Women have played just as important a role in the shaping of human history as men have. Career advancement can be a challenge for anyone, but for women in India, the journey can be particularly tricky. The impact of gender stereotyping and the barriers that women face in achieving parity with men in the workplace can feel insurmountable. However, with the right approach, organizations can ensure they are inclusive and can support women to overcome these challenges.
What are the Key Challenges in Career Advancement for Women?
Gender Bias: Gender Bias is one of the most deeply ingrained challenges that many organizations are grappling with. It transcends the boundaries of the core lifecycle of the employee and begins right from the initial stages of recruitment. Recruiters or interviewers often fall into the trap of unconscious biases. New mothers, women who are expecting a child or those who have recently tied the knot are often at a disadvantage while competing for jobs and hence often lose out on opportunities.
Fewer Leadership Opportunities: Women face these same barriers when it comes to promotions and taking on leadership roles. There are fewer leadership opportunities offered to women and top management is often male dominated in many organizations, particularly in IT.
Gender Pay Gap: Competent women often get paid significantly less than their male counterparts for the same job role. This spans across industries including IT, manufacturing and the film industry.
Cultural Inhibitors: Centuries of conditioning and cultural practices such as maternal parenting and the preconceived notion about women and motherhood pose challenges for working mothers who have to deal with inflexibility and judgement at work.
Sexual Harassment: This is another abhorrent reality with respect to women in the workplace. Despite implementing the POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) Act in India in 2013, many employers still do not abide by its full potential. Employees are often uninformed of the law and provisions. It makes the situation worse when Internal Complaints Committees are unequipped for investigating the cases competently. Traditional gender roles still hold true for many, which requires unwavering efforts from organizations to challenge these stereotypes through the policies available.
What Can Organizations Do to Foster a More Inclusive Environment for Women?
Developing a safe and supportive work environment is essential to creating equal opportunities. Necessary resources must be provided to support women who have historically found it tough to make inroads as they strive for professional excellence.
Diversity and Inclusion: D&I initiatives are a must-have. Organizations need to extend initiatives beyond just hiring towards equal opportunity and equal pay. It should not only be about the number of women in the organization but also the number of women who are in leadership positions. Some of the recent D&I efforts include female recruitment drives, interview sourcing parity, conducting unconscious bias training, promoting women resource groups and weaving this feedback into corporate policies such as work from home and flexi hours. An overall sensitization training may hold the key to cultural change. D&I is more than policies, programs, or headcounts. Equitable employers respect the unique needs, perspectives and potential of all their team members.
Pay Audits and Pay Parity: Having regular pay audits and committing to bridge pay gaps by strategic interventions is something that organizations must do. Pay parity is the most essential objective organizations must strive to achieve.
Mentoring and Skill Development Platforms: Increase in networking and mentoring platforms to strategically develop women leaders is another intervention that can help curb the challenges women face to secure leadership positions. Amplifying strong role models is crucial and has a massive effect in shaping the overall culture of the organization.
Flexibility and Focus on Targets: Due to pandemic workplace shifts, hybrid working models now allow a certain level of flexibility for women in particular. It may also be beneficial that companies keep a target-focused matrix rather than calculating labour hours. Creche facilities and nursing breaks for working mothers and keeping the policies in-line with the 1961 Maternity Benefit Act should be non-negotiable.
Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment: The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act provides protection against sexual harassment of women and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment at workplaces. It is only effective if it is implemented and adhered to in entirety. A zero tolerance approach must be observed by the organizations and appropriate budgets must be allocated, including regular employee training, manager training and IC training. POSH awareness is the key to a safe workplace.
Travel Safety: To ensure safety of female employees who may need to travel during late hours, it is essential that companies provide them with cab facilities, and equip the vehicles with GPS trackers and security guards.
With the right strategies in place, a more sensitive, healthy, equitable and inclusive workplace is possible to create. Several Indian women like Nirmala Sitharaman, Falguni Nayar and Indra Nooyi have emerged as influential world leaders for this cause, and have challenged stereotypes and inspired us with their success stories. Organizations in India must learn from our peers that have made significant strides in inclusivity and creating equal opportunities for all people in the workplace.