The social fabric and traditional mindset of women working the proverbial ‘double-shift’ as the primary caregiver at home has impacted the participation of women in the Indian workforce. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a telling impact on women at work, bringing to the fore heightened gender inequalities of varying proportions encountered every day.
Deloitte’s May 2021 study for India reveals that nearly 8 in 10 (78%) Indian women believe that they take on the bulk of household management duties, as against 66% globally. Women in India are also more likely to take on more responsibility for childcare (47% vs. 38% globally) and care of other dependents (30% vs. 23% globally), resulting in a situation where their responsibilities are likely to continue post pandemic. Their motivation at work and mental well-being has also been impacted. All these factors are likely to result in a void in the workforce if women opt to exit, thereby necessitating the need for urgent action to correct this situation.
The Gender Inclusion Business Case
Organizations have begun recognizing the benefits of having a gender-balanced and inclusive workforce. Research undertaken by Bersin by Deloitte and other sources reveals that organizations with more diverse and inclusive cultures are two times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three times more likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. This calls for a reorientation of organizational processes, policies, and systems aimed at creating an enabling ecosystem where retention of women at work is a strategic imperative.
As highlighted by Deloitte in its recent studies, organizations have begun recalibrating their energies to retain women at work in the ‘next normal’ with a multi-pronged approach. One of the biggest asks of employees across genders pre-pandemic, which has been further reinforced during the pandemic, is the need to make work flexibility for all an important lever of retention, especially for women. This will necessitate a shift from traditional ways of working, which will require unlearning and relearning among supervisors and colleagues alike, so that they extend support as needed to retain an inclusive workforce.
Measures and actions
Here are some of the proactive measures and well-conceptualised actions being undertaken by organisations in India with a view to attract, engage, and retain women at work with new ways of working in the ‘next normal’.
– Educating leaders on managing their unconscious biases at work linked to gender and other diversity dimensions, having a zero-tolerance approach to non-inclusive behaviour
– Reiterating the importance of respect to attract and retain the best talent from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and cultures
– Being an effective ally to women at work serves as a long-term commitment to visibly and vocally stand up and support colleagues, especially in vulnerable times
– Mentoring of women by senior leaders and reverse mentoring of leaders by junior women team members can both go a long way in building an inclusive work environment
– Advocating senior level sponsorship of high-performing and high-potential women for senior leadership roles to give an active thrust to gender balance
– Promoting holistic well-being and providing mental health support to retain women at work is imperative, as they navigate through multiple challenges and roles
– Enriching the talent experience by rearchitecting work and ways of working and reimagining all talent processes and policies to adapt to the agile reality
– Experimenting with and rolling out alternate talent models, redefining job roles, and encouraging return of women who have exited the workforce by offering them flexible work arrangements and setting ‘flexpectations’
– Encouraging childcare responsibilities to be shared equitably and providing a generous and balanced parental leave that is available to all genders; this will go a long way in narrowing gender gaps, within the context of broader work-life balance and career support policies
– Extending childcare support anywhere, beyond creches near the workplace, is a welcome move
– Establishing gender pay parity
– Investing in capability enhancement and reskilling so that all at work feel welcome, equipped, empowered, and valued
– Actively working towards gender balance by closely tracking gender equity in hiring, promotions, rewards, and recognition
These efforts will go a long way in validating Deloitte’s recent research showing that organizations providing an enabling ecosystem and adapting to new ways to retain a gender balance workforce will ultimately thrive.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
The author is an Executive Director in Deloitte India and works primarily in the Consulting business and in the strategic priority of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for South Asia. She has over 21 years of experience and is a specialist in strategy and transformation spanning strategy, operations and human resources. She is passionate about inclusion and has been part of the core DEI team for the last one and a half years. Her specific areas of interest are gender balance, mental health, leadership development and culture change.
This column appears in the March 2022 edition of our quarterly magazine. To grab your own copy, click here