"Empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s the smart thing to do." Barack Obama Former US President said on International Women's Day in 2013.
That the strength of any organization is its people, is a norm in the world of business. Organizations are constantly innovating on not just keeping their employees happy but also creating a culture for them to thrive. They constantly revisit their people strategies and analyze what they can do better to be a workplace recognized globally for its people policies. One of the key areas companies across the world are focusing on is gender diversity and equality.
No doubt women have made tremendous progress in the corporate world. Yet, globally, they account for only around 39% of the total workforce with a slow decline. The simple truth being female professionals continue to face challenges in making great strides in their organizations, with a plethora of issues still restraining their true potential. Multiple studies have shown a direct correlation between gender diversity and organizational performance resulting in improved team performance, creativity, productivity and success.
Right from our yesteryears until now, we have some phenomenal women role models like Mother Teresa, Indira Gandhi, Jhansi Rani, Indra Nooyi, Sania Mirza etc. with great achievements. These are women who fought against all odds overcoming many barriers, to become a league of highly successful and influential women – empowered women who strived passionately to break the glass ceiling in their line of work.
But what does women empowerment truly mean? Empowerment has no universal definition, with different cultures and societies having their own different definitions for different contexts. It is a rather complex term to describe. The most commonly accepted concept of empowerment being - allowing women to have more control over their lives. Participation in decision making, freedom to make their own schedules, learn new skills and gain self-reliance, etc., empowerment of women encompasses a myriad of indicators. Empowerment is created when the strengths that women already bring to the company are recognized and utilized while giving credence to the fact that the strengths and styles each gender brings to the role are different.
Though traditionally women were made to believe that they are less powerful in comparison to their male counterparts in general, today growing awareness and multiple modalities of communication have helped us recognize the marvels that women are bringing about on a global level. This has helped us as a society realize that no gender is inferior to the other. While women are now standing up against every disadvantage that was an accepted norm earlier, their support system needs to evolve for their equal representation in the workplace, especially at senior levels.
In order to make an overall difference, the workforce at any organization has to be diverse. While focusing on equality, it is essential for organizations to not compromise on the basic needs of women employees, such as ensuring a safe, secure, and comfortable work environment. Urgent leaves, and dropping off employees to their home when they work late are all small ways to keep the women in the workforce happy.
When it comes to women empowerment, the involvement of men is also equally crucial. Studies revealed that companies where men actively champion gender diversity are much more likely to progress than those where men are just by-standers.
To encourage gender diversity and empower women, some of the polices and practices a few organizations follow are:
- Equal opportunity at a workplace and fair treatment to both men and women at all stages of employment life cycle - hiring, training, pay scale, promotions, mistakes and achievements treated equally for both genders, etc.
- Mentoring and coaching to support career growth, encouraging women employees to identify their developmental areas and choose mentors including male mentors
- Safe and secure channels of informal communication and collaboration to seek support with each other
- Connect with senior women leaders to share their success stories
- Policies designed around work from home, flexi working hours, women safety etc.
- Gender-sensitization workshops for all leaders including male supervisors around forward-thinking topics like unconscious bias, leadership & mentoring, diversity & inclusion etc.
- Zero tolerance to abuse and harassment
- Encourage women to showcase their leadership by giving them high-visibility initiatives
- Conscious efforts to bring in gender diversity at the top level management
In a typical corporate world, the problems of equality can be predominantly found at the upper and middle management levels. Studies indicate that for most women these are due to fears that are internal – fear of mistakes costing them their job, fear of men being capable of doing a better job. It is often these inferior thoughts that impede a woman from growing further in her career. Self-confidence is of utmost importance for women to succeed in any task along with the ability to be accepting of their mistakes and learning from them. Failure is inevitable but what matters is a never say die attitude. With a passion to be the best at what they do and the drive to achieve their end goals, women can innovate and make extraordinary out of the ordinary.
While policies and special programs can certainly help in empowering women, women should support one another. Most often than not, in the rat race to achieve success and recognition at any coast, women often tend to belittle and bring down their own. Women in power should also use the opportunity to promote an environment where other women can grow. Solidarity is one of the strongest tools one can develop; with women mentoring each other and helping overcome challenges, balancing the workplace and making it equal for women to succeed can happen much faster.
A truly gender diverse culture can be created only if women are empowered and a culture of inclusiveness and equality is created. This is much needed in today’s VUCA world to help women reach their potential. And this is where initiatives that focus on women empowerment can help build such a culture, making sure women empowerment is not just a policy written on the papers but is a reality in many organizations.
Women don multiple hats today - a homemaker, leader, consumers, entrepreneur, caretaker. The importance of diversity and gender equality at the workplace has gained prominence in the past few years. Empowerment of women has now truly become a global movement. It is a very important development objective under UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More companies have realized and accepted the fact that the empowerment of women has a profound impact on overall business performance. Creating an ecosystem that helps woman balance the multiple roles they play in life is essential to the empowerment of woman.