Many companies in the world have been trying hard to bring in diversity into their workforce and be considered as a strong employer brand. They are bringing in specific KPI (key performance indicator) of leadership behaviours by monitoring D&I (diversity and inclusion) indices. Traditionally our societies across the world stereotyped roles in homes and organisations; over the last few decades, as the social structure has been transforming, leaders have discovered the opportunity of turning their organisation into a closer replica of nature where gender diversity is nearly uniform. How far have we come? Is it crucial for tomorrow as well?
Do Policy interventions work?
Various governments across the world have made it mandatory for publicly traded companies to have women on their boards. In India, Companies Act mandated the listed organisations to have at least one woman director on their board by 2015. As a result, companies have complied with this regulation. Having walked this path, we must ask if this intervention has helped the companies raise their productivity or be more sustainable.
This has certainly made the boards more diverse and helped many senior women leaders to break the glass ceiling. The age-old norms have been changing; many women who had retired are now on the boards albeit in non-executive roles or as an independent director. Secondly, the discussions in the board rooms have adapted new dimensions.
However, when we enquire the executives about the impact of this regulation, it is largely for compliance purpose rather than to leverage the new perspectives that a woman leader brings to the table. Naturally, any new appointment to the board will bring new thinking; hence, the merit of having independent directors on the board is beyond dispute. The moot question is if women directors provide particularly enriching ideas. We do not have specific data on this; hence, cannot conclude.
The answer lies in our social structure
Our world is getting increasingly polarised with our views and beliefs. Many people have started believing in binary approaches and lament shades of grey. We are impatient with processes which take long to discover and conclude. We like quick decisions of arriving at an opinion of yes-no, right-wrong and do-don’t. We know, decision-making is a virtue and procrastination is not. This doesn’t mean that we will jump into quick decisions without putting adequate efforts to understand all possibilities.
Sometimes, it is not possible to learn about all the possibilities. Hence, it is fair to not disregard the paths chosen by others and views held by others. There are multiple pathways, not all of them are right and not all of them are wrong. Hence, anyone who is on a path different from us or holds a view different from us is not on the wrong path.
Moreover, we live our lives among the forces of nature which are not binary. All the natural processes are gradual and demonstrate peaceful co-existence of diverse needs, behaviours, views and beliefs. We have to deeply ingrain this belief in our social norms and behaviours. Our schools have to teach this to our young minds. Our teachers, parents and seniors included, need to understand this and teach our folks at home to make it a habit to learn the views and opinions of others and apply their wisdom to form their own, state them and act with conviction. We have a long way to go on this. This is the biggest reform needed in our education system!
What can the organisation do?
Our schools and society have to reform for sure. But that is a problem like boiling the ocean. We have to start in our own homes, teams, clubs, housing societies and organisations. We have to showcase behaviours of listening to the others, learning their points of view, integrating them into one’s lives, evolving one’s opinions accordingly and shaping them into actions.
Organisations can achieve a lot in the form of ethical behaviours, governance and long-term sustainability in their product strategy, customer engagements and efficiency across all functions if they can inject diversity in their roots. Top leaders in their day-to-day behaviours, have to encourage others to speak up, listen to those, learn from them, challenge existing norms, discover new possibilities and apply them at work.
More than the compliance of having women directors at the board and filling up roles with gender diversity, what matters is the culture of listening to diverse views and considering them in execution.