Words like intersectionality, gender inclusiveness, diversity and pay equity are often considered to be vague indicators of women empowerment at the workplace.
The ground reality, as statistics would tell you however is that gender inequality is not just a word but a living reality for millions of women who are paid less than their male peers, face far more barriers as far as professional growth and promotions go, often have to deal with bias and discrimination at work.
According to a recent survey by LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021, as many as 85% women missed out on a raise, promotion or work offer because of their gender in India. The average for this gender bias in the Asia-Pacific (ACPC) region was 60%.
So where is the root of the problem? I believe what manifests at the workplace is the direct result of how society generally treats women and girls. Sexism and gender bias percolate down to the workplace from widely prevalent thought processes followed in homes, societies, institutions and cultures.
While the contribution of women in the workforce and even at home is often invisibilized, they are also expected to shoulder more responsibility as caregivers, mothers, workers and even team leaders. Women leaders in business, according to a McKinsey report, (in partnership with LeanIn.Org) are stepping up to support, “employee well-being, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.” But as is predictable, that critical and necessary work is not getting recognized. The sad aspect of this oversight is that women may drop out of the work stream and this will deprive corporate spaces of the perspectives, diversity and the leadership they deserve.
It is also important to recognise that tokenism goes only thus far and no further when it comes to addressing gender, race and caste bias at a workplace. It is important hence to start with the basics and educate employees about an unconscious gender bias. Diversity must be a priority, not midstream but at the onset of the hiring process. There is also no reason why audits cannot make salaries transparent and gender pay gaps cannot be bridged with fairness.
At Visionet, we try to understand the reasons that prohibit women from joining STEM fields. We have discovered that lack of flexible work hours, additional responsibilities at home and dearth of opportunities to transition to higher skilled roles often stunt their progress. We are trying to address this with programmes like ‘Unnati for India,’ that also focus on empowering and skilling women. We are also cognisant of the multiple roles women play at home and at work and so have committed ourselves to provide resources to improve employee wellbeing and mental health. It is important especially for mothers of young children to feel supported professionally, because in any case they face more biases and challenges. Managers, we feel, must be sensitised to signs of burnout, and they should create safe spaces for honest feedback and offer flexibility and down time if needed.
As a woman leader, I am also passionate about establishing mentor-mentee relationships because women need allies and representation at all levels. The broken rungs need to be repaired especially during the pandemic and an allyship gap must be bridged. Investment in gender and racial diversity, upskilling and fair hiring and promotion practices will be good not just for women but for companies.
Gender sensitivity must be bred into the culture of companies through constant reinforcement and training modules along with transparent practices that address issues created due to deep-rooted biases. Companies need to incorporate intersectional ideas of empowerment, inclusion and gender sensitive behaviour in everyday functioning to ensure biases do not take root in the work culture and adversely impact how women are viewed and evaluated.
The pandemic has opened the doorway not just to digital transformation, but to unleash opportunities for women in the tech space. This is the perfect time to encourage women to pursue STEM education, offer them timely mentoring, finance and venture capital for their projects, create safe networks, and establish a template of inclusivity at the workplace. When more women become tech role models, more will be encouraged to to stand out and reach for the stars.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.