Gender diversity, more than anything else, is driven by a business need today.
A look at the sheer number of people required by the services sector—whether IT, ITeS, financial services or retail—in the next few years will tell you why gender diversity has become a rallying cry for companies. And the numbers, mind you, are not in lakhs but in millions.
Companies have no other option but to look at a wider pool of talent, and women happen to be one of the most untapped talent reservoirs, not just in India, but globally, as well.
They are, therefore, looking at ways and means to include an increasing number of women in the workforce.
While companies need to cast a wider net to bring in this largely untapped talent pool, they ought to do it without any preconceived notions that men are better suited for certain roles, or that women are only good at certain functions.
This would be bad for business in the sense that companies would deprive themselves of skills and values that a woman could have brought to that particular function.
However, if a company’s only consideration is merit, it would end up hiring as many good women as men. Once this happens, employees of both sexes should be put through the same rigorous training, set on the same career development path, given the same compensation, etc. This would ensure that only the best person wins.
In this way, organizations can be far more successful in bringing gender diversity to the workplace rather than a system which is patronizing— and, therefore, demeaning—or looking to recruit a certain number from each gender to bring parity.
In a meritocracy, such kind of system is bound to fail.
For gender diversity to succeed and become a reality, companies need to look at issues not from a stereotypical point of view, but from an employee’s perspective.
There comes a time when some employees need a break to pursue academics or attend to family needs. For instance, when one of our male colleagues was transferred to a different location, he requested his boss to let him stay back because of certain family commitments. His request was granted.
I am just trying to underline the fact that the need for flexibility at the workplace is not limited to women. It’s true that women need longer sabbaticals for raising a family or other such commitments, but men, too, expect alternative work practices such as flexible timings, a compressed work week, telecommuting, etc. to pursue education, other interests, or just help out spouse or family.
Therefore, in a talent-scarce economy, what is required is flexible and employee-friendly HR practices and processes to get the maximum out of employees.
By creating a culture of inclusion and greater employee involvement with the organization, companies can achieve better productivity and competitive advantage.
By providing better processes and facilities, organizations can create a winning atmosphere that is conducive not only to gender diversity but also to attracting, managing and retaining talent.
(The author is chief strategy and communications officer, ICICI Group.)