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Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Policy focus is on women

Companies now recognize the need for more women at a policy level

The Companies Act and business responsibility reporting (BRR) have together pushed companies to increase their disclosure standards when it comes to having policies for a non-discriminatory workplace. While having more women has resonated with companies at a policy level, hiring people from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community has not.

The India Responsible Business Forum (IRBF) Index 2015, an initiative by Oxfam India in partnership with Corporate Responsibility Watch, Praxis and Partners in Change, shows that among 99 companies, by and large, most firms’ public statements talk about equitable recruitment and career advancement to marginalized and excluded groups. About 60% of companies recognized the importance of not discriminating against women (63), scheduled castes (62), religious groups (62) or people with disabilities (58) during initial recruitment.

The Companies Act’s mandate to have at least one woman board director has forced firms to take a hard look at the gender ratio in their firms and the number of women in senior management. As many as 92 of the 99 companies have publicly shared information on the number of women on their boards and also in their workforce.

“The Companies Act has been an impetus to increasing women in the workforce. When you have a policy in place, it puts the issue on centrestage. But unless it is driven by the leadership and they commit to it, the policy will stay on paper," said Saundarya Rajesh, founder-president, FLEXI Careers India, an HR consultancy.

Having a stated policy and following it up with programmes to improve the gender ratio surely helped firms in the Godrej group. With programmes to increase the number of women in specific business units and an intent to make increases every year, the number of women in Godrej & Boyce’s workforce rose from 7% in fiscal 2012 to 10% in fiscal 2015.

“In manufacturing companies, the number of women has not been very favourable. But having a policy helps state the management intent, and align the mindset of people, irrespective of their biases," said Harpreet Kaur, general manager and head of HR at Godrej & Boyce. The IRBF Index 2015 showed that at the initial recruitment stage, there were more takers for policies for inclusion of women (63) and scheduled castes (62) in the workplace than for those promoting sexual minorities (36).

Conglomerates such as the Tata group and the Godrej group have stated that equal opportunities will be provided to all irrespective of sexual orientation. For the Godrej group, this was added to the policy six years ago to ensure that there was no discrimination against LGBT employees at the workplace. “We did this because our focus has always been on merit and is not dependent on one’s sexual orientation in anyway," said Kaur, given that the LGBT community is 5-10% of the total population of the country.

For addressing the inclusion of people from neglected communities such as schedules castes and tribes, the Tata group put in place the Tata Affirmative Action policy in 2007, long before the BRR. It focuses on employment, employability, education and entrepreneurship opportunities for Dalits and Adivasis, said Shankar Venkateswaran, chief of Tata Sustainability Group.

Among the various initiatives under it, Tata companies are asked to encourage vendor-entrepreneurs from marginalized communities. “We need to do this in a formal way, because in my opinion, the issue of inclusion of (SC/ST) is complex. Because government mandates reservation for these communities, in general people see this as a contradiction to merit. So it needs a lot more work and having a policy helps in promoting affirmative action," said Venkateswaran.

But these conglomerates are an exception. Most companies, as the IRBF Index 2015 shows, do not publicly disclose their stated intent to hire people from minority communities.

“Companies could still be uneducated about the benefits of true diversity. Or it could also be that HR does not have the wherewithal to ensure employees across the organization are equipped to deal with issues that could crop up from this," said Rajesh of FLEXI Careers.

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