There is growing support for gender diversity in firms today: Chris Houghton, Head, Ericsson India

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December 22, 2014 12:02 AM

On December 18 Ericsson India held a diversity day at its office in NCR, where Mary Kom and her husband Onler Kom were invited to speak...

On December 18 Ericsson India held a diversity day at its office in NCR, where Mary Kom and her husband Onler Kom were invited to speak with the company’s employees on the importance of women empowerment. In this interview, Chris Houghton, Head of Region, Ericsson India, shares with FE how there is a growing support for gender diversity in most organisations today. Excerpts:

Why is gender diversity important in the corporate sector today?

Gender diversity can bring great value to an organisation and its business strategy. Research shows that teams with gender balance tend to be more creative, more productive and more willing to share knowledge. A diverse workplace stimulates creativity and innovation and there is a strong business case for diversity. For Ericsson, diversity is of immense importance as we are in a high-tech innovative business and want to stay ahead of the curve. We can do that only if we derive strong performance from all team members. In India, we have implemented policies that promote inclusion of women and undertake initiatives to engage employees on the key tenets of diversity and inclusion.

What do you attribute the apparent lack of gender diversity in India to?

Culture and socio-economic factors, which vary by country, are powerful influencers of women’s role in the workforce. Women often are faced with situations where they have to let go of their career pursuits when they are midway in their career. There are many women who take a career break to raise kids or manage responsibilities in a new family after marriage. It sometimes becomes a challenge for them to resume work as per their earlier profile. However, the situation is now changing. There is growing support for gender diversity in all organisations. The Indian government has also notified the rules in the new Companies Act, guaranteeing a minimum percentage of gender diversity on the boards of Indian companies. This is a significant step.

Do firms that have balanced gender diversity perform better?

Companies that have better representation of women and recognise the value they bring to the organisation, in my view, perform better.

Should a different weightage be given to women candidates? In other words, all things being equal, would you choose a woman candidate over a male candidate?

Hiring should be based on merit. We give equal opportunities to both men and women and then based on which candidate meets the hiring requirements better, we hire without any kind of bias. We are not hiring women just to increase numbers. For us, it’s more about giving women a fair chance and dealing with the problems that stop them from going ahead. When it comes to hiring, the formula is to create a workforce that is not only heterogeneous but can adapt to perform better, create value proposition and generate focused results. Since diversity encourages innovation, we are always in support of this in our organisation.

How are you driving gender diversity at Ericsson?

Some of the policies we follow include extended maternity leave and flexible working hours. All eligible female employees can request up to 90 days of extended maternity leave, in addition to the 3-month leave. In a situation where the employee still needs more time, the company can consider request for up to 3 months flexible working hours after availing the extended maternity leave. Further, we have initiated the Blue River Project in order to sensitise our employees on diversity and inclusion and create a high performance culture. For example, last week we invited Mary Kom and her husband Onler Kom to our office to share their diverse experiences and how they deal with their own roles and responsibilities in the marriage given the challenging requirements of Mary’s sporting career.

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