We talk with Supriti, a specialist in forming diversity and inclusion policies, to find out how organizations can better integrate their women employees
It is difficult to get a handle on the Indian working woman- driven as she is by multiple social and economic inequities. On the one hand, research proves she is just as ambitious as her Western counterparts, on the other hand, a multitude of factors make it difficult for her to stay competitive in the workforce. These factors include an institutional bias against working mothers, lack of adequate childcare and elder care facilities; sexual harassment in the commute- and even at the workplace, and a social structure that treats a woman’s earnings as an ‘extra’ rather than a vocation.
To make women more comfortable at work – a multitude of factors need to align. Better policies, a better commute, better organizational structures and a more comprehensive social and career network. Over the course of the next two weeks, we will look at each of these aspects in detail. We also look forward to hearing from you- about the work you do- and of the many ways it fulfills and frustrates you!
To kick off the issue, we speak with Supriti a specialist in forming diversity implementation policies with a wide roster of clients including Infosys, WIPRO, Oracle Finance, HCL, Bangalore University, IIM and NIFT.
Thanks for talking to us Supriti. To begin with can you give us an overview of what an organization can do to make its women employees more comfortable?
Well, at the least, all organizations must comply with The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
This means having an internal policy on the matter, ensuring that all employees are aware and trained on what is appropriate behavior, providing the right redressal mechanisms for aggrieved parties, and investing resources in making the workplace ‘safe’ for women. In addition, businesses also need to take conscious steps to ensure that the right gender ratios are maintained at each level.
Could you tell us a little bit about the trainings you conduct to sensitize employees about sexual harassment. In your opinion, is it often the case that people don’t know what’s right and wrong?
It no longer surprises me what some people think is acceptable. It is difficult for them to fathom that woman employees are independent, and capable of dictating their own terms and participating in decision-making. Many men seem to live in a bubble where they are oblivious of the strides that women have already made.
A large part of the problem is ignorance about what can be considered sexual harassment. So, when we sensitise them to the dos and don’ts and to the consequences of their misbehaviour, they sometimes stop (Though there are some people who continue to behave inappropriately whether it is right or not!).
In addition, we also help organizations put in the right system for the redressal of complaints – how to form a committee, how to overcome your biases, what to ask, how to ask, what not to ask and how to record facts/ take decisions,
What -in your opinion-creates the right environment where women can actually raise an issue without fear?
The one thing employees need more than anything else is assurance that their complaints will be addressed sincerely. And when this assurance comes from senior management across different functions, it carries that much more weight. It is important that issues like gender inclusion, diversity and redressal of sexual harassment complaints are not treated as just a HR issue, but seniors from business, administraton, finance also champion the cause. Of course, the organization must implement the policy fully.
What else can organizations do to ensure that Senior Management champions this cause?
Increasingly, corporates are incorporating diversity metrics in their performance appraisals. This encompasses the entire gamut of such measures ranging from maintaining a healthy gender ratio, attending gender sensitization trainings, conferences, nominating themselves as Champions for such causes, and participating in complaint redressal committees; eseentially spending time on this initiative over and above their regular work.
With the advent of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, organizations can even lose their license to practice if there is more than one tick mark against them, and that’s made it more important than ever for them to get their priorities right.
Can you think of some organizations that are doing a good job on diversity? Also, is there a difference in the way multinational organizations and Indian organizations treat these issues?
A lot of organizations have brought in a change in the way they look at diversity and gender inclusion. Some of the organizations bring in best practices from their International counterparts and adapt them fairly well in India. Some of the organizations that are doing quite well on these metrics include GE,IBM, Infosys and KPMG.
A lot of the Indian organizations are still family-run businesses. What’s interesting about them is that in a strange way, their patriarchal and patronizing structures make them safe for women as it is considered a ‘moral’ issue if anyone transgresses the boundary against women, and so is dealt with severely. However, the flip side is that such structures don’t provide women employees with independence and growth through the hierarchy for being capable.
Is there a difference in the way the newer IT-ITES companies that require a skilled workforce address gender equality and inclusion as compared to the unorganized sector?
Unfortunately, in a lot of the unorganized sector- like the garment industry for instance, it is fairly common for men to exploit their power and it is an unwritten code that a daily wage worker or a regular woman employee who agrees to a supervisor’s sexual advances gets a job for the day or a promotion. One of the problems these women face is that they are working in a labour surplus industry and the chances of them losing their jobs if they don’t succumb is high.
On the contrary, the IT-ITES sector is pretty much an employees market today, and providing a comfortable and inclusive working environment can actually act as a way to retain good women employees. Often women choose to stay in a job where they feel ‘safe’ and ‘included’ over a salary raise in another company.
Thanks you so much for your time Supriti. What else can organizations do to overcome inherent biases and make the environment more inclusive for the women employees?
Well, the good news is that a lot of organizations are making an effort now. One of the measures that really helps is the establishment of women’s networks within the organization(like Infosys Women’s Inclusivity Network. It is important that organizations allocate budgets towards these networks (that’s how you know they are serious about this); and identify senior managers, both male and female to champion it.
Once such networks take off they find their own strength and voice, enabling women across the organization to speak up.
Very often, women internalize the male perspective in terms of what’s acceptable and what’s not, what they are capable of doing and what they can’t do. And to unlearn that narrative requires time and investment. With women’s networks, senior women managers who have unlearned this behavior themselves over time can share their experiences with new entrants in the work force. This makes the newer women employees feel empowered more quickly.
It helps them speak out against patterns and behaviors that may not be inclusive and to better integrate as productive members of the workforce.
I also think that firms must network with others in the market to share best practices as is being done though NASSCoM for the IT & ITeS industry.
Thanks Supriti, lots of food for thought here. How included and safe do you feel in your workplace? Tell us in the comments below or take 5 minutes to complete our Women at The Workplace survey.