Can we create a gender neutral environment at workplaces In India?
There have been debates around glass ceiling for women, inadequate participation of women in the Board rooms, inequality in pay, discrimination against women while recruiting and inadequate social infrastructure to support women at workplaces. These debates have been taking place across the world over the last few decades.
The debate continues…
We can already experience a huge change in India when we compare a workplace in the early 90’s and now. Number of women employees at work vis-a-vis men has risen rapidly; number of women students in the higher education courses such as Engineering and Management has increased manifold; many Boardrooms have women. Some of these changes have happened due to changes in legal provisions and some due to the peer pressure in the society. These days, firms provide paid maternity leaves for six months; some offer sabbaticals and friendly policies around pregnancy and early stages of motherhood. Governments make special arrangements to ease the woes of women in commuting to work, attending to strenuous tasks, working at odd hours and so on. There are additional safeguards such as Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act to dispel fears of women to come to work. All these are aimed at increasing participation of women in the economy and its GDP. In spite of so many changes in our society, the debate hasn’t been put to rest.
Let us not be fanatic about gender equality!
We have seen families in their overzealous drive to scale greater peaks of achievement in the realms of financial and professional status, compromise on building social capital for their future. The next generation that gets ready to join the workforce bears a set of values which are very different from their parents. Social scientists are studying this phenomenon. The jury is still out on that. However, one thing is for sure : fanatic rush to achieve a set of goals is not the same as focus and determination to achieve them.
We have seen senior executives of large multinationals chasing gender diversity targets and going on a recruiting spree to achieve that score. Does this overdrive get the organization the desired assets and human capital? Not always! The cost of such overdrive outweighs the results that we land up with.
Should each workplace reflect the gender ratio of the society?
As per 2011 Census we are 940 females per 1000 males. In 2001, it was 933 per 1000. This is nearly 49-51; should all organizations ideally have their workforce in the same ratio? If we are fanatic about gender equality, we will force every organization to reflect this.
Are we ready for this? While this could be a highly desirable situation and a socio-political masterstroke to pursue, it is not feasible at this point of time. We do not have so many women available for work. Reasons behind poor supply of women talent for work are plenty. Right from social dogma, economic need, availability of social infrastructure to opportunities, there are many factors.
Moreover, nature has created the bodies of men and women differently; it has created unique capabilities for each of them. We must not ignore them. We should leverage on this diversity rather than trying to fix everything with the same brush.
And at the same time, we must not typecast some roles with a certain gender as was the practice decades ago. Women need not be compulsorily raising children, growing families and providing care to the others. The point here is to argue against the mindless drive to achieve equal participation of men and women in each and every walk of life.
How can organizations deal with this?
We have many challenges at hand; we have to evolve pragmatic solutions.
When we see the rural vs urban India, we find more women in rural India participating in the labour force (27%) than in urban areas (16%). This could be due to the limitations in our social systems and economic realities. Women in the urban India are educated and capable as much as their men counterparts. Factors such as lack of support systems to take care of the young and the old in their families are a big obstacle. Organizations can leverage on this unemployed and under-employed diaspora by redesigning their work. Some parts of work can be done with no supervision, at hours the employee finds convenient; the organization has to build systems in such a way that one can find solutions when he or she faces a challenge. Needless to say that IT and the intent of the leadership are big enablers here.
We have seen several small organizations fearing the prospect of maternity leaves and the costs. While the intentions are noble and genuine, many of them find it too much of a disruption and too expensive. Secondly, we know how young mothers struggle to balance the demands at work with those at home. This is one of the big reasons why so many women drop out of the active workforce for many years in their prime and more often than not, find it difficult to return to the productive work life. Organizations have to influence the Government of the day to improve the social security measures, bear the costs and provide utilities such as creche, play schools and so on which people at large can avail. Currently, they are too few and far between.
In summary, we see this as a journey that has to be undertaken by the government, the society and the organizations at the same time towards leveraging the talent and capabilities that men and women possess. Social systems have to keep evolving so that the girls in the families do not fall behind when their parents prioritize the possibilities. The drive towards having equal participation across genders is mindless. Let this be based on the talent and capabilities only. If that makes 80 women and 20 men, so be it!