Article (November-2017)


Diversity initiatives must move beyond rhetoric

Madhu Rathee

Designation : -   HR Business Partner

Organization : -  Universal Group, Gurgaon


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The quote of Stephen R. Covey "Strength lies in differences not in similarities" aptly suited to the topic gender diversity.

Gender diversity in the workplace is the equal treatment and acceptance of both males and females in an organization which adds value to a company's bottom line due to the different viewpoints and backgrounds of diverse individuals.

There are many challenges as well as benefits too.

A firm (Law Firm) recently decided to adopt a gender diversity program, as they only had one female working at the firm, and she was in administration. Gender diversity is when a company is represented by a more equal proportion of men and women. More companies are realizing the value of having a diverse workforce. That firm's partners in our story heard that their biggest competitor was reaping huge successes and benefiting from having different perspectives on staff after hiring female attorneys.

That firm decided to hire four women who recently graduated at the top of their law school class. Soon after they were hired, the women discovered that there were some huge problems at the firm that matched society's trends on gender issues. The women put together a list of grievances and presented it to the partners after two days, which surely helped law firm partners to view issues from different perspective.

This question is especially relevant for India where women's participation in the labour market is declining at an alarming rate. Over the last decade, India's female labour force participation rate, which stood at 37% in 2005, fell by 10 percentage points. By 2016, only about one in four Indian women were working or looking for work.

Recent efforts by the government, from mandating listed companies to appoint at least one female director on their boards, to increasing paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks, are falling short because they do not adequately engage the private sector in correcting this trend. After all, firms significantly shape the challenges and opportunities female workers face in their day-to-day job tasks and in interactions with their male colleagues.

To motivate firms to foster gender diversity in the workplace, there is need for more research on how diversity initiatives improve their performance.

Appointing more women on corporate boards and senior management has distinct business advantages for firms. But to get to those stations, women need to be afforded the right opportunities in their early stages of careers. If women remain trapped at the low end of the career pipeline, they will be absent from corporate boardrooms as well. Therefore, the focus should be on fostering gender diversity throughout the organisation, especially for mid-management and executive positions.

Gender diversity is not merely a numbers game; it goes beyond the proportion of men and women in a firm. It matters when, where and how women participate in the workplace. By determining the specific constraints as well as opportunities that shape team dynamics, situational settings can either reduce or amplify the direct impact of gender diversity on performance.

For example, one study found that in a male - dominated occupational setting, gender diversity had negative effects on performance outcomes. An example of the occupational setting where majority of production engineers are male and argue that in such a context, female engineers are prone to negative stereotyping such as possessing inferior technical competence. They also have lesser access to resources. This, in turn, inhibits their performance in mixed groups. Sound familiar?

What is reason behind all this? What I think specially in India, which is a male dominant society, this thing is in everybody's mind that's why even employer can't accept the fact that a woman can do complex work.

This is the biggest challenge for our society for our workplace too. This is the only reason employers do not adopt it whole heartedly.

It's a simple thought that engaging and retaining a diverse audience requires a diverse approach and workforce. Women currently influence over 85% of retail decisions so aligning direct representation within your workforce is almost imperative in order to retain and capitalize on this. We all have different talents, different attributes and bring different skills to the table, without this diversity businesses wouldn't develop, adapt, innovate and progress. By eliminating, decreasing or not engaging female representation within your workplace you are losing out on half of the talent pool available to you and the unique attributes that female workers can bring from entry level through to boardroom.

I liked one statement given by Barack Obama - We need to reject any politics that targets people because of gender, race or religion. This isn't a matter of political correctness. It's a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.

This is more of same to the workplace as well. Gender diversity has to be there in any organization in any case if that has to grow.