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Gender Diversity In The Workplace

Diversity and inclusion are an evolving conversation

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The case for gender diversity in the workplace seems obvious to many of us, but this hasn’t always been so. For many years, it was merely a nice to have, with many organizations content to pay nominal lip-service. 

It is, therefore, no surprise that just last month (in December 2018) the World Economic Forum reported that we are 202 years away from bridging the Global Gender Gap. This gap is more glaring in India which continues to lag the average and ranks 142 among 149 countries on the economic participation and opportunity factor, that forms part of the gender gap calculation. 

The good news is that more companies than ever before are focused on gender diversity. They look to create inclusive workplaces for people of all genders, generations, socio-political and economic backgrounds. Companies today compete to offer inclusive benefits and flexibility that are tailored to keep women in the workforce. 

Some of this is paying off, according to one recent survey, the number of women working in corporate India has seen a robust growth from 98 lakhs in 2013 to 196 lakhs in 2017. 

Today, our inability to bridge the gender gap at greater speed is not due to lack of serious intent; significant change is often slow. Each year, the Gender Gap Report reminds us all that work remains undone. 

Increasingly studies are showing that the largest problem isn’t as much the proverbial “leaky pipeline” where women at middle and senior levels leave the workforce because of life events like marriage and motherhood. On average, attrition of women is comparable to their male counterparts in the corporate world.

One of the largest issues is rather the fact that women are more likely, even today, to be left behind from the start. The 2018 Women in the Workplace study by LeanIn and McKinsey & Co. says that the 2 biggest drivers of representation of women in the workplace are the disadvantage they have at the stage of hiring and then at the stage of promotions. Women are less likely to be hired into entry-level jobs and far less likely to be promoted to manager level jobs. 

The other opportunity area is inclusion. Bringing in, retaining and developing women is an excellent ideal to aspire to. Creating an environment where they are inspired to reach their potential, to do their best work: that is truly significant. As someone once said to me, Diversity is inviting everyone to the party, Inclusion is asking them to bring their own music so we can all dance to it. 

As a country, we’ve arguably done well to aspire to the idea of Unity in Diversity, a social unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation. Corporate India, however, has a critical role to play in accelerating this to create a new reality. Inclusion will continue to be one of the defining success factors for any company looking to attract exceptional talent in the coming decade, for any company aspiring to significant growth, and indeed for any company aspiring to create a more equal future. 

I’ve been fortunate to work with leaders who are deeply committed to the causes of inclusion and bridging the gender divide in the workplace. Here are 3 things that I’ve learned from working to address diversity & inclusion: 

Keeping score is important

Building a diverse organization requires an ability to keep score. A fundamental input to any diversity plan is visibility and easy access to current and accurate data. Like most things in modern organizations, being able to set objective goals, keep score, share data broadly, and hold teams and leaders accountable to their commitment is key to making tangible progress. Modern tools like PowerBI when deployed well can help measure progress and create visibility to the work that remains to be done. Using analytical tools and engagement surveys, organizations are able to keep score on their inclusion journeys.  

You add diversity one person at a time, but you create an inclusive culture deep and wide 

Attracting diverse talent to any company is a hard-fought battle – that is won, one person at a time. Especially at mid to senior management levels, companies invest considerable resources in bringing in top diverse talent. But adding diversity is only half the battle. 

Very often, teams that aren’t focused on building an inclusive culture pay a high price. 

Diversity & Inclusion is a team sport 

While gender representation figures can shift in a few quarters through sustained investment, Inclusion isn’t built as easily. It takes sustained work on the culture of the organization to create inclusion. Inclusion often comes down to being an issue of shared values. A business and its leaders must believe in the immense power of a diverse workforce that brings together different backgrounds, generations, and groups with their unique take on challenges and their solutions. This cannot be an HR-driven set of programs, but an organization driven culture,  where leaders and managers role model inclusive behaviors, value diverse perspectives and create an environment that empowers everyone to do their best work, irrespective of their gender, generation, preferences, abilities, or any other factor. 

Even when policies are in place to provide flexi-work to employees with demanding commitments outside the office, lack of sensitization at peer and supervisor level makes it taboo for employees to explore these options. Until businesses internalize these policies to the point where flexibility in time and place of work is treated matter-of-factly – rather than as a favor being bestowed – they cannot demonstrate truly inclusive behavior. 

This is why holding leaders and teams accountable for both diversity and inclusion is important. 

Companies can also link senior management accountability to diversity outcomes and focus on representation at all levels of the organizations. Increasingly boards need to hold management teams accountable for building inclusive organizations. In turn, management teams need to ensure that they have diverse boards that represent and govern with diverse points of view. D&I is a team sport, and it truly comes to life when everyone’s head and heart is in the game. 

At Microsoft, we’ve been on a journey to transform our culture. In doing so we articulated D&I as one of the core tenets of our new culture. We did this because we are driven by a mission that is inherently inclusive: empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. To do this, we had to define diversity broadly to include the many dimensions that make people and organizations unique. This is what makes it a fundamental business imperative for us. We are a company that designs for human experiences and needs. In our diverse and inclusive culture, we strive to gather, listen to and include as many perspectives as possible in the various processes we undertake with the ultimate objective of discovering how to bring out the best in each other and in the vast array of people and organizations who use what we create. Our diverse and inclusive culture sparks the thinking that leads to the discoveries that unlock new experiences and opportunities for everyone.

As a company globally, we increasingly do business with minority- and women-owned companies. We globally invest in the development of the next tech industry leaders. And we pursue diverse candidates who are ready to help us do our best work yet.

Having said that, inclusion is a journey and we are very early in our personal journey of inclusion: we are not at our destination yet. Every day we learn new things that make us question our assumptions and seek to understand new perspectives. 

It is encouraging to see the changes that the world has made in the last few decades on diversity & inclusion.  I’m optimistic that the future ahead of us is bright and that for the first time in a long time, the problem is no longer outpacing the progress we were making as we seek to have more women represented in the global workforce.  


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Ira Gupta

The author is the Head HR, Microsoft India.

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