Women have come a long way in the workplace since the early part of their work history and yet, the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 published by the World Economic Forum has some startling numbers that makes us rethink a whole lot of things. At the current rate of progress, it is projected that it will take us approximately 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide. The report also suggests India has only closed 62.5 percent of its gender gap, which has fallen from 66.8 percent from the previous year and with COVID-19 coming in life’s way, it has only exacerbated these trends.
Unfortunately, India stands out for having the lowest participation of women in the labour force amongst the emerging economies. According to the World Bank, less than 20.3% women constituted the labour force in India in 2020 (both urban and rural), its lowest since Independence. In a country that is seeing considerable growth in female education and remarkable decreases in fertility rates, it begs the question – why are we not seeing greater participation from women in the workforce?
A significant proportion of Indian women want organisations to offer development opportunities and sponsorship programmes, which they don’t currently have. Over 37 percent of India’s working women feel that they get fewer opportunities and less pay than men.
We generally know about the uneven demands on women at home for their household and caregiving responsibilities. Life events such as marriage and parenthood are the primary reasons for them opting out of their careers. For the few who return to work, the opportunities have passed and they often settle for lesser roles. Lack of flexibility was a big problem but with the pandemic, remote working has become the norm. However, it has only accentuated the pressure on women who now have a 24×7 job at home and at work.
2. Unconscious bias
Unconscious bias is something we are often unaware of but it creates barriers that prevent diversity and inclusion in the workplace, damaging relationships that could foster creative and innovative ideas. Unconscious bias can result in unfair discrimination in many aspects of the workplace – from hiring decisions to performance evaluation, promotions and even how work gets allocated within a team. As per LinkedIn’s Opportunity Index 2021 report, around 22 percent of working women in India feel their companies exhibit a ‘favourablebias’ towards men at work. Around 85 percent claim to have missed out on a raise, promotion, or work offer because of their gender.
3. Corporate cultures
Companies are stepping up during this time, considering the situation at hand with COVID-19—but many aren’t addressing the likely underlying causes of stress and burnout that women are facing at the workplace. Whether there is conscious work to shape it or not — a culture develops in every organization. But to maintain a strong, healthy culture, the leaders have to work at it. In a study by Dale Carnegie, senior leaders of companies revealed that creating and maintaining the desired corporate culture is an ongoing process. When leaders suspect that a part of their culture is no longer supportive of overcoming the challenges they face, they need to act to improve it.
While we are aware of where the problem lies, it is also essential to understand what we can do to overcome these issues.
Women need flexibility, thus creative solutions such as having multiple people share one role, virtual work teams, and sabbatical options can help retain talented women. Organisations must also go the extra mile to support women to climb the ladder. Flexible work arrangements have anyway become the norm since the pandemic, but further establishing them would certainly bring talent to the fore, especially women who find it difficult to migrate or shift their base. While added flexibility could certainly improve women’s participation in the workforce, it could also increase pressure to simultaneously deliver on the home front because of the cultural bias that exists.
Being diverse is simply a state of being human. We must know ourselves, take a genuine interest in others, become aware of our differences, and develop the skills necessary to create an inclusive environment. This is something that Dale Carnegie taught all the way back starting in the first Dale Carnegie Course in 1912. A workplace that celebrates diversity is one where team members are acknowledged, where each individual’s ideas are heard, and where a culture of respect and open communication is upheld. The benefits of diversity in the workplace include faster problem-solving, better decision-making, increased innovation, employee engagement, and better financial performance. Diversity, however, can only deliver on its full potential when it exists in a genuinely inclusive environment.
Inclusivity exists only when every member of the team works toward it daily. Workers who feel included at work are also fully engaged within their company. This translates to better productivity and higher employee retention. Inclusion starts with a combination of increased self-confidence and genuine interest in others. Inclusivity cannot exist if we do not take a genuine interest in the culture and experiences of others. It is not only important for employers to be actively inclusive of women at the workplace but for the entire organisation to be educated on inclusivity and actively participate in it.
When we try to create an inclusive environment, it is imperative to be genuinely interested in them. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” These are words to live by to create an inclusive workforce. The more we engage with others and take an interest in them, the more we will end up wanting to learn from them.
4. Women in More Leadership Roles
Women leaders can provide better mentorship for other women in the workforce while also instilling in the other women the belief that women can make it to the top. Women in subordinate roles can also be better equipped through upskilling to be in leadership roles. This will show them that there is progression in their career which leads to retention. There must be better resources for skill enhancement at all levels of the organization.