It took a Securities and Exchange Board of India directive, a six-month deadline extension, and penalties for non-compliance to ensure that listed Indian companies have at least one woman director on their boards. And we are not yet at 100% compliance.
So, this fancy metric is just a box to be checked off? If India Inc. needs legislation to enforce gender representation at leadership levels, I am as cautious about it as I am optimistic.
Here are a few of the many things that organisations need to do before waving the gender diversity flag.
Inappropriate messaging will sound the death knell for any diversity initiative. Here’s an example: I once received a call from a recruitment consultant for a role in a very reputed organisation. This is how the conversation went:
RC: “I would like to speak to you about an opportunity with XYZ.”
Me: “I’m not looking out right now, but I could refer some folks.”
RC: “I’m not looking at normal candidates, only at diversity candidates. Do you know of others on career breaks?”
I’m not sure what “diversity candidate” means, and this was certainly not the way to pitch it. When I turned down the request, I was reminded that this organisation was on a recruitment overdrive because it had diversity targets to meet, and such options wouldn’t stay in the market for too long. The conversation was tactless and I must admit, I felt rather marginalised.
My personal opinion is that subtlety would help a great deal. This would not only put prospective candidates at ease, it may actually help in assuaging situations described in the point below.
Start with the men
Not that there is lack of scientific evidence about it, but it is important for men in the senior leadership team to demonstrate the need and importance of women in the workforce.
Senior management should consider the questions below:
- Do men at the middle management level view this as a threat, since there are lesser roles for them to vie for as they move up?
- Do people managers prefer not to have women on their teams since they anticipate breaks in her career?
- Do men in general undermine a woman’s professional abilities since she came in through a process that is dangerously close to reservation?
If answer to any of the above questions is yes, you may want to consider hiring the right men into your organisation.
If flexible roles are being offered to women returning to work, they must be designed fairly. I know of several women who have taken up part time jobs at reduced pay, but end up working long hours.
What more can organisations do? Your thoughts?