Jabong is a women centric brand. Women represent 30% of our workforce and 60% of our revenue. To make an ‘inclusive’ statement - is not just a fashionable and a social need but an economic imperative.
Fundamental question for our business was - how would we cater to the fivefold growth for our women customers in next 4 years; if we don’t encourage an environment which understands and represents their needs. Several studies show that revenue contributions from women customers will more than double in online retail by 2020. This is a huge customer segment potential we will miss, if we don’t get it right.
While the world debates the pros and cons of providing Maternity Leave for 26 weeks; for us at Jabong, it was a no brainer to make some bold interventions even if they had their flip side.
At a more macro level; I am moved by some of the data insights which various researches have thrown up in the recent past. Number of women at entry level positions constitutes about 25%, it drops to 16% at middle management and sharply declines to 4% at senior management level. Inability to provide an enabling work environment for young mothers is undoubtedly one of the major root causes.
In one of the recent articles of August 2016 in Washington post, Jody Heymann, founding director of the World Policy Analysis Center, says that “European countries view paid leave for mothers as an investment in their economy”. Her study further validates, when women don't receive paid maternity leave, they are more likely to drop out of the workforce, therefore losing income for themselves and their families. Countries can either work with half of their workforce or compete with their full workforce, which requires paid maternity leave.
While the corporates and the governments get ready for these strong policy statements; there are other challenges on the ground which Business leaders need to address while they execute:
Increase in headcount and wage cost:
- With 6 months of continued absence; companies under tremendous EBITDA pressure on headcount and wage cost need to do workforce planning innovatively.
Performance Culture norms:
- Should women on family way be part of the performance rating bell curve?
- How should their promotions, movement to critical roles be addressed?
- Rules for performance increment and bonus need to be rewritten
- Top talent frameworks which typically require consistent performance over couple of years; will need a rejig
This policy propels discrimination:
- For a lot of roles, business sometimes may prefer hiring male candidates over females.
These are real and hard questions to answer. Few companies ahead of the curve in managing women workforce have found their way around by having a separate performance bell curve, fixed percentage representation for women in promotions / hiring and different levels of workforce hierarchy etc.
At Jabong, we have started to do proactive workforce planning to ensure backfill, cross training, redeployments, knowledge transfer to make it a win-win for the organization as well as the employee. As part of our Performance culture guidelines, women who are on maternity leave get rated for their performance for the period they have worked, thus ensuring a fair assessment. Women workforce is an important talent segment for Jabong’s growth that we surely don’t want to lose out on.
Quota of sorts - not the best solution but at least a beginning in the right direction!