by Nitika Goel, Director, Zinnov; Chaitra Ramalingegowda, Marketing, Zinnov
Large parts of Western Europe and Eastern US have few large land predators such as lions and wolves left, if at all. What is irrefutable is the fact that the vital role that carnivores play in maintaining the delicate balance of ecosystems. With large predators vanishing – almost at an alarming rate – the ecological effects, both big and small, will become irreversible in the long run.
Likewise, there will be unwitting, unforeseen, and unintended repercussions, if there is no diversity in organizations. You only have to Google the phrase, ‘women leaders in Fortune 500 companies’ to know how meager this number is. There is a paucity of women in leading positions across the corporate world. It clearly showcases a dearth of diverse perspectives, which is imperative to maintain the balance in the ecosystem.
Dismal Industry Numbers
To reach these numbers, it has taken corporate America a good five decades. To put things in perspective –
1980 – There were zero women in the top executive ranks of the Fortune 100
2001 – This number had reached 11 percent
When the search is widened to include Fortune 500 boards, this number stands at 17 percent, which, unfortunately, hasn’t budged in the last eight years. These changes signify a stronger commitment to have more women in leading positions, sure. However, they are minuscule in the larger scheme of things.
But why are there so few women leading at the top? Despite there being a record number of women enrolling in STEM courses globally? What happens as they climb higher on the corporate ladder? Why don’t they get the corner office? Is a deeper misogyny to be blamed? Or is this a direct result of nature vs nurture in play? Or, do women second-guess and overthink things, so much so that they lose out on key opportunities that come their way? Or, is it, perhaps, a combination of all of these factors?
These questions need collective effort from women employees and the senior management to find answers to. There are organizations that are committed to bridge this gap in their workforce and transform their workplaces to be diverse and inclusive. Leaders at such organizations are aware and realize the potential, perspectives, and possibilities that women bring to the table. However, while the number of such committed organizations is significant, it is not enough. When looked at from a woman’s perspective, it seems like a drop in the proverbial bucket. Change happens and trickles down successfully, when this drop becomes a steady dribble, which then becomes a cascading waterfall.
Awareness is key to finding solutions to the issue; this awareness needs to bring forth more conversations around gender diversity, which can then lead to more tangible action across organizations, regardless of the industry. For true diversity to be achieved at an organization level, this Awareness-Conversation-Action cycle has to be embraced not from a single leader’s or a business unit’s perspective, but from a business standpoint.
#MeToo and Its Ripple Effects
While it may seem like the world in general, and the corporate sector in specific, have just now taken note of issues like gender inequality, gender wage gap, and gender discrimination, it has been a longstanding obstacle that has reached its zenith now. This is especially so in the wake of the immensely popular #MeToo campaign that saw the fall from grace of many a top executive in the media business and the corporate world alike. There simply is no choice left but to address the proverbial big PINK elephant in the room.
Today, we, as part of the ecosystem, are better suited to address this issue than ever before, owing to the confluence of a variety of positive factors –
- the openness and broad outlooks that many leaders possess towards creating diverse and inclusive workplaces;
- the many amenities/avenues that are available for women that empower them to focus on their careers and continue to be significant contributing members of the workforce;
- the plethora of mandates by governments – creche mandate by Indian government, 6 months to 1 year of paid maternity leave offered by several organizations globally, California law forbidding recruiters from asking for previous compensation so that the candidate is evaluated on the basis of merit rather than what they used to earn, et al;
- the many champions who are spearheading diversity and inclusion initiatives and programs across organizations, both internally and externally;
- the many non-profit and for-profit organizations that work closely with business and technology leaders to bridge the gap between expectations and reality of diversity and inclusion in organizations;
to name a few.
The diversity and inclusion agenda of an organization can be broadly looked at across three main levers:
- boosting the number of women in the workforce;
- creating an LGBTQ-friendly workplace, and
- including People with Disabilities in the workforce.
What Women Want
While there are substantial numbers of women in the workforce, the number of women who drop out mid-career, post-marriage, post-childbirth, later years, are still significantly high. This leaves very few women left to reach the C-suite. What can be done differently? Is this specific to certain geographies, or is it common across the globe? Leaders need to keep these factors in mind and champion specific initiatives like workshops and seminars that aid in reducing, if not completely eliminating, the many inherent biases that many men AND women possess – all thanks to the society we live in, gender stereotypes that are ingrained in us through our environs, and the many factors – big and small – that influence and reaffirm these biases through our lives.
Some of the steps that organizations can take to ensure that their female employees are treated at par with their male counterparts:
- Women need to be given the same opportunities and benefits as their male colleagues.
- Stop making assumptions about a woman’s performance capabilities, just because she is of a certain age and/or comes from a certain background.
- Blind qualitative and quantitative metrics can be looked at during performance appraisals, to eliminate unconscious bias.
- Giving the opportunity of being heard.
- Sensitization of managers in dealing with female employees who return to the workforce after a break, is imperative.
- Counselling for the returned employee as well as their teammates on dealing with change and change management enables a conducive and productive environment.
Including the LGBTQ Community in the Party
With same sex marriage being legalized in the US, and many other countries following suit, it’s heartening to see more and more people being open about their sexual orientation at the workplace. It also had an important effect in the corporate sector – organizations began formulating rules and regulations that made the LGBTQ community feel inclusive, taking a step in the right direction of being a fair and unbiased workplace. However, the same cannot be said of many countries, including India, where legalization of same sex marriages is a pipedream. Still.
The one ray of light is that organizations have realized that creating policies, conducting sensitization workshops, creating an open and judgment-free work environment are all imperative to establishing a diverse and inclusive workplace. There has been conscious understanding by the management of many organizations of the fact that a conducive and inclusive workplace boosts employee morale and productivity. Furthermore, it’s not merely framing policies but following through with them, because it’s a long journey of progressive realization with many a hurdle and roadblocks strewn about. The will, the conviction, and the commitment of the leadership team is crucial for its success.
Some of the key initiatives and/or programs that organizations can take up in this endeavor include:
- Sensitization, awareness, and education are the first steps to creating an LGBTQ inclusive workplace. These can be achieved through dedicated workshops, seminars, and organizing panel discussions with experts in the field during Pride Month (June) and/or LGBTQ History Month (October).
- Normalizing the conversation around the LGBTQ community is imperative, and creates a positive difference.
- Encouraging employees to be proactive and self-educate themselves about the LGBTQ community, the various acronyms associated with the community, differences between sexual orientation and gender identity, et al.
- Something as easy as using gender neutral language at the workplace can be a step in the right direction to making your workplace LGBTQ-friendly.
- Creating an LGBT resource group within the organization is another step that leadership teams can enable. These groups create an environment where LGBTQ employees and allies can come together within the construct of an organization to forge deeper bonds with fellow colleagues.
- The leadership teams in organizations need to be aware of the legal issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community by hiring/retaining the services of an expert attorney.
The Many Abilities of People with Disabilities (PwD)
Progressive organizations that truly want to create workplaces that are diverse and inclusive, know the importance of leveraging the strengths of skilled people, no matter if they are People with Disabilities. However, there needs to be an organization-wide cultural shift, with the leadership team leading this change to make the biggest impact.
Some of the key initiatives and programs that the leadership team can outline across the organization include:
- Building awareness to empower the workforce is essential to reinforce the affirmed commitment of an organization to be disabled-friendly.
- Investing in training and etiquette classes to sensitize the employees is imperative to create a fully integrated workforce.
- Leveraging the full potential of various assistive technologies to enable and empower disabled people to become active parts of the workplace. For example, computers with Braille keyboards, voice to text conversion, color-coded keyboards, speech recognition apps and tools, assistive listening devices, specialized screen reader software, et al are just the tip of the iceberg that is assistive technologies that empower people with disabilities.
- Making necessary infrastructural changes including hallways, restrooms, storage spaces, elevators, ramps, etc., to enable access across the organization for people of all heights, mobility, and other related constraints.
- The leadership team needs to be honest with itself on why it’s committed to build a workplace that is disabled-friendly. At no point in time should hiring a person with disability be a CSR initiative. It’s not just incredibly insulting, it is also a backward way of looking at the situation. Honesty – while hiring PwD as well during appraisal cycles – goes a long way in fully integrating a workforce that is truly diverse and inclusive of disabled people.
Numerous studies have shown that a diverse and inclusive workforce has a positive impact on productivity, employee morale, brand identity, and social development. Along with formulating apt policies, initiatives, and following through with necessary steps to see these programs through to success, organizations need to understand that it is a long and arduous journey. That it won’t happen overnight, or even in a short span of time. That to create a diverse and inclusive workplace, consistent effort, commitment, awareness, empathy, and conviction are an imperative.
At the end of the day, you want your party to make everyone present to feel like they are ‘wanted’ and ‘appreciated’ for being there. You want your party to be a success, and that happens when everyone gets on the dance floor and shakes a leg, or a wheel!
Diversity and inclusion should be a key focus area for organizations, but Isn’t. how to implement initiatives that make your workplace a truly diverse and inclusive one? write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to know more.
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