India is a land of diversity with various languages, cultures, religions and socialization. While organizations have made concerted attempts to include women in the workforce, the results are limited to wider participation at the lower levels in the organizational hierarchy. As one reviews the progression up the hierarchy, the number of women holding senior positions become less and less. There are a few women role models leading organizations, but their numbers are far too less. So the question arises what can organizations do to enable women climb the higher echelons of the organizational hierarchy? Some answers lie in focusing on three significant approaches suggested below:
First, addressing the unconscious bias about women and gender. Unconscious biases, or implicit biases, are attitudes that are held subconsciously and affect the way individuals feel and think about others around them. Due to unconscious bias, men are all-too-often given preferential treatment over women in the workplace. In general, a man is 1.5 times more likely to be hired than a woman when both are equal-performing candidates.
Iris Bohnet of Harvard University has very aptly said “Gender equality is a moral and a business imperative. But unconscious bias holds us back, and de-biasing people’s minds has proven to be difficult and expensive. By de-biasing organizations instead of individuals, we can make smart changes that have big impacts”.
To avoid gender bias, care should be taken to
Conduct blind screenings of applications that exclude aspects of a candidate that may reveal their assumed gender, like name and interests. This will reduce the propensity to get biased decisions.
Recruitment for Diversity: Like the former Chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi recently tweeted “Diversity is a program. Inclusion is a state of mind”, setting diversity hiring goals to ensure your company holds itself accountable to equitable hiring practices. Care to be taken to make sure to compare candidates based on skill and merit rather than traits that can cloud one’s judgement of them.
Second, Developing a Culture of ‘me’ within ‘we’. This means when organizations are looking at overall policies designed for creating an inclusive workplace, is there any attempt made to check whether women feel that the organization is doing enough to help them grow and rise to the top positions in the organization? True workplace inclusion is top-down and workplace inclusion must be embedded in the DNA of the company and incorporated into the company’s core values.
Mentoring for leadership: Mentoring is a powerful mechanism for embedding a culture of leadership development for women. Organizations that have a formal process of mentoring help women climb the ladder faster. Similarly, cross-mentoring (women mentored by male bosses/coaches) and recommendation of their candidature by male bosses have proven to be more effective in creating a business case for diversity.
Communication in-sync with the inclusive culture: To increase ‘me’ within ‘we’ the communication styles should be gender neutral. As an instead of ‘hey guys’ it can be ‘hi friends’ or ‘hi colleagues’; ‘workforce’ instead of manpower; chairperson instead of chairman; spouse instead of husband / wife, parent / guardian instead of mother / father.
Third, addressing ‘male backlash’ or ‘reverse-discrimination’. This refers to the feeling among men who are a majority in the organization that their interests have been overlooked by those supporting diversity initiatives. It is very natural for such feelings to arise especially when organizations become obsessed with achieving the numbers for appearing gender diverse, they forget that in the process the majority segment of their employees can get alienated. When the majority of employees feel that other groups are getting special priorities or attention that they aren’t getting themselves, they can feel ignored or even begin to accuse employers of ‘reverse discrimination’.
To prevent this backlash by the male employees,
Keep your ear to the ground. Treat everyone with respect and give them a natural sense of belongingness. Seek out employee feedback regularly in order to better detect signs of backlash, and adjust accordingly. This starts with a climate of respect and civility, and a workplace where people are encouraged to tolerate those who look, think, and behave differently from them. Without inclusion, diverse candidates will not just feel ostracized and marginalized; they will also underperform or be evaluated more negatively by their managers, perpetuating the belief that diversity is anti-meritocratic.
At K J Somaiya Institute of Management, a constituent institute of Somaiya Vidyavihar University, care is taken to keep the class gender balanced. Having hostel facilities for girls just as for boys also encourages girl students from all corners of India and abroad to join this institute for management education. As per a study conducted by InsideIIM, the Institute had best gender diversity ratio across B-schools in India with more than 40% girl students population.
To further train the young minds for diversity and inclusion (D&I), the institute not only has a course on D&I in the program curriculum but also has a Centre for Diversity Management and Inclusion (CDMI) aimed at teaching and carrying out Management Training programs and research projects in this space. Inclusion for Diversity is a journey with a business goal. The organizations which have realized its importance have made great progress in strengthening their bottom line and also creating a strong and resilient culture.
Dr. Preeti Rawat
The author is the Director – HR, Somaiva Vidyavihar, Somaiya Vidyavihar University and Somaiya Ayurvihar, and Professor – OB / HR at K J Somaiya Institute of Management.
Disclaimer: This content is distributed by K J Somaiya Institute of Management. No TNIE Group journalist is involved in the creation of this content.