If I narrate you story of an interview where the candidate negotiated hard for incremental compensation and higher incentive, what would be your first impression? What would be your assumption of this candidate’s gender, nature and working style? Or consider yourself on the panel of promotion board and you have to make a choice between a man and a pregnant woman, who would be your preferred candidate for promotion? These situations are not hypothetical neither uncommon, we witness many such events in a day-to-day working life. A recent survey undertaken, by International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) states, around two in five men in India – nearly 40.7% held rigid and discriminatory gender views. This segment believes women to be inferior.
Now don’t be very worried if your answers in both the above situations were ‘male’. These are the result of the unconscious biases that we all have, which have been deep-rooted through our culture, people at homes, educational institutions and now workplaces. Everyone has biases… but this statement should not make you complacent, and let you justify in accepting it as a norm and continuing to live with it. It is important that you become more aware of these biases and be ready to challenge them in self as well as in others.
Our workforce demographics are changing, and as per one of the reports on gender mix in education in India, almost 47% of the total graduates, 48% of engineers, and 40% of MBAs are women. However, as per Oxfam’s report this year, India ranks second lowest in the Group of 20 (G20) economies when it comes to women’s participation in the workforce. It is above only Saudi Arabia, a country that does not even allow its women to drive.
This depressing figure doesn’t culminate just here, as per World Economic Forum (WEF) report from last year, India ranked 124 out of 136 nations in a tally comparing women’s economic participation. Embarrassingly, all the BRICS nations rank much higher than India. The 12 countries below India include countries riven by political instability, such as Pakistan, Egypt and Syria.
Observing all these startling, yet real data points, one is forced to ponder over reasons which are resulting in leaking pipeline, inhibiting women from establishing their position at the workplace and exploiting their own potential. Whilst, there are several social and economic factors that play an important role in augmenting or deteriorating progression and advancement of women. The environ of a workplace and the prevailing biases have an equal vital role to play in attracting, retaining, engaging and promoting women.
With the new Company’s Act coming into being, organizations are certainly forming policies, setting up internal committees but most seem to only tick the compliance, focused on ensuring how ‘men don’t get into trouble’ and how organizations can insulate themselves from potential complaints and negative publicity. However, this psyche in corporate India needs to change and they need to take up challenging programs for sensitizing employees about gender stereotypes and their unconscious biases that intercept in capitalizing advantages of diverse workforce and achieving greater participation of women at workplaces.
With more and more women acquiring higher education, and entering the workplace, it is imperative that organizations are well prepared to accept and include women and leverage their strength for collective advantages of people and business. Instead of teaching men or prescribing suggestive appropriate actions or conversations to them we need to make them understand the impact of their biases and insensitivities. They need to realize that sensitivity is not by exceptions, it is an expectation. The business case and imperatives of having more women in organizations have been illustrated several times in various reports, surveys, seminars and forums but now we need to take ‘affirmative actions’. We need to weed out the unconscious biases and preconceived notions about gender. We need to show respect and dignity as professionals. We need to appreciate and be conscious of people’s background, preferences, appearance, and ancestry. The power of inclusion and specially gender is such that it can increase India’s GDP by more than a quarter if it can match male and female employment rates (according to a report by consulting firm Booz & Co.)
Sulbha has almost a decade of experience in the area of Human Capital, focused on Diversity & Inclusiveness, CSR, Employer Branding, Capability Building, Leadership Assessment & Development and Employee Engagement. She has led several regional and global projects and has extensively worked with cross functional teams. She is the Founder of People Matrix – an HR training and consulting firm and is mentor at Consulting Network-India. She is an electronics and communication engineering graduate and holds a Masters’ degree in business management.