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Feb 19 2018 |
Diversity is not optional anymore, it is a way of life
By: Neha

Do you know how many Asian women drop out of the corporate employment pipeline between junior and mid-levels? 29%! Do you know what that number is in India? 50%1 Though D&I means making ‘shifts’ around the 4 diversity levers i.e. gender, religion, age and ability, the core theme for this article is centered around gender diversity. Thankfully, we’re far from the era where having women in the workforce was a thing of pride. Today, for us it’s a way of life. of employees industry wide today in India are women, of India’s pilots are women, of students joining medical colleges are women2. They are here and there’re here to stay.

Then where is the problem?

The problem is not that women are less qualified or eager, but compared to their male counterparts, they sometimes face challenges that keep them from continuing or find themselves getting burnt out at mid-levels when the family responsibilities kick in with motherhood along with added responsibilities at work. Despite many efforts at multiple places to increase retention of women at workplace, women keep dropping out of workforce at mid to senior levels. The problem is real and it’s calling for attention. Some of the reasons quoted by women dropping out are as follows:

  • Lack of role models or mentors and inclusive work relationships, which makes female employees feel isolated and disempowered. Many women fail create partnerships and sponsors at work which become quite important to navigate organizations at mid to senior levels
  • Unconscious Biases i.e. subtle inequities, such as gestures, words, lack of camaraderie may make a female employee feel devalued. Lack of Camaraderie is also one of the quoted reasons at times
  • Lack of right kind of support groups, who can give them just the right kind of push when they are having withdrawal symptoms about their career specially a buy in from senior management on these factors and a commitment to affect a change

In the tech industry, the quit rate is more than twice as high for women (41%) than it is for men (17%). They quote that they might have made different 'choices' if more flexible options were provided since women are still the primary caregivers in a lot of cultures around India.3

How do we contribute to addressing this?

There are multiple initiatives being taken by many organizations across the world at various levels for women, like tie up with crèches, maternity benefits, women leadership grooming etc. While it has solved the problem to some extent with more awareness and better support systems now in place, there is still a long way to go.

I have personally been part of many women leader workshops and unconscious bias sessions which only focus on how women are being left behind and how women can do equal or better than men. Quite contrary to the purpose of these workshops, what I have actually come back with, is generally a feeling of divide between men and women which sadly is not the case in our usual lives. Men today participate equally at homes, with

  1. Shachi Irde, Executive Director, Catalyst India; 2 AT Kearney report, Leaders who are born Women, 2017; 3 National Centre for Women & IT (NCWIT)

children, understand work pressures at the workplace as well. The situation is far from ideal but we cannot say it’s not improving. What we want is not further isolation from men, but to work together for mutual success. So we may principally be on board focusing on women empowerment but we need to also ensure the right philosophy and content is being disbursed in such sessions.

Before we even start thinking of thing e initiatives, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the philosophy

The next stage of this journey has to begin by understanding the nuances of not ‘How do we empower women?’ but we need to just shift our perspective a bit and tilt the question asking ‘Who can empower women’. How will women be empowered if we’re leaving the other – supposedly the bigger chunk of the pie – out of the party and these initiatives? Which brings me to the point that D&I initiatives need to actually include men, be driven along with men – for them to understand the nuances of working together and to support each other in mutual growth. Not involving this other, bigger chunk of the pie only drives ‘exclusion’, not inclusion.

 How do we move forward on affecting this change?

  1. First and foremost, acknowledge it

Diversity is a problem and it is real. Acknowledge it and take every opportunity to stress that your company has a focus on this. If you are managing teams, take special measures to ensure a healthy diversity ratio and be cognizant of the nuances while dealing with both sides – And this does not necessarily mean women. Diversity is about life stages as well. If one of your best male employee has just become a father or has a sick child to take care of, understand and be sensitive to his off time by creating right delegation models.

  1. Diversity starts at the top

Never underestimate the effect leadership commitment and communication can have on this topic. Also focus on having executive mentors for the potential women leaders and help them traverse this stage for improved mid-level retention.

  1. Change & Culture Management

Policy making is just 10% of the job done, we need to ensure it is engrained in the system and practiced by all. This means multiple awareness initiatives, workshops and innovative techniques to ingrain and imbibe this as a way of life.

  1. Measure Measure Measure

What we cannot measure, we cannot improve. Have a robust mechanism for measurements month on month and not only publish numbers but also leverage tools like fishbone analysis to go down to the root cause of the problem and keep feeding this back to the strategy

 

What does D&I mean at Birlasoft?

At Birlasoft, our focus on D&I has been solid and the philosophy has been evolving over the years. Diversity will now start with Inclusion and will not just about women empowerment, but about ‘Coexistence’ of both genders where we all ‘Collaborate’ while being ‘Considerate’ to differences in working styles but also ‘Caring’ for the special needs for the genders.

We will focus on diversity by taking the men along in all our initiatives. We believe that diversity can only be driven together – there is no other way. All our councils will now have equal gender participation to get their valuable inputs from all fronts. Infact, we believe in understanding the requisites for both personas and creating specific solutions enabling teams deliver better results with mutual understanding and respect.

From getting the right opportunities, to the trust of your seniors or peers in accommodating flexible working hours. From having a special initiatives for ensuring safety for women to providing day care services or getting women back to workplace after career breaks, at Birlasoft, each small step in this direction is welcomed and driven across various facets - ingestion, retention and empowerment of women leaders by our D&I committee which today comprises of both men and women based on our conjoint philosophy – Forward, Together.

Sharing this one-liner that I read somewhere and has stayed with me… will be great to hear your thoughts!

A gender-equal society is where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be just a better version of themselves.