Building More Equitable Workplaces
The word ‘Woman’ comes from old english wif-man’, meaning wife of a man. While the origins of the word may have been platonic, but over centuries its use has formed people’s implicit bias of what women can accomplish. For example, currently, women in India hold less than 20% seats in the parliament and form less than 29% of the workforce inspite of constituting over 48% of the population. IMF estimates that equal participation of women in the workforce could increase India’s GDP by 27% percent and over US$700 billion can be added to India’s GDP by 2025.
As a woman leader, who has experienced the implicit bias and who wants to forge a more equitable world, I have been taking small steps in my circle of influence to challenge this bias and to press for progress.
Since last year as an International Women’s Day (IWD) panellist, I got the opportunity to interact with people from different walks of life on the need to focus on Gender Equity to encourage participation of women in all areas, and how we can ‘Build more Equitable Workplaces together’.
During these sessions I often get asked, “what is it that separates organizations who have high gender equity from those who don’t?” and my humble response to this is ‘Intention’. Based on my observation, organizations that have the intention to drive inclusion are those who truly value equity for business success. They make people aware of their intentions by treating this as a business priority. They articulate a business case for it, set smart goals, report progress, celebrate milestones, and rewards success (like other business goals). Their practices become talent magnets that attract people from diverse demographics.
They usually start with influencing internal policies: whether it is Recruitment or Onboarding, Learning, Performance, Talent Mgmt or Compensation & Benefits; Organizations who have this ‘Intention’ review their processes continuously and ensure that they are designed to leave no one behind. They understand that the traditional method of designing policies with the majority in mind promotes fairness only if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same help, which is not the reality..
Contrary to the traditional practice of focusing on sameness + majority, their focus is to drive equity, by giving everyone what they need to be successful. While reviewing the processes they ask themselves some of the questions asked by Dafina-Lazarus Stewart:
- Who is trying to get in the room but can’t?
- Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?”
- What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?
Let’s take the Recruitment process for example, for defining a more equitable approach, organizations ask themselves the following:
- While Identifying positions is there Implicit Bias while capturing requirements? Are there requests to consider only men for a position? Are women considered only for select roles? Or not considered at all?
- While posting a job, is the language used in the job description Gender neutral? Will the JD help attract more diverse applicants ? are the pronouns & adjectives used gender-specific? Is there an Equal opportunity statement in the description to show Intention?
- Based on past data which source of hiring is more likely to generate a more diverse pool of candidates.
- While Shortlisting applicants, should the resume be masked to avoid names & pictures so that shortlisting is based on specific merit criteria/skills/ experience only.
- While interviewing do we have a woman on the panel? Are panellists be trained to focus on job-related questions, and avoid personal gender specific questions?
- While selection is the hiring decision made purely based on capability & competencies or do assumed expectations come in the way (e.g how will she manage the job responsibilities, we have never had a woman in this role, etc)
Similar data should be reviewed for other processes like Performance & Talent Reviews, Compensation, and key employee lifecycle stages.
Once organizations are able to generate enough data, they will be able to work on their existing policies to make them more equitable for all. These organizations then pave the path for others to follow, as their Intention leads to appropriate actions and expected outcomes. They then influence their associates, suppliers, competitors, governments, and society around them to promote these equitable practices, and soon their best practice becomes a norm. Thanks to similar efforts across the world, there has been a positive shift in the role of women over the last decade, women today have more economic opportunity.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #choosetochallenge, lets together challenge the narrative around the word “woman”, and help the world to become more equitable. In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women “the benefits of gender equality are not just for women and girls, but for everyone whose lives will be changed by a fairer world that leaves no one behind.” (Gender Equality is a global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) adopted by all United Nations Member States read more here: https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal5)