As a leader and manager, improvements to my team’s collective capabilities is a constant preoccupation. While striving for continuous improvement of skills, knowledge and processes, many issues have caught my attention. But none have concerned me more than the need for more balance in our workforce gender ratio. I am not alone, I know. World over, there is rising awareness about the need to increase the participation of women in organizations, at all levels and an ongoing debate about what organizations can do to bring in and retain women.
Our organisation is no stranger to this debate. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I wanted to share some insights from a panel discussion with some of our women leaders, which I recently moderated in Bangalore, India. They provided certain pertinent insights based on their personal experiences and analysis. Their views, peppered with valuable experiential learning, only cemented my opinion that women are amongst the most powerful change catalysts, and increasing gender diversity is a no-brainer solution for better organizational performance.
Women at Wipro are adding immense value to our business by bringing their unique energy, optimism, intuition, creativity, multi-tasking nature, problem-solving capabilities and working styles. Women have a deep impact on not just productivity, quality, service and product innovation but also behavioural aspects such as generosity of knowledge sharing, open mindedness, flexibility in work methods and interactions, creating a culture that is conducive for optimum performance for any team member. This unique blend of talents must be leveraged for future exponential growth. Research supports the necessity to encourage and promote women in organizations. Earlier this year, McKinsey released a report that said, “Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation.”
My colleagues in the panel were forthright. They also broke some stereotypes and misconceptions that generally exist about women in the workforce. I wanted to highlight three observations that stood out for me.
Ambition & Determination: Without ambition, nothing can change. While interacting with the panel, it became clear that they were highly ambitious. They were vocal in expressing their career aspirations, which shattered any myth about women professionals lacking ambition. The interaction revealed that what they needed, was to stay determined about meeting their goals. Ambition and determination are two sides of the same coin. It became apparent that women needed support to stay determined on account of other responsibilities that staked claim to their time and attention.
Family Support: All the women in the panel agreed that the immediate and extended family played a significant role in their career development. While family support is invaluable to the success of a woman as she balances a taxing career with home, it comes at a price. Family members hold them back and affect career choices owing to biases related to occupational images, job titles, work hours and salaries. Sometimes, familial pressure stems from a genuine concern for a woman’s security and stability. It is important that women discuss their career aspirations with their family and set the context for career requirements. However, the harsh reality is that a large section of the society is not ready for women’s roles in an industry that is changing by the day. It seemed to me that it is imperative to provide women with an infrastructure at work that ensures security and conveniences at all hours, thereby reassuring their families. Needless to say, it would reduce conflict at home.
Unconscious Bias: The workplace is, unfortunately, steeped in unconscious biases that result in unconscious discrimination. My colleagues on the panel talked about opportunities (at work) that were not even offered to them -- their managers had simply presumed that as women they would not be willing to take up certain types of opportunities. Are these presumptions valid and fair? It is a question that everyone needs to ask oneself. Those in decision-making positions should be made aware of existing assumptions and be coached to eliminate them while making decisions.
A major catalyst for fostering gender diversity is the ecosystem that organizations provide. I am happy to be part of the Inclusion and Diversity initiatives championed and chaired by our CEO. Coaching managers to effectively lead diverse talent, mentoring women at work through various levels of leadership; investing in the technical training and professional development of women are some of the initiatives taken so far. There is no time to waste and a lot to be done to make bigger leaps in gender diversity. It means going beyond hiring more women. It means making workplaces safer and management practices fairer to ensure that there is a level playing field for all.
We need to become more aware and sensitive to the realities our women colleagues face. To increase awareness and improve organizational collective learning, I invite readers to share their experience and insights. Your thoughts on issues stalling gender equality and creating balanced work spaces will be invaluable in bringing about an organizational change.
I would like to conclude by thanking Sandhya Sriram, Sandhya Rajat Kumar, Sangeeta Kar and Bhawna Shah for their insightful interactions in the panel and for being great role models at Wipro. I also thank the Women of Wipro (WoW) in the audience for their open and engaging questions, and for sharing personal experiences throughout the session.
On this International Women’s Day “I pledge to maintain and foster gender parity mindset”. How about you?