What does gender parity really mean?

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Gender parity is the most talked about term in current context of diversity and Inclusion. Gender Inequality is a global concern. The concern is over not just jobs, but also the societal biases and attention women/ girls receive in the families worldwide. In an ideal meritocratic world, the jobs and leadership positions should belong to a person purely based on merit where gender ceases to matter, however in the current world, making it to that ideal world is a great journey involved and needs holistic support from men and women alike at home, school, workspaces and social and community programs.

THE HARD FACTS

  • The gender pay gap in India for the year 2013 was recorded at 24.81% by Wageindicators, and a curious stat is that this gap increases with age. Women below the age of 30 earned 23.07% less than men, while those in the age group of 30-40 years earned 30.24% less than men. Good things are already starting to happen around the globe and Iceland shows the way. Iceland has become the first country in the world to make it illegal to pay men and women different wages for the same job. This has been possible since it has been supported by Iceland’s centre-right coalition government as well as the opposition, in the country’s parliament, where nearly 50 percent representation of members is from women. The key is in ensuring women reach those decision making platforms that help empower women in the real sense.
  • Across corporate world, in my experience, women’s forums are chaired by one or two (minority) women leaders who are also not entirely empowered to take decisions on women specific issues. The women forums are usually channels to address the workspace issues and a bit of celebration of the gender around International Women’s
    day. Other than that, while one or two things get addressed, most go unnoticed or shelved in case there is financial fallout towards execution of some of the initiatives and no immediate visible ROI.
  • Basic infrastructure requirements like toilets are missing in many cases and compliance related matters are also not fully taken into cognizance. For e.g. the maternity benefit (amendment) Act 2017 regulates the employment of women before and after the child birth. It directs establishments that employ 50 or more employees to have a crèche facility, either in the office or in any place comfortavle for employees to pick drop or nurse the child.. A mother will be allowed to visit a crèche four times a day. Effective 01 July 2017, the companies need to provide the crèche facility but how many
    organisations are compliant today.
  • While girls and women are half of the population in India, the access they have to education, opportunities are much lesser. Often parents choose the boy to go to school over a girl in case of financial constraints. Girl child starts to drop out of schools at a tender age of 10-15 to either start helping mothers at home or take care of younger
    siblings, while the boy child manages to finish his school. Parents don’t often make the decision based on their potential or academic performance. It is based on the societal myth that a girl would get married off and manage household therefore she doesn’t need formal education. The fact is that educated mothers help empower the entire family. She can take well informed financial decisions,teach the children and also support partners in shouldering equal financial burden.

Data across school results often show girls topping their academic institutions but it is interesting to note that finally few decades down the line, ultimately one finds a minority representation in the boardrooms. What happens? Where did all those sharp, bright women go?

One of the main reasons is lack of support after marriage both at homes as well as professionally.

It amazes me to hear enough stories of young women who say they have professional qualifications like MBAs, CA, BE etc but at the time of marriage, one of the conditions in the alliance was that they will not be allowed to work after marriage. This to me, is a serious issue since not only the girls who managed to reach a professional institution, ruin the chances of another bright student of a vacancy in a good institution, they are ruining their own potential subsequently by not contributing to the country’s direct economy.

Others who are lucky to cross this barrier, face significant challenges at the time of motherhood and often due to lack of support at homes and workplaces, choose to take a long break from work. At times, when they are ready to join back, they find themselves lacking in the newer technologies or skills required and often, the apathy of hiring
organizations towards a woman on break, takes away their opportunity to join the workforce back again.

While the diversity and inclusion policies in several startups and global organizations are turning the tables and we do have more women leaders emerging due to conscious efforts and initiatives to enhance parity, there is a lot more needed to craft out an create an equal hierarchical org structure. 

Anita Borg Institute found that Fortune 500 companies with more women directors and women leaders help enhance sales, equity, ROI on invested capital and share holder value.
https://anitab.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/advance-womentechnologist-
2014.pdf

SO, HOW DO WE GROW THIS MINDSET?
I strongly believe that instead of having only women forums, the organizations need to have gender parity forums where men and women advocate diversity consciously knowing that it helps the organizations.

SOME SPECIFIC INTERVENTIONS COULD BE:

  • Policies: Working consciously on work policies that help women contribute fully like being compliant on maternity Act, providing a crèche, flexible working hours, work from home, child adoption policies etc
  • Diversity hiring policy: A structured approach to ensure more women join the workforce and across various functions, not just in human resources, customer support or sales as usually the case is. Also, ensuring higher hiring numbers at entry level jobs could
    change the economic situation as well as overall workforce thinking
    over the years.
  • Learning initiatives like Gender Bias training: Instituting gender bias trainings which formally enroll all leadership and mid senior executives to learn about unconscious and conscious biases around genders, help to eliminate everyday decision making flaws that may emerge from a hierarchical or archaic thinking on male and female roles.
  • Creating leadership development programs: Initiatives that help develop and nurture a leadership pipeline with a healthy number of women and men leaders to lead the organizations in long term.
  • Mentoring and Shadow programs: Assigning specific projects to shadow the top leaders and exposure to high level strategic decision making, planning and executing initiatives.
  • Formal and informal social networking platforms: Basically creating opportunities for women and men across various functions to interact with female leaders and consciously create more diverse thinking.

Globally, a study done by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org. the nonprofit founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in 2013 states that it will take more than a century to reach gender parity in the C-Suite and a quarter century to achieve equality even at a senior VP level. “Women in the Workplace 2015” presented in the Wharton Women’s Summit highlights many such glaring concerns over the pace at which initiatives are working at the moment.

This research has analyzed 118 companies and nearly 30,000 employees. It also talks about the economic gain that comes from increasing the workforce participation in case of full time employment of women across the US.

In India, certainly we are way behind and a lot needs to be done at a supersonic speed to ensure parity comes in naturally.

Not just in the workforce, the revolution is required to begin at homes. Now women also need to take the responsibility of ensuring boy children are brought up being more sensitive to gender discrimination that has existed in the society and help them grow up to become partners, colleagues and individuals who could support girls and women contribute to their full potential.

There is a need to build a society where women are safe in public spaces; the workspaces are devoid of sexual harassment for men and women both. There is also a huge need for the society to give equal opportunity to meritorious students’ right from childhood where girls and boys are treated as equals in the families as well. The onus is not just on men but more on women to ensure this happens at present and for coming generations.

Author-Major Vandana Sharma, Woman Icon Asia Pacific 2017 BERG Singapore, TEDx Speaker, Military veteran and founder of StartupPeopleConsulting and prior to this, she has been Chief People Office at HolidayIQ.com. StartupPeopleConsulting, an org which works
closely with young startups to enhance capability building on fast track. We listen to startups and support them to build the work culture that’s best suited for their vision and businesses.

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