Is Diversity Your Company’s Most Resounding Mantra?

 

Anju Sethi

Malcolm Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine said “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.”

As a concept, diversity has taken precedence over every other consideration, especially with the passage of the Companies Act 2013, which makes it obligatory for most Indian companies to have at least one woman director on their board. Similarly, The 30% Club, a group of business executives, is working toward the goal of claiming for women a third of the seats on company boards. With this in mind, the group engages in voluntary activities like mentoring mid-career women for leadership roles and liaising between women business leaders and the media to ensure more coverage. Inspirational speakers from the club visit schools and colleges to raise awareness among female about their potential to be at the helm of business.

Many organizations are taking steps to support the career aspirations of women, apart from their personal aspirations. Initiatives include women’s networking forums and nurturing entrepreneurship skills through programs like hackathons.

The advantages that gender-diverse teams bring to a business are significant. A same-gender team is more likely to have perspectives that are way too similar, especially on gender issues. This is also true of teams whose age, race, social background, gender and range of skills and experience are similar, more or less. If my team is full of people like me, who shall I assign the task of bringing that refreshing cup of diverse ideas to the table? Isn’t an outlier idea or thinking, which lies somewhat outside the norm, but still holds much potential, important to my organization? Diversity to that extent is a secret sauce for organizational creativity.

A board that is balanced across genders is more likely to sense potential opportunities as well as problems. A study by the consulting firm Caliper says women leaders have stronger interpersonal skills than their male counterparts, a trait that is helpful in most business situations. Companies with gender-diverse workforces echo positive employee sentiments. Job seekers are drawn to companies with diverse workforces because it is evident that these are the companies that do not discriminate against employees.   

Data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) shows on average women in India earn 20% lower than men. The positive lining is that the gap has narrowed by 9.2% during the last ten years. Some companies are publishing data on the pay gap (between genders) in their organization. These help sensitize people about the inequality prevalent across businesses and raise a strong cry for equal pay for equal work. Sadly though, for every company that does disclose such data, there are so many that don’t.

Research by consulting firm BDO shows that retail is leading the way when it comes to women in executive roles, with women comprising a quarter of the non-executive director boards in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250, a share index of 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. This is double the average of all industry sectors! Additionally, the number of Executive Directors in retail is 2% higher than the industries’ average. A lot of enterprises regularly publish stats on the percentage of women they employ across different levels in the company. Tesco HSC, the technology arm of Tesco, has around 38% women in the workforce and it tries to increase this by 10% each year.

Any organization, big or small, must tap the power of gender diversity and consider it as the bedrock of success. Alongside, there is need to shake off conscious and unconscious biases crowding a lot of minds as well as boardrooms.