How can companies induce an organization-wide cultural shift which allows women leaders to thrive

Updated: September 20, 2021 1:09 PM

As work from home becomes the norm due to the pandemic, companies should make an effort to clearly define work timings so as to not overburden female co-workers.

India still has a ways to go in achieving a balanced gender representation in the workplace. (Representational image)

By Amogh Deshmukh

Indian corporates have struggled with the issue of gender diversity since ages and the topic continues to remain unresolved even today, after numerous conferences and ‘diversity in the workplace’ seminars. While the situation in large corporates showed some signs of improvement after the Indian Companies Act, 2013, which mandated having at least one female member on the board of public as well as private companies, which exceeded a certain turnover, very few companies have really gone the extra mile to improve the gender ratio in their offices.

Boardrooms of Indian companies comprise of only 11% women, with the ratio at mid and junior level being slightly better, at 20% and 38% respectively.

Quite a few companies in sectors like FMCG, pharmaceuticals among others give higher weightage to men for junior level positions like sales which require a lot of travel as it is assumed that domestic commitments will prevent women from performing well in these roles.

The reasons for lower representation are multi-fold. One of the reasons for this disparity in India is the societal insistence on traditional gender roles which can discourage a woman to pursue her career beyond a certain point. Differences in work-life balance experienced by both genders also has an impact. Typically, more women than men in India are expected to attend to domestic responsibilities after work, making them miss out on deadlines and targets.

The COVID pandemic and the necessity to work from home has worsened the situation, as women feel even more burdened with domestic responsibilities.

This is reflected in the fact that a recently published report by Global Leadership Forecast study, it was seen that 45% female employees felt that they would likely need to switch jobs in order to advance their careers as opposed to only 32% of male executives.

Often times, the leadership in a company will be reluctant to invest in developing female leadership as they falsely believe that it is not something that contributes to the top line and therefore does not warrant attention. In fact, organizations with higher-than-average gender diversity are eight times more likely to be in the top 10% of companies in financial performance and companies led by female CEOs had a 20% higher stock price on average.

Behavioural aspects between men and women can also impact how many women get hired for certain roles. Statistically speaking, men will apply for a job if they meet 50%-60% of the requirements whereas women will apply for the same job only if they meet at least 90% of the job requirements.

To improve the gender gap at the leadership level, it is important to start right at the bottom of the pyramid and introduce structural changes across the organization to foster a culture which gives women the chance and the opportunity to rise to a position of leadership.

Companies need to look at this issue from a cultural perspective rather than a matter of just plain compliance.

HR can play a significant role in this endeavour. Beginning with hiring, all employees can be trained to look past their conscious and unconscious biases. Including more women on the hiring team can make the process more inclusive. Putting men and women together on the same team can make men more aware of their prejudices and more empathetic about the struggles of their female employees.

Clearly defined job roles and graded pay system can help in bringing transparency into the hiring process.

Offering flexibility during certain moments in a woman’s life can make female employees more comfortable. Companies can make it easier for female employees to return to their previous role after taking a career break for domestic/family reasons.

Cultivating leadership skills right at the junior level through mentorship, training and skill development would go a long way in preventing attrition and can help in giving women a sense of belonging at the organization and make them feel more confident and certain at their career prospects at the company.

Mentally health is an equally important aspect to ensure the emergence of quality female leaders from within the employee pool. Creating a safe environment where women are not hesitant to speak out about their concerns and biases or discrimination they might face is important for their psychological well-being.

As work from home becomes the norm due to the pandemic, companies should make an effort to clearly define work timings so as to not overburden female co-workers.

India still has a ways to go in achieving a balanced gender representation in the workplace. The Covid pandemic is a decisive moment and will determine what the future looks like in terms of female leadership. Depending on the course companies decide to take, the Covid pandemic can either be a boon or a hindrance in letting potential women leaders shine through by encouraging work flexibility and empathy and making policies which support their growth, or it can set their career back if corporates decide to maintain the status quo.

Enabling female leadership talent to shine through requires a system wide approach, inducing change at the cultural level. This can only happen when companies put the necessary checks and balances at every step of the way.

(The author is Managing Director, DDI India. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

Get live Stock Prices from BSE, NSE, US Market and latest NAV, portfolio of Mutual Funds, Check out latest IPO News, Best Performing IPOs, calculate your tax by Income Tax Calculator, know market’s Top Gainers, Top Losers & Best Equity Funds. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Financial Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and stay updated with the latest Biz news and updates.

Next Stories
1UGC-NET 2021 revised dates released: New negative marking rule in place — check exam dates, timings, exam pattern
2Staff Selection Commission Recruitment: SSC GD Constable admit card 2021 to be released soon — here’s how to download hall ticket
3IBPS PO Recruitment 2021: Application process begins; check exam pattern, application fee, how to apply