In a world of mandates that have succeeded in increasing numbers, but not necessarily in changing mindsets, it’s time to take a step back and revisit diversity strategies within organizations. The global scenario has shown some promising developments, with reports from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org showing improved female representation amongst C-Suite employees. However, globally and in India, diversity across hierarchies and across blue- & white-collar jobs, is yet to be seen. There’s a lot to be addressed beyond the numbers, and a lot of unlearning and relearning to be done.
India is currently in the bottom ten countries when it comes to women’s participation in the labour force. Is it enough, then to simply recruit a certain mandated number of women, with no changes in hiring policies and no deeper understanding of merit-based recognition and promotion? Let’s look at some ways to combine numbers with policy-level changes and mindset advancements, to ultimately attract and retain a gender diverse workforce.
Recruit, then include
Yes, the first step is to practice more diverse recruitment processes, from job posts with more inclusive language, to interview panels who have undergone sensitization training to eliminate cognitive biases – There are well-researched methods to hire a diverse workforce. However, these processes need to span across hierarchies and designations.
And what should come after the recruitment process? Ideally, what’s needed is a rigorous follow-up of policy-level and cultural changes that will ensure retention of a gender diverse workforce. Some of these measures include:
The implementation of flexi-time
- The inclusion of maternity and paternity leave so that both men and women in the company exercise equal responsibility as new parents
- WFH flexibility for young mothers and single mothers, part time work options, provisions for women who have to look after aged parents
- A safe workplace
- Strict no-discrimination and POSH policies in place
- Sensitization workshops for people of all genders as a way to teach co-existence and empathy
Weed out bias in recruiting
Biases are a result of a subconscious acceptance of behaviours. We are born unbiased but grow up to be deeply biased human beings. All of us – even those who think they are not. These deeply entrenched beliefs are difficult to get rid of. Society, families, and every cultural aspect in our lives expects us to behave a certain way and believe certain things. And that is why the process of bias elimination needs to be long-term and sustained.
Since 2004-05, women’s labour force participation rate (LFPR) has dropped from 42.7% to just 23.3% in 2017-18. As people leaders, to address this, it’s important to understand that your team needs consistent sensitization, fresh reminders and different perspectives on a regular basis. This is especially true of those responsible for hiring. It’s a good idea to plan gender and other sensitization workshops equally through the year, and then to revisit learnings every few months, before launching into the next stage. Keeping this as a sustained, long-term plan also helps newer entrants to be a part of these sessions and get familiarised with the culture you are trying to build.
These sessions may not show much impact in the first six months, however it’s key to continue conducting them and making improvements based on feedback at every juncture. A real impact assessment can only happen after a few hiring cycles. These assessments must aim to understand not only the improvements in the percentage of women in the company, but absolute have to take into consideration how engaged and happy people are across genders. After all, what is the point of having a diverse workplace that fails to be inclusive?
Consider all roles during the hiring process
Another important aspect of inclusion are the logistical details of it. Women, once recruited, sometimes face slow promotions, lower pay scales and a reluctance to be put into certain roles that involve travel, late hours and field work. This is where the measures detailed in the first point come in handy. Rather than making arbitrary rules about where women can and cannot fit into the workforce, why not introduce policies that ensure they fit in everywhere?
A system of true meritocracy looks beyond these limitations and aims to provide a workplace that is equally safe and comfortable for all genders. If, for instance, a role calls for extensive fieldwork and a female candidate is competent and willing, then rather than not considering her for the role, look at what improvements are required. A safe transport service, on-call emergency support, someone to alternate field visits with – These are all necessary measures in the long run. Cost-cutting and avoiding “inconvenience” in one case can mean alienating several woman candidates who are perfectly meritorious and passionate about the job.
Meritocracies are not built on just numbers. They are built on creating a world, a society, a space, which is equally conducive to all genders and which considers competence and talent above gender identity.