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BW Businessworld

A Fair Edge To Business

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Today organisations world over are emphasising the importance of a gender balanced workforce. This emphasis of including a balanced ratio of women in the workforce is essentially pronounced through a multitude of HR policies. Though individual organisations have their signature approach in terms of creating gender neutral work environments there are certain broad hallmarks that characterise these organisations.   

Firstly gender neutral organisations are conscientious about providing equal opportunities to men and women. There is psychological evidence that women are predisposed with a set of qualities that place them in a winning stead as far as certain organisational roles are concerned. For instance women have an inherent sense of empathy that auger well in positions pertaining to corporate social responsibility and human resource development and management. At one important level ender neutral organisations are essentially those organisations that on one hand support more avenues that can translate to fulfilling careers for women. They also score high in terms of offering training and mentoring programmes that are tailored to meet specific needs. 

Study after study shows that having more women in the boardroom improves corporate financial performance. Companies with more women on boards far outperform those companies with fewer women directors: by 66 per cent return on invested capital of companies, 53 per cent return on equity, and 42 per cent return on sales between 2001 and 2004, according to Catalyst, a diversity organisation 
Further there are enough studies to suggest that women have a set of leadership styles that in turn translate to a beneficial equation for the progressive minded organisations of today which thrive on innovation and are constantly seeking newer and more effective management styles. For instance women core higher than men in areas such as participative decision-making, mentoring and coaching, defining expectations and offering rewards, inspiring peers and taking the mantle of role model. These facts clearly portend to the fact that women are endowed with certain unique leadership traits. Consequently organisations that want to truly qualify as gender neutral organisations need to recognise this fact and have structured leadership succession programmes for the benefit of aspiring women leaders.  

Further organisations that are genuinely inspired by gender balance imperatives are the ones that champion transparency in the decision making process so that all employees irrespective of their gender feel valued in the organisation. Moreover such organisations are sensitive to the unique challenges faced by a woman and hence provision flexible timings and virtual work environments that in turn considerably help in easing the pressures of work life. 

Another distinguishing hallmark of gender sensitive organisations is that they provide ample opportunities for women to network both within the organisation as well as outside of it in the business ecosystem. This is done both with the objective of helping them establish their professional credentials and identifying new people, causes and opportunities that can absorb their interests and potential. One simple way through which organisations can help women increase their network is by placing them in charge of new organisational initiatives. This approach automatically increases the scope of interaction with a greater number of colleagues. 

There are some networks in companies that are only cater to women. It is advisable to run these  networks through men and not  women. This is one way of ensuring that the issues of women employees are understood by their male counteraprts. More usually than not when there are male champions of women centric networks the potential of women and their issues are better understood. This invariably leads to the creation of a humane and sensitive work environment. 

It is not just enough for organisations to take a stand on gender equality. Women themselves have to be assertive in terms of their rights and prospects at the workplace. They need to ascertain their unique skills and aptitudes and be clear about their professional goals and expectations. This clarity will help them determine the exact support that they require from the organisation (in terms of training etc) and enable them to be more convincing and assertive while asking for the same. Women should also be conscientious of sharpening their negotiation skills to reach senior leadership positions. It is also advisable to find mentors and learn from experience sharing. Last but not the least they should always be forthcoming in terms of learning new skills and accepting fresh career challenges. 

The author is Associate Vice President - Diversity & Sustainability at HCL Technologies


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