International Women's Day: Although there is considerable focus and debate in gender inclusivity among corporate and human resource managers globally, the sensitive issue is a little hazy for corporates in India. While the human resource managers, including the board members of corporate, do realize the need and importance for gender inclusivity and women friendliness in their offices, they are restricting themselves to just having more women at workplaces, allowing more flexibilities to women in performing their duties and giving few months maternity leave is what constitutes to having a women oriented approach and women friendliness in the office set up. But they fail to perceive that by just these piecemeal initiatives, they cannot have proper gender inclusivity. An organization that has a complete culture to nurture the needs to women employees, giving them all the freedom to grow and prosper in the organization and establish themselves as professionals without thrusting upon them the men's ways of working has the quintessential elements of gender parity.
It is the women workforce that brings the right amount of emotional maturity and intelligence to the company at all levels. Women employees are also more process oriented, precision-focused and emotionally balanced. Women are also good problem solvers. They can interpret complex situations and issues quickly and also solve them effectively. Women employees are also known to bring robust human equations to the work environment.
While the Indian corporate world is still quite a distance away from achieving good gender inclusive workplaces, it has at least begun to churn ideas and move towards that goal. In about a decade, the corporate India will be much different place for women with a number of women business leaders who will be well-educated, more ambitious and confident.
What workplaces need?
A Cultural shift
It was in the 1990s and early 2000s that many workplaces did not even have restrooms for women although women had started to get the professional world and began to be employed in offices. The concept of pick-and-drop facilities being provided by the offices was a started much later with a significant number of women executives began to be employed by the corporates.
Given the fact our society has been patriarchal since time immemorial; the workplaces were also suited for the male workplace making scant, or sometimes even zilch, facilities for women employees. There was a mindset that the women have to match men and make themselves available 24/7 and even stretch late beyond working hours in order to be successful professionally.
To make organizations more women-friendly, we need a greater shift in organizational culture. The agenda of women empowerment needs to be inculcated into the structural and functional design of organizations. Sustained change requires innovative thinking, and more so for promoting women-friendly corporate policies.
Flexible Working Schedule and Conditions
There are still organizations that believe allowing flexible work timings to employees will result in the employees shirking work. In fact, allowing more flexibility to employees such as flexible office hours and work-from-home option allow the employees to deliver more and that too timely.
The flexible timings have proven to be a boon for women employees who have to shoulder a greater burden of house hold and domestic responsibilities. Such flexibility allows them an atmosphere of respect and freedom. At our own company Sun Life India Service Centre, we have built a flexible work environment for the convenience of employees.
Companies with operations in software support or IT and on-call services that can be managed from a remote location can benefit greatly by enhancing flexibility.
Gender parity cannot be achieved at workplace till the time we keep discriminating against womanhood and motherhood. When a woman professional starts a family, in most cases she takes a beating or she is forced to embrace an alternate work profile. In many companies, paid maternity leaves are not given to women which forces them to return to work quickly.
Maternity leave is the right of every woman professional and this fact cannot be questioned. At our company Sun Life India Service Centre, the new mothers can extend their 6 month maternity leave by another six months to look after the newborn.
Making attempts to retain and reward women employees and support their gender specific needs is really important for companies to reap the advantages of diversity.
The author is Vice President, Human Resources, Sun Life Asia Service Centres