A study conducted on the diversity practices and status in corporates says that men are still thrice as likely as women, not only get hired, but also get promoted at every rung. The Catalyst report ‘India Inc.: From Intention to Impact’ reveals that while organisations in India have diversity programmes and policies in place, the intention does not translate into ‘intentionality’ or positive action.
At the recently concluded United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, gender equality has been integrated with 17 Sustainable Development Goals; with the United Nations Secretary-General emphasising on how equal rights for women and men are essential to achieve the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
A Booz & Company study, Empowering the Third Billion,states that increasing the level of female employment to that of male employment in India could increase the country’s Gross Domestic Product by 27%.
In Catalyst’s latest research report surveying 42 companies across seven industries, it was found that, on average, only 20 per cent women constitute the workforce at all four levels of management.
At the entry level, only 21 per cent of hires are women. As they move up the ladder, the proportion of women drops to 15 per cent. Moreover, 28% of women who reach the executive level quit their jobs, which is significant, given that only 14% of executives are women. What stands out is that the attrition rate at this level is higher than at any other.
“There are systemic biases in organisations. It is difficult, and wrong, to pinpoint a bias to a ‘bad-apple’ leader. More often than not, you are not up against a person’s bias, but a whole system’s bias. That’s how the system plays out in organisational structures,” says Aarti Shyamsunder, Director of Research at Catalyst, who authored the report.
However, Aarti has sensed the most striking evolution in the mindsets of corporate decision-makers. “The question of ‘Why’ gender diversity has now turned into ‘How’ to achieve gender diversity. There has been widespread datashare about the case for gender diversity, and how it also makes business sense. And this case has been more and more accepted, to the extent that leaders have been earnestly trying to rectify their numbers.”
However, even as the numbers may start exhibiting upward growth, and look more robust than the past, a truly inclusive environment that feels convivial to women professionals has not been achieved. “Numbers and statistics give you only a snapshot, not the full story. It is important to tell companies what the numbers mean, and what they can do with them to ensure complete follow-through,” says Aarti.
“The framework is being laid, policies are being enforced, but they aren’t creating an impact, because there’s no accountability. The nuanced approach is missing,” she explains, as the reason.
The lack of returnship programs is an example. Many companies grant a woman perhaps 100 days, as opposed to the mandated 84, as maternity leave. But what happens when you come back from leave to your performance review? Nearly 48 per cent of the companies reported not offering any on-site/near-site child-care or elder-care services.
“Performance review is a pet-peeve of mine. The arbitrary policy is to give you a default three on a five-point scale which is unfair to good performers, as well as the non-performers. A pro-rating approach would be the most logical – where you get rated for the time you were present for, and the three months of absentee are not accounted for. You mustn’t get penalised for taking leave. But this kind of follow-through is missing,” says Aarti.
Returnship programs and portals that help talented women make comebacks after longer sabbaticals are on the rise. “They recruit or re-recruit women who have been away, on breaks, for it is a huge talent pool to miss out on. Progressive companies say, “Even if you have been out of touch, you possess the basic skill. So we are willing to train you, invest in you, and bring you up to speed, so you do not go join our competitors. Women with experience are finally being valued.”
However, simply instituting policies isn’t enough. The report emphasises on the need for local accountability, and nearly 70 per cent of the companies had set up programs at the local level. “A solution is to appoint progressive leaders at the local level, which champion diversity pertaining to their geography. Like suggestions to build women only colleges, to create a pipeline of talent in the future and improve entry level numbers in the area as a result.”
Moreover, flexible working hours is a trend that looks like it is here to stay. Almost 93 per cent of India subsidiary companies have a formal policy for flexi-house; but only 64 per cent of Indian headquartered companies allow for it officially. “The focus now is on work-life integration, not balance, to retain high-potential professionals and talent. Most high potentials are looking for flexible work hours. The culture of flexible hours must be created – that would convince the manager that otherwise raises eyebrows when you leave at 4 pm that you are not defaulting on work,” says Aarti.
Moreover, for seeing inclusivity practices bear the best results, both men and women are responsible to move the needle. There is a strong need for men, on powerful leadership positions, who must be brought on board to convert thoughts into positive action.
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- Glass ceiling
- Work–life balance
- Gender role
- Women in the workforce
- Gender studies
- Gender equality
- Aarti Shyamsunder
- Flexible hours
- performance review
- work-life integration