6 Ways Gender Diversity Programs Can Be Effective

women IT

Does the idea of women inclusion programs bring to your mind pictures of fun activities for women on women’s day, flexi-hour policies or at the max, crèche facilities at office? While these are good to have initiatives, an effective diversity program has to be more holistic and inclusive to be able to bring about real change. The fact that there is an alarmingly skewed gender ratio at the C-suite level is well acknowledged in corporates not just in India, but globally. While the number of women in the workforce and managerial roles has significantly improved over the few decades, there is a peculiar ‘gender-pyramid’ wherein women are concentrated fairly evenly at the bottom to mid levels, but are sparsely placed at the top.

So clearly, companies need to make effective changes in their ecosystem to remove the roadblocks that hinder the ascension of women managers to the C-suite posts. Leadership support and a gender-neutral organizational culture play critical roles in promoting diversity.  There are some essential components that ensure that gender diversity programs go beyond the rhetoric and make them holistic.

Make it inclusive – Surveys point out that fewer male professionals see value in diversity initiatives, and are more likely to perceive women-friendly measures as being unfair to men. It is imperative to realize that men constitute the majority of workforce and no strategic program can be expected to succeed without their active acceptance and participation.  Only by sensitizing men to the challenges faced by their female colleagues and convincing them about  the real business value that diversity brings to the entire organization, can such programs be truly effective. Diversity and inclusion has been proven to increase innovation and decrease risks in businesses.

Ownership at the Leadership level – Any program that intends to bring about a cultural shift, needs to be owned and lived by the top management. Also, as most of the senior management positions are held by men, the support of senior leaders is essential. At HCL Infosystems, the thrust for diversity & inclusiveness comes from the top-most level. There is a very strong emphasis from the leadership to ensure that the organization does its best to seek suitable candidates from both the genders for any vacancy.  

Role models to inspire & emulate - Absence of inspirational role models to showcase the opportunities & available career paths to women is felt across many enterprises. Highlighting female senior leaders can inspire positive mindsets and encourage more women to finely navigate the dreaded work-life balance conundrum. Regular & open communication with these successful role models can break quite a few gender myths in the workplace and motivate more women to take up challenging roles.

Effective Mentoring Programs - The importance of formal mentoring in gender diversity programs cannot be overstated. Again, it is imperative to include senior ranking male employees as mentors. In most corporates, women tend to lack mentors & sponsors at senior levels - a drawback that could lead to more women dropping out of the pipeline before they reach top management. Including more men as sponsors would not only result in more support for women in navigating the corporate lanes, but also better engagement of men in diversity programs.

Diversified performance models – The traditional performance models that imply 24/7 availability and geographical mobility, tend to tilt against women. Companies do not realize the negative impact of maternity leave and flexi-work on the career path of women, especially in the mid-to-senior level. Performance models need to be made more gender neutral by using a wide range of evaluation criteria, including different leadership habits and techniques.

Women’s network groups – Lastly, women need to have and create a strong networking circle, along the lines of ‘old-boys network’ that have worked to the advantage of men since ages. When set up for professional development, such groups provide a platform for collaboration and exchange of ideas among women employees across organizations. Interacting with highly-placed women counterparts can offers invaluable insights on the nuanced difficulties faced by fellow women.

The changing corporate landscape for women professionals have brought to the fore the real business value that a gender diverse workplace brings. But to truly usher in a gender-friendly workplace that nurtures and supports talent, we need a transformed workplace that can only come about through a change in mind sets.

kanika

The author is Chief People Officer, HCL Infosystems Ltd. With over two-decades of experience, she leads the People Strategy and its execution as the company builds further momentum on its Transformation pillars. 

[Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Trivone Media Network's or that of CXOToday's.]