Shanmugh Natarajan, Managing director and vice-president (products), Adobe India Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Shanmugh Natarajan, Managing director and vice-president (products), Adobe India Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

What companies are doing to empower women at work

Looking beyond employee benefits, there's a lot organizations can do to support women at work. Through their actions and decisions, company heads can set the tone at the top. Ahead of 8 March, Women's Day, we asked three leaders about company policies and their own initiatives aimed at supporting women employees

Adobe India has achieved 100% pay parity in the information technology sector, which has the second widest gender pay gap (25.8%, according to the Monster Salary Index on gender for 2016). But managing director, and vice-president, products, at Adobe India, Shanmugh Natarajan calls it a “very minimal and most important first step" in the diversity agenda that companies need to take. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Leading the way for women

To get more from your women employees, you need to be gender sensitive. The reality is that women play multiple roles outside the office and are often not able to participate at work the same way a man can. They’re at a disadvantage because our way of thinking is, promote people who are more active.

However, women have patience, are able to prioritize, and negotiate and nurture. One of my tasks is to get leaders, a very high percentage of whom are men, to discover these unique qualities and find a way to capitalize on them.

It has been a personal transformation for me. A few years ago, I would have called myself gender neutral because I felt it was important to be fair to men and women alike. Earlier, I would have encouraged women to be more participative, vocal, visible and aggressive in the workplace, but I no longer believe they need to mimic the opposite gender. The strengths and styles each gender brings to the role are different.

Preventing sexual harassment

Leaders should speak about it, for it to have a long-term impact going forward. I’m not going to say that showing leadership will stop the infractions. But as a leader, what you do about it when it comes to light will be of utmost importance going forward. So we need to step up more and lead the way.

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Closing the pay gap

The tech industry only began to question low women participation in the last three-four years.

At Adobe India, one thing that came up was pay parity, and that was one of the simpler things for us to fix. A third-party compensation analysis revealed a gap (the company closed this 4% gap in January), which came as a surprise. It was not bad, but it looked unfair to us and we needed to correct it before it became a bigger problem.

Pay parity is not an exact science. If you look at it from a leader’s perspective, it is never possible to determine a person's exact value even if there are a million data points around it. There’s a great deal of subjectivity involved. Say, there is a woman with seven years of experience and a man, in the same band of job category, with 12 years of work whose salary is higher. How do you determine what is fair pay for both? This generates a lot of angst in the system, more so in a country like India, which has a competitive male peer culture. 

Training people to think about gender at work, and why these corrections are essential, is a challenge. People will try to ascribe a value to it, and want to know how it will affect revenue. But so many things, though not tangible, are still important.

Creating a pipeline of women leaders

We have a few mentoring initiatives, including a women executive shadow programme and Lean In circles, a voluntary peer group initiative.

It is challenging to get women to mentor women. I recall an emerging leader who came back to work after maternity leave and said it would be hard to encourage others to do the same. I might not agree with her, but she is entitled to her point of view. After all, when I had my children, I enjoyed being there during the birth but went back to work after a couple of days.

At the time, it would have been easy for me to say to her, pursue your ambitions. But I had to consider what she was going through as a mother as well. That is what it means to diversify your thinking. I coached her to figure out what she really wanted, and it was a learning process for me too.

At IndiGo, we celebrate pilots. Not “women pilots". We’ll applaud managers. Not “lady managers". We’ll salute the accomplishments of engineers. Not “women engineers". And we’ll do it every day of the year!

A diverse pool of talent has been one of the secrets behind our success. Women constitute 43% of our workforce. Not only do we have an all-women cabin crew, but 13% of our cockpit crew and 8% of our cargo force are women too. Nearly a third of our managers and above positions are held by women, and a fourth of our leadership positions are held by women too. In fact, mission-critical departments, such as in-flight services and airport operations, to name a few, are all led by women leaders. For the first time, we are actively hiring women line maintenance and engineering at the airport.

Aditya Ghosh, President and whole-time director, IndiGo. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Aditya Ghosh, President and whole-time director, IndiGo. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

At IndiGo, we have a culture where women are encouraged to take on equal responsibilities as their male colleagues. The company provides all the additional support required for working mothers. For example, we have “Breakthrough: A Career Resilience Programme" designed to prepare talented returning mothers to take on senior and top leadership roles. Besides this, there are specific roles within the leadership team that have been driven by women only. This is precisely the reason why one-third of our leadership is women.

Mohit Anand, Managing director, Kellogg India and South Asia.
Mohit Anand, Managing director, Kellogg India and South Asia.

Kellogg India is committed to providing an enabling environment for hiring and nurturing women power. We try and focus on issues that make a real difference to women. A career break, for instance, can be one of the major concerns for working women. We strive to create an ecosystem that supports our women employees through their critical life stages, like marriage and motherhood.

Our employee resource group Women of Kellogg (WOK) is an active networking and gender- sensitization platform. WOK Talks, inspirational sessions with leaders from different walks of life, employee sensitization workshops around forward-thinking topics like unconscious bias, and leadership and mentoring programmes for women are some of the many efforts to foster a supportive, positive environment to strengthen the diversity and inclusion culture.

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