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Business News/ News / Business Of Life/  Extract: Own It—Leadership Lessons From Women Who Do

Extract: Own It—Leadership Lessons From Women Who Do

Companies may be focusing on diversity, but they are still not sure what it really means. The approach should include solid frameworks and training

Diversity at the workplace should be about equal opportunity, not tokenism. Photo: iStockphotoPremium
Diversity at the workplace should be about equal opportunity, not tokenism. Photo: iStockphoto


Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of focus on bringing women into the workplace. These wild declarations of big gender diversity numbers look great on the shareholder prospectus of companies and enticing on websites. In reality, though—pffft," writes Aparna Jain in her first business book,Own It—Leadership Lessons From Women Who Do. The book tells happy, ugly and whispered stories about women leaders across industries, touching on topics like pay parity, harassment, promotion and maternity leave policies.

Jain, who writes for Mint Lounge, is the chief executive officer of Zebraa Works, a company that specializes in leadership coaching and strategic consultancy.

In the chapter “Diversity Is Just A ‘Danda’", Jain highlights how companies in the country are still trying to understand the concept of diversity at the workplace. Edited excerpts:

If you are shoving women into the pipeline regardless of whether you can support their growth, whether they feel a sense of belonging, or whether they even deserve to be there in the first place, you have an unhealthy, short-sighted approach.

How about 50:50 by 2030 and still 50:50 by 2050?

Not catchy, but that would make the most sense—a commitment to having more women in the workplace—and a commitment to doing what it takes to retain them in the workforce. It’s not an overnight process; it takes years. The approach to diversity needs to be coupled with solid frameworks, support, training and dedication to build the ecosystem.

Of course, almost everyone in HR (human resource) thinks they are doing just that. They have road maps and initiatives that supposedly support diversity.

Ask the women in the same companies where HR shows off their diversity and inclusion campaigns and the women scoff.

‘They just about get the diversity bit right. The inclusion? Never. It’s just window dressing. The team doesn’t even know what they are doing.’

‘Such platitudes, pushing us together in a room, showing us some videos on bias. Show them to the men!’

‘Where is the leadership development? There are one or two women who are showcased by the company in the media, doing rah-rah. Scratch below the surface?’

‘The vision comes from someone who means it, but the execution?’

‘Diversity? We should call it the dinosaur programme. It should be targeted at the dinosaurs in the system, the ones who believe that women can’t be leaders, or who believe our place is at home. Get rid of the dinosaurs and you will get diversity.’

The idea of diversity as a norm probably started with Amendment XIX to the United States Constitution in 1920 which allowed women to vote. Interestingly, an amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee equal rights for men and women was proposed in 1923, but continues to be rejected at every opportunity by many states...

I spoke to Shachi Irde, executive director of Catalyst India which is part of Catalyst. This global not-for-profit organization has been committed to expanding opportunities for women and business since 1962, focusing on diversity, inclusion and gender equality. Catalyst India, founded in 2011, has over eighty member companies in India; they have committed to building a diverse and inclusive workplace. Shachi says, ‘...organizations in India have only started to talk about diversity over the last fifteen years or so. As the business world has become more and more global, multinational companies committed to creating inclusive organizations want the companies they do business with to reflect their policies.

‘Indian companies had no choice but to focus on diversity, and when they saw value in it, they started to accept it openly. Many organizations still don’t understand what diversity is. I have experienced this personally. When I say I am in the field of diversity and inclusion, men and women ask, “What does that mean?" Sometimes even CEOs of mid-cap companies ask me this.’...

Debjani Ghosh, the media savvy high-energy top executive in a tech company, says: ‘Make diversity a little more complex, a little more honest. Make it about equal opportunity. Because if you have an equal opportunity workplace where you don’t use gender to make decisions about promotions, hiring, the scope of a job, both men and women will thrive. Then it’s just survival of the fittest. A large part of that has to start from the top. It’s in the little things we do; it’s what we say in spontaneous moments. We can stand up and give a perfect speech on equal opportunity, but do we act it out every day? Women don’t want sops; they want support.’...

Priyanka Sudarshan is the general manager HR and head of gender diversity for Wipro Technologies. They have partnered with Catalyst Inc. to approach their diversity goals more systematically.

‘The most powerful thing we have done is address diversity for women using the life-stage approach that Catalyst helped us identify,’ she says.

‘A woman typically has three life-stages in her career. The first stage is where she enters the workplace, the second in mid-management when she usually has her babies, and the third when she has had her babies and is in a leadership role. The biggest “leak in the pipeline" is in the second stage. Approaching women differently at each life-stage has made a huge difference to our effort in retaining them. One size does not fit all.’

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Published: 31 Jan 2016, 05:03 PM IST
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