I have recently observed that gender diversity initiatives in organizations have gained momentum. A month ago Pepsico India launched #OneVoice with a host of companies including GSK, Tata Group, Airtel, MakemyTrip, Whirlpool, among others. That same week, I posted a trail conversation on LinkedIn mentioning some of the dilemmas we discussed in #OneVoice; and this post received over 3 lac views with over 600 people commenting, sharing and engaging with it. At the same time, I was invited to speak at the Oracle Open World for the Diversity & Inclusion track. This track hosted two women leader figures who took time from the busy agendas for Oracle Open World to share their journeys and experiences on navigating to the top.
With so many organizations coming forward to reverberate and celebrate gender diversity initiatives, clearly, there is a momentum building up and this may be the tipping point for organizations to accelerate their D&I drives. Here is what I have gathered during the last one month on how organizations can do this:
1. Business leaders need to move from “saying” to “doing”. This is a condition sine qua non. The top teams need to move from awareness and intent, to actually understanding the impact that a lack of diversity can have on businesses. A business leader from a large technology company articulated it very clearly – he mentioned three business reasons why gender diversity was a crucial component in his business agenda. First, he shared that the cost of attrition becomes way too high if the company is unable to retain women employees – so for him, it is really a P&L driven metric. Secondly, he shared his belief that women bring collaboration to teams and that is critical in today’s business environment. Collaboration is a must for teams and without women leaders, any team lacks the foundation to be collaborative. Thirdly, he admitted that women were way better at customer advocacy (and he needed no data to support it) — For him, customer advocacy is critical for businesses which also means women are critical to achieving that. So there it is — a great example of how a leader has articulated the business case for diversity as an actual strategic objective for organizations. But moving from words to action will only happen if the efforts on diversity align to the business requirements.
2. Organizations need to leverage talent processes to accelerate the change. From talent acquisition, to succession planning, to career progression — these all are critical levers to move up the numbers. Some tactical ways to increase the number of women employees is to mandate quotas for women at the shortlisting stage. This should be a mandate not only for support roles but especially for critical business roles and subsequently all levels of the organization. Similarly, having at least 1 women identified in the succession plan is a great way to enforce that shift in leadership – if you don’t have women in your succession plan, then go and hire one! Prioritizing and focusing on putting more women leaders in the teams will help in accelerating change even more. But as a business leader, if you want to introduce all these changes you will need to “walk the talk” – hiring more women directly reporting to you will not only show that you are leading by example BUT will also ensure that the change happens faster down the line. These are tactical but powerful ways to drill down the action from the top to across the organization.
3. Sensitization and architecting an inclusive culture. Organizations that have traditionally male dominated composition may tend to have more “macho” trait oriented culture. It is critical that organizations also imbibe “feminine” traits as such as listening, sharing emotions, empathy, etc. – women leaders have higher changes to strive in a culture that aligned to their working styles. This sensitization needs a three pronged approach that will rest on three questions — What are you doing with your women employees? What are you doing with your male employees? And what are you doing from an organizational perspective? These three questions need to be answered clearly to make the culture more inclusive.
4. Focus on when and where the exodus is happening: 3M – Marriage, Maternity, Mobility. These are the three stages/situations where most women quit. To counter such a challenge, careful planning and interventions need to be designed to minimize the impact of women employee attrition. Companies today have progressed and extended the maternity leave even before the new law in India was instituted — my view is that longer maternity leaves without carefully planned interventions may lead to higher drop outs as the longer a person is away from work, the more difficult it can be for them to come back. Here is what some of the organizations are doing that could be reflected on: Make sure the role for the returning mother is clear even before she going on maternity leave – that provides for clarity and a goal to look up to. Organize trainings, workshops and learning sessions during the maternity leave period so that women employees can network with each other and are connected to the workplace in some way. Many companies have a returning mothers program that includes orientation, training and even new goal setting. A large global financial services company actually provides a cash incentive of 10% of salary for women who return from maternity and stay for at least 1 year. Technology is a great enabler to support such life stages; today you need not be in office for a meeting or to be available to your teams – organizations need to embrace technology as a way of working that brings flexibility to both women and men when situations in life require employees to be away from office.
5. Remember this is a huge change management process – Don’t underestimate the time, effort and planning that is required for such initiatives. Like any and all strategic initiatives, this too requires goal setting, planning, accountability, budgets and targets – if it is not in your or your manager’s scorecards, then it will not happen. When it comes to accountability, don’t fall in the trap of counting the numbers …. Remember, after all it is about making the numbers count.
Special thanks to everybody who have contributed to the making of this post, and have shared their experiences and knowledge.