Ira is an experienced Human Resource Professional with a demonstrated experience in Leadership positions. She currently heads Human Resources at Forest Essentials. With a rich and thorough experience of 13 years in Strategic Human Resource Management, she possesses the ability to connect with people across the lines and those at different levels. She is Intrigued by complex challenges and driven by the passion to perform and positively impact people and businesses.
Nearly 25% of the Indian workforce comprises females and 97% of them are employed in the informal sector. That leaves us with a big room to fill within the organised sector and each of us plays an important role in bridging that gap. But how do organisations do that? How do you make gender equality a lived reality? Let’s understand.
Gender diversity means a fair representation of all genders within the workplace. Gender equality at work promotes gender diversity where we give equal treatment to both men and women at work and do not discriminate against one gender based on opportunities, resources, and rewards.
While we have educated ourselves to understand the need for gender diversity at the workplace, the reality is still far from the egalitarian world we imagine.
India’s labour force remains heavily gender segregated with the women labour force participation amongst the lowest in the world.
We all need to realise that gender inequality is not an issue that affects women alone, it affects an entire workplace and the society at large.
Women make up about 48% of India’s population. Not employing women means we miss out on the skills of nearly half of the country’s population.
Reducing the gender gap and promoting diversity at work has many benefits. The most fundamental amongst them being a wider talent and skill pool. In the words of Stephen Covey, “Strength lies in differences and not in similarities.”
There are innumerable studies that support the benefits of gender diversity on business results. Women in the workforce significantly improve the management style, communication, and problem-solving ability of an organisation. They bring different approaches to management, leadership style, investment strategy, conceptualization, delegation, and mentorship amongst other functions assigned to the women in leadership roles. While not all females may follow similar leadership patterns, each one brings along a new individual perspective.
It all makes sense then that different backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and skills increase the chances for better decision-making and in turn, better financial performance of an organisation.
Men and women greatly differ in some important personality traits. Having a fair balance of both genders complements the ability of an organisation to outperform.
Women are considered more emotionally intelligent than men. They seem to have a significantly better perception of complex emotional situations. Their participation in groups and teams significantly improves team performance.
Various studies and surveys around the world prove that men and women add different values to the workplace, and while ‘manly’ traits may be more valued today, the way forward certainly is a step-up from old-school ‘authoritative’ to more collaborative leadership styles.
Women are often rated high on values like politeness and compassion, both of which are significant traits in building and promoting a kind and respectful work culture. However, this may also lead to stereotypes about women being more appropriate for ‘feminine’ fields like PR, HR, Creative, Design etc. and that must be addressed along the way too.
In their book ‘Hardball For Woman’, Pat Heim, Tammy Hughes, and Susan Golant write ‘Women are virtual responsibility magnets. They don’t make these decisions consciously or deliberately but out of fear that if they don’t act on a need it will never get resolved. Don’t we all wish for more responsibility magnets in our organisations!
Today, the decision-makers and hiring managers at many organisations have collectively broken some significant stereotypes about women. Amongst these are that women always treat their household as their first priority and hence they should not be assigned permanent or important roles within organisations; Women of marriageable age should not be hired, as they would leave as soon as they would get married; Women who are recently married will quit as soon as they are pregnant and hence most are not considered for important or permanent roles.
The push by the government to reduce gender gap and making it a more inclusive work environment has also been noteworthy.
The historic enactment of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013. The amendment in the Companies Act of 2013 which now mandates a certain class of companies to have at least one woman director on board. SEBI, in compliance with the Companies Act 2013, made it compulsory to have at least one woman on a company’s managing board from October 2014. The much-awaited changes in the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, which have significantly enhanced the maternity benefits for working women.
While a lot of organisations are trying, there still remains a belief in some corners that women are not as capable as men, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Today we see many women who have risen to top jobs in various domains and industries. With daunting academic degrees, these women have managed a place in the c-suite of industries like banking, finance, IT and automobiles which were considered male-led arenas.
A study published by the World Bank states that companies that have women directors handle risks more effectively and do a better job of managing relationships with customers, employees, shareholders, and local communities. It mentions that gender equality promotes economic effectiveness, and therefore it is important from an economic standpoint, and that the world’s most competitive economies are those where the gap between opportunities for men and women is minimal. It also states that the GDP of a country gains by closing gender gaps.
That brings us to the big question of how do we make gender diversity a priority within our organisations? Let me share with you what we do at Forest Essentials, India. Nearly 40% of our employees in retail and support functions are women.
We have made gender diversity a company-wide cause. We believe it is important to communicate the value of gender diversity to all employees across the ranks and we do it through various initiatives, training and policies that support the cause of gender diversity.
Our Senior Management teams treat diversity as an area of priority. These efforts have led to 60% of our verticals being led by women. We strongly believe that women champion for women and the number of women on leadership teams will mean more women being hired for various roles within the organisation.
We understand that women in India are not only managing work but are also taking care of the household after work. Hence we make room for empathy and flexibility to help them during a challenging personal phase.
We don’t judge them and believe in treating them equally. Extending our full support to women during and after their maternity term.
We have made policies and procedures that promote gender diversity. Our recruitment and performance appraisal policies are gender-neutral and each interviewer and appraiser is trained to give bias-free, merit-based feedback.
We are an equal opportunities employer and offer equal pay to both men and women for similar jobs within the organisation.
To champion and model diversity internally, we have removed gender stereotypes by offering roles to women in functions like Supply Chain, IT, Finance, etc. that are usually dominated by men.
We also believe that as a gender diverse organisation, we are able to attract and retain better quality talent.
Nearly 25% of the Indian workforce is females and 97% of these are employed in the informal sector. That leaves us with a big room to fill within the organised sector and each of us plays an important role in bridging that gap.
Gender equality must become a lived reality for organisations and for us as individuals, parents, and society as a whole.
Organisations and their leaders who are determined to close the gender gap are the ones who will eventually make the difference!