With Marching Sheep, this HR professional is looking to bridge the gender parity gap 

In a conversation with HerStory, Sonica Aron, Founder, Marching Sheep, talks about the importance of gender parity and its role in economic growth in companies.
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According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), India ranked 112 out of 153 countries in terms of gender parity in the annual Global Gender Gap Index for 2020, followed by Pakistan and Afghanistan in Asia. 

Harvard Business Review (HBR), Washington Post, and others have reported that if women play an equal role to men in labour markets, the global GDP would rise by $28 trillion by 2025.

Thus, it is no surprise that the need for women to join the workforce is increasing by the day. Diversity is no longer a ‘good to have,’ but a ‘must-have’ in several organisations. 

And, taking this into account, Sonica Aron founded Marching Sheep in 2013. 

An XLRI Jamshedpur alum, Sonica has extensive experience in the HR space, having worked for the likes of Pepsico, Philips Consumer Lifestyle, Roche Diagnostics, AkzoNobel, and Vodafone, among others. 

Every woman in the workspace experiences gender-based bias at some time or the other during their work life. As a woman professional, Sonica has both experienced and observed this closely, prompting her to launch her diversity practice.

“Organisations need to move ahead of the curve and drive inclusive teams and mindsets, gender-sensitive processes, and mentor and coach women,” Sonica shares with HerStory

What does it do?

Sonica started Marching Sheep with a vision of delivering interventions that are truly different and diverse. 

With an experience of 18 years as a Human Resource and Diversity and Inclusion specialist — both in the industry and consulting — Sonica has designed diversity and inclusion frameworks in India with exclusive programmes, including Women@Work, Unleash, and Diversity@Work! 

The startup works with clients across industries on gender, generational and sexual orientation diversity. Some of its clients include Reckitt Benckiser, SBI cards, Sterlite Power, JCB India, Continental Tyres, Diageo, Baxalta, and Oetiker, to name a few.

However, this journey was not easy. Besides the regular challenges of setting up a business, Sonica also had to break the barrier of bias. 

In a conversation with HerStory, Sonica says, 

“When I started my programmes, most organisations looked at it like a box that needed to be ticked. Many asked me if I could work pro-bono or deliver programmes without too much agenda. So my focus wasn’t just developing and building the programmes but also creating the needed awareness. Today, things are different, but we still have a long way to go.” 

How does it help?

Sonica explains that the startup first delves into the needs of its clients, understand them, and provides them programmes based on the assessment.

“Today, there is enough and more study to prove that an inclusive organisation is more productive. We help the clients bring that charter and strategy with plans and also partner with them on the execution,” says Sonica. 

She adds that in most companies, diversity is viewed as an HR function. However, it is more about the cultural shift. 

“It all begins from the core. It begins with understanding why is it important and how will it impact their economic growth and revenues. And this, generally, makes organisations sit up and take notice,” Sonica shares. 

The need for diversity 

Stephen Turban, Dan Wu, and Letian Zhang, in an HBR report, say, "In a study of 1,069 leading firms across 35 countries and 24 industries, we found that gender diversity relates to more productive companies, as measured by market value and revenue, only in contexts where gender diversity is viewed as “normatively” accepted. By normative acceptance, we mean a widespread cultural belief that gender diversity is important.” 

The impact of diversity on the bottom line was first discovered in 2015 in a McKinsey report. 

In over 366 public companies, firms in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. Moreover, those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have returns above the industry mean. 

This happens primarily because people from different backgrounds, gender, and races can alter the behaviour of a group, leading to improved and more accurate group thinking. 

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology backs this. It says, when close to 200 people were assigned to six-person mock jury panels, — either of one ethnicity or a mixed one — the study found that diverse panels raised more facts related to the case than homogenous panels. 

In fact, the diverse panels made lesser factual errors while discussing the evidence. And, in case of errors, these were corrected during deliberation. 

Thus, it is no surprise that diverse teams are more likely to relook at facts and remain as objective as possible. The report added that it also encourages stronger scrutiny of each member’s actions, and keeps the joint cognitive resources sharper.

“Look to hire people for the job they do. If you look at it purely as a job, the biases slowly start disappearing,” says Sonica. 

The startup is now looking to add more programmes, expanding to various aspects of parity. 

Edited by Suman Singh