What makes an organization women-friendly and truly gender inclusive?
This is a key question being pondered upon in boardrooms and among human resource managers across the globe today. With gender inclusivity finally becoming a central discourse in the corporate world, a number of organizations today are making conscious efforts to revamp their workplace cultures to become more amenable and friendly to women employees.
However, in India, the concept of gender parity at the workplace is not thoroughly understood. Most corporate houses tend to believe that having more women at the workplace, allowing them a few months of maternity leave and a little more flexibility in performing their duties is sufficient to make their workplace gender inclusive. The truth is, gender parity has a much deeper connotation than just a few piecemeal initiatives. A truly gender sensitive organization not only has more women on board, but also has a culture that takes into account their special needs, and an environment that allows them to grow and thrive as professionals without emulating a man’s way of working.
Women employees bring a substantial amount of emotional intelligence to the organization at all levels. They are also more precision-focused, process oriented and emotionally balanced. Being good problem solvers, they have a greater ability to interpret issues quickly and solve them conveniently. They also bring better human equations to the work environment.
While we are still a long way from achieving perfectly gender inclusive workplaces, the churning of ideas and shift in consciousness has begun. Ten years down the lane, corporate India will be a much different space for women with the taking over of an entire generation of women leaders who will be more ambitious, well-educated and confident.
What workplaces need?
A cultural shift
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when more women started joining the corporate workforce, many organizations realized they didn’t even have separate restrooms for ladies. Concepts such as office-provided pick and drop facilities are recent introductions to India’s work culture, engineered after women executives became a significant force in the corporate set up.
Much like how our society has been patriarchal for centuries, our workplaces would also plead guilty to the fact that their policies and work cultures have been crafted with a male employee base in mind. Often, for a woman to be professionally successful, she has to make sure she meets the working norms of men, be it 24/7 availability for work or stretching late beyond office hours.
To make organizations more women-friendly, we need a greater shift in organizational culture. The agenda of women empowerment needs to be inculcated into the structural and functional design of organizations. Sustained change requires innovative thinking, and more so for promoting women-friendly corporate policies.
Flexibility of working
Many organizations believe that flexible work policies allow employees to shirk work. Looking at it from another perspective, allowing greater flexibility such as work-from-home option and flexible office hours actually allow a large section of workforce perform their duties better and be more productive.
Flexible work timings are especially a boon for women who have to share a greater burden of domestic responsibilities. Such arrangements allow them an atmosphere of freedom and respect. At Sun Life India Service Centre, we have instituted a flexible work environment which allows work from home option and flexible shift timings to suit the convenience of employees.
Organizations with operations in IT, on-call services and software support that can be managed remotely can benefit immensely by enhancing flexibility for their workforce.
We can’t achieve gender parity at workplace until we keep discriminating against motherhood. In most cases, when a woman professional turns the family way, her career plateaus or she is forced to change to an alternate work profile. In many organizations, paid maternity leaves are not extended to women; in others they are forced to quit or return to work in less than six months.
It is important to underline here that maternity leave is an unquestionable right of every woman professional. At Sun Life India Service Centre, new mothers are given the option to extend their six-month maternity leave by additional six months to help them attend to the needs of the newborn.
Making efforts to retain women employees and supporting their gender specific requirements is important for organizations to reap the benefits of diversity. As mentioned above women employees bring a different set of skills to the table and provide the workplace a diverse kind of talent pool. Recent studies have shown that organizations that have more women in top management positions reap better financial results. Make no mistake, having greater gender diversity brings enormous long-term benefits.