Most organisations today believe that a diverse and inclusive workforce is a business imperative that brings in a strong competitive advantage. It is also important from the talent branding standpoint, especially for young recruits who want to be associated with brands that promote a diverse workforce and inclusive culture, and with a clear ESG agenda embedded in their strategy. Indeed, the enablement of an inclusive and diverse culture is non-negotiable for any responsible business and any organisation seeking to be an employer of choice today. While the discourse around diversity and inclusion is multifaceted (people across genders, generation, race, colour, religion, sexual orientation and preferences and different abilities), most organisations continue to struggle with a very basic problem– a leaking pipeline of women employees. Gender biases continue to hold back not only the workforce but also organisations, as the latter cannot fully harness the value of their trained female talent, especially beyond the mid-managerial and leadership levels. Thus, it becomes critical for organisations to plug the leaking pipeline.
Here are a few ways in which companies can foster an enabling, empowering and equitable environment for women:
- Tone at the top: Accepting the problem, recognising the challenges and accountability are some of the important first steps. This entails stated leadership and role modelling. This could mean targets for recruiting women across levels, promotions and the leadership pipeline; opportunities for reskilling, mentorship and sponsorship; and transparency around growth/promotions and career planning. And all of this while ensuring that meritocracy is at the core of the organisational policy.
- Culture change: Deep-rooted social and cultural biases have a tendency to creep into organisations. Addressing these biases requires companies to challenge the thinking of their diverse workforce. Through sustained communication, an inclusive policy framework and the development of a collective, shared vision, an organisation can slowly and steadily inculcate a culture of inclusiveness. Importantly, these efforts should also cover women themselves – who often unconsciously fall prey to social conditioning.
- Robust policy: In order to retain our diverse workforce, organisations need to have a wide network of strong policies and initiatives that support its people at different life stages and through their career trajectory. It is also important to include the voice and views of people, the beneficiaries, while making these policies or planning such initiatives. These then need to be regularly monitored and people should be held accountable, if required. Robust policies would entail strong frameworks and more stringent monitoring. At PwC, an inclusion lens is embedded across all human capital processes, and we stringently track and monitor diversity across these processes, be it hiring, proportionality of promotions, performance ratings and attrition.
- Enhanced technology investments: The pandemic showed how technology adoption can not only help businesses weather a crisis but also make it more agile. Technology has especially benefited women employees, enabling them to gain better control over their personal and professional commitments. With the right technology infrastructure, women have been able to seamlessly manage their responsibilities, save on commute time and also bridge trust deficits.
- Self-belief and conviction: While the onus of creating an enabling work environment for equitable growth is on employers, women too need to take charge of their careers if the leaking pipeline is to be plugged. To begin with, women should not be afraid of, or shy away from being ambitious or from asking for help. I urge my women colleagues to stay resilient, invest in staying relevant, never stop learning and believe in themselves. They should be intentional about their careers, have short term and long term goals and align their families with these goals, to the extent possible. Investing in the right support system/ecosystem at home would also help them balance personal and professional expectations/responsibilities. I also strongly feel one should have the courage to venture beyond one’s comfort zones, take informed risks and build new capabilities.
As businesses, we need to understand that women may need to take breaks in their career. This should not be viewed as a weakness, and women should not be denied any opportunity at the workplace owing to personal or familial commitments. Women too should not view a sabbatical as a roadblock or challenge. It is a part of life and both employers, and employees need to be mature and respectful of the need to attain work-life balance at different life stages. Until gender parity becomes the default in every aspect, it has to be brought in by design. The drip from the talent pipeline will continue to annoy and hurt unless we as employees and employers act decisively.