February 22, 2013 — Today’s Take 5, based on conversations with representatives of Catalyst India member companies, includes recommendations for India-based organizations committed to advancing women in the workplace:
#1: Safety is Essential
Entering the 'campus' of a typical large global company—where anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 people might show up to work every day—in any Indian town or city reminds one how crucial safety is, for individuals and organizations. Whether the answer is for companies to provide on-site facilities (such as gyms, shopping centers, sports facilities, and/or day care centers) or after-hours support (such as company-sponsored transportation to and from home, especially for women employees, 24-hour emergency hotlines, security personnel stationed within and around the premises, etc.), safety must be of paramount concern to employers and employees alike.
#2: Highlight the Business Case
When it comes to recognizing and driving the business case for gender diversity, some organizations in India are more advanced than others. Catalyst research shows a clear correlation between gender diversity and financial outcomes, improved employee engagement and retention, enhanced market impact, increased innovation, and balanced and sustainable decision-making. Leaders in India-based organizations must emphasize the business case in India. The business results may lag the reputational and employee-engagement benefits that accompany India-based D&I efforts—but happier employees and an enhanced reputation are reason enough to begin the journey.
#3: Foster Work-Life Effectiveness
At Catalyst, we believe that policies promoting work-life effectiveness are mutually beneficial for organizations and their employees—not a special concession to women. Nevertheless, companies headquartered in India could and should lead efforts to strengthen and expand flexible work arrangements for certain groups, including women returning to the workforce after having a baby, employees relocating for their spouses, workers in the “sandwich generation” who must care for parents, in-laws, and children, and those who want to pursue educational or even social entrepreneurial ventures outside of work. Organizations that offer strong work-life effectiveness options will be considered employers of choice.
#4: Engage Men
In India and around the world, there is growing awareness that successful initiatives around advancing women in the workplace require the strong support of senior leadership—and senior leaders are often men. Thus, India-based organizations must increase their efforts to engage men. Many men in India simply lack awareness of how so-called “women’s issues” affect them too; others face significant hurdles of apathy and fear. By educating every employee about the strong business case for gender diversity, highlighting D&I successes, and deploying training programs and social media campaigns designed to counteract gender stereotyping, organizations can attract necessary support from men in expanding opportunities for women and business.
#5: Empower Women Role Models
What came first, the chicken or the egg? Or, for our purposes: established women role models or burgeoning women leaders? India-based organizations often admit to engaging in tokenism or calling on the same handful of women to appear at leadership events, serve as mentors, and be ambassadors for their companies’ D&I efforts.
This must change—and one way to ensure that it does is to begin drawing more deeply from the talent well. Given the ubiquitous pyramid-shaped distribution of women in most India-based companies, we must showcase junior-level women as well, rather than focusing only on those who have already shattered the glass ceiling. Reverse mentoring, peer mentoring, and mixed-gender mentoring, as well as instituting formal mechanisms to foster sponsorship, can help ensure that the chicken and the egg are both getting the support they need.