To deliver on this promise and to create action-oriented strategies, there is a need for changing mindsets at the educational level, career counselling, offering opportunities for mentoring and networking, providing support at critical stages of career transitions and to actively build a women talent pipeline that can be nurtured and empowered for leadership roles. There is so much work yet to be done but when campuses and companies come together to take forward this agenda of empowering women professionals, there is bound to be a significant change. To catch up on the full discussion and learn more on the strategies that would enable this difference for women at the workplace, click here.