By: Kalpana Tatavarti
Most organizations in India today have launched some form or the other of gender diversity initiatives. Primarily driven by the war for talent, they are making consistent efforts to increase their gender diversity ratios. It is clear everyone is on a learning curve, a very steep learning curve at that. But some organizations are getting it more right than the others; I hope to share here the top reasons why gender diversity efforts stumble and what can be done to address them.
1) Visible leadership commitment: Every major transformational agenda has to have strong leadership commitment. As far as the Gender Diversity agenda goes, I find leadership commitment is almost always a given. Where I see diversity efforts stumbling is when this commitment is not visible, especially considering gender can evoke potent reactions.
- Articulate the intent at different fora
- Have senior leaders participate in & support gender diversity initiatives
- Rope in senior business leaders into the diversity council
- Ensure the sponsor of the initiatives is a senior business leader
2) Middle Managers Buy in: Managers have the biggest role to play in both bringing in diversity and creating inclusion. They are also the hardest to convince. In most cases the mandate comes from the top, and they reluctantly adhere to it. It doesn’t work. From “I have filled my diversity quota”, to “She is a diversity candidate” it only results in working against the very intent of the agenda.
- Include them in the diversity journey from the beginning
- Create a momentum among Managers by calling for diversity ambassadors, collecting & sharing stories of inclusion, and nominating awards for inclusion
- Provide a forum for them to safely surface & air their ‘politically incorrect’ concerns (See my forthcoming blog on ‘Conversations on Gender Inclusion’ which delves into this further.)
3) Culture & Language of inclusion: The MD of a large FMCG major shared how thru consistent diversity efforts they were able to bring in 800 women executives in a year. Within 6 months, however, they lost almost 600 of them. Most organizations in their eagerness to create a diverse organization, fail to understand the importance of the Inclusion journey. Without a culture of inclusion, diversity will just be churned out of the system.
- Set policies & processes that support the agenda before the diversity efforts begin
- Equip leaders & employees with the right language to create inclusion by facilitating conversations about the value of differences
- Enable employees to understand that inclusion manifests in behaviors that each one of them can commit to
- Do a culture & policy audit to assess the inclusion climate in your organization
4) Systemic biases: Unconscious biases held in the mindsets of Managers, such as women’s commitment to careers, prevailing paradigms of Leadership Competencies/behaviors, and equating 24/7 availability to commitment, are also critical factors that pull against the inclusion agenda. Most women tend to internalize gender socialization messages, which act as an Internal Glass Ceiling. (See my forthcoming blog on ‘The Good Women’ which delves into this further.)
- Sensitize managers on unconscious biases
- Audit your leadership competencies to check if they are inclusive of different styles of leadership
- Provide self awareness training for women to relook at their mental models & career skills training
5) The myth of ‘Best Practices’: Again, more from an eagerness to get it just right, there is often a scramble to cut and paste what is working well in other organizations. The latest rage is Manager Sensitization workshops; it is not uncommon to have a clueless bunch of managers sitting through the session with little context of why they are there. There are several stages to both the Diversity and Inclusion journeys, each with their own opportunities and challenges. Jumping the stage results in defeating the entire purpose and can have more detrimental effects than not embarking on the journey itself.
- Assess your own state of inclusion
- Understand and articulate the need & driver for the agenda
- Study the steps involved in the journey and pick what is necessary for your context carefully
Gender Diversity & Inclusion journeys are ridden with many pebbles on the path. Tread with care.