Bridging gender diversity gap: It faces a long, winding road ahead

Published: May 2, 2018 1:23:26 AM

Research tells us that 200-plus years is what it will take to achieve gender parity! This statistic is enough to demotivate us to the extent that we won’t know where to start.

gender diversity, gender parity, gender, men, women, men women ratio, gender ratio, female feoticide, patriarchy, male dominationConsistent commitment is the key to success in ensuring that we all emerge as winners, irrespective of our gender, and that we are able to build a better working world, a world where eventually we stop discriminating based on gender and look at what we all are first and foremost, i.e. human beings. (IE)

Research tells us that 200-plus years is what it will take to achieve gender parity! This statistic is enough to demotivate us to the extent that we won’t know where to start. Nevertheless, we cannot afford to ignore this topic, as the protagonists here (women) account for 50% of the potential workforce in India. Can organisations choose to ignore 50% of the talent pool? More importantly, global research tells us that organisations with 30% female leaders could add up to 6 percentage points to their net margins. So, it’s not just the right thing to do, but also makes clear business sense.

The EY research on gender diversity covering large, medium and small organisations across sectors and locations in India—titled “The Future is HERe!”—indicates that entry-level hiring of women is not a challenge, but that mid and senior level hiring is (29% respondents state this to be a major challenge). Moreover, 43% respondents say they are unable to attract and retain female talent. This clearly calls for deeper rethink around our policies and enablers to make our workplaces more conducive for women.

The core challenges faced by women at the workplace based on our study indicate the significant prevalence of unconscious bias, ineffective implementation of HR policies (especially those intended to promote and support diversity), very few women in leadership roles who can be role models and, most importantly, organisations’ lack of understanding about the benefits of gender diversity. This last element casts its long shadow over all the other initiatives aimed at promoting gender diversity, and results in a half-hearted attempt to pay lip service to this important issue, without really championing it.

Possibly at the heart of the issue is unconscious bias, with almost half our female respondents opining that they face this from their superiors and peers. One-third of our female respondents also feel that there are different performance standards expected from men and women working at the same levels in their organisations. More than a quarter feel excluded from informal networks at work.

We all role model someone at our workplace. With few women role models in senior roles, we cannot expect junior-level women talent to aspire and believe that they can actually reach the top. A paltry 38% of our female respondents believe that women have the grit and drive to lead organisations. This is a stunning statistic. This is where a sectoral cut of our research gives insightful results. If we look at the financial services or IT sectors, they have larger numbers of women role models at CXO levels and this enables women in these organisations to aspire and grow. Over 60% respondents from these sectors feel that women have what it takes to lead organisations. Interestingly, 89% of our male respondents across sectors believe that women can reach the very top in the corporate world.

Our research shows only one in five organisations conduct gender parity audits. HR policies and processes are usually crafted with the best of intentions, but often fall short of delivering the intended outcomes. Gender audits provide organisations with critical observations of where there are policy gaps, and where things are falling through the cracks during implementation. These form the basis for focused action, ensuring that the gender diversity agenda becomes meaningful and has buy-in across the leadership spectrum. We need to first know where we are today, then define where to get to, and then plan our journey. Without this important first step, we find that many organisations are meandering from an uncoordinated initiative to another, often failing to address the key issues faced by women employees.

It’s a long journey, extremely challenging, but ultimately a fruitful and fulfilling one. Consistent commitment is the key to success in ensuring that we all emerge as winners, irrespective of our gender, and that we are able to build a better working world, a world where eventually we stop discriminating based on gender and look at what we all are first and foremost, i.e. human beings.

By Ryan Lowe & Ajay Venkatesh

Ryan Lowe is partner and Ajay Venkatesh is manager, People Advisory Services, EY

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