By Neha Bagaria
JobsForHer was founded by Neha Bagaria in 2015, with a single minded mission to reverse female brain drain in India, and bring more women back to work from career breaks. In our endless quest to achieve this, we partnered with Hyphen for a panel discussion on Diversity & Inclusion At Your Workplace earlier this month in Bangalore.
JobsForHer’s CEO Neha Bagaria moderated the panel, and was joined by Seema Padman, Senior Director HR, Epsilon; Nirmala Menon, CEO, Interweave Consulting; Shachi Irde, Executive Director, Catalyst India; and Seema Singh, ex-VP, People Operations at InMobi.
The conversation was enriching and vibrant, with all the panelists frankly discussing their experiences at different points in their careers. This firebrand panel of women brought diverse points of view to the discussion, and have all worked hard within their spheres to push the needle of diversity in India.
Shachi from Catalyst said that she initially didn’t think that women needed to be treated differently from men, until she had a child and realised that she was being treated differently at work. During her time at Infosys, she began to learn what diversity and inclusion truly meant.
While companies in India are doing so much to retain women, differences and biases still very much exist in the workplace. Unfortunately, many women blame themselves, thinking that it was their mistake when they chose to stop working. Women need to realise that other factors also influenced these choices, and that they can and do bring innovation and different ideas to the workplace even after they’ve taken a break.
Seema Padman from Epsilon made a vital point in the opening remarks, when she said, “If you don’t intentionally include people, you unintentionally exclude people.” Seema Singh reinforced this when she said that all these stories have become so familiar in the discourse around diversity and inclusion today. The differences don’t become apparent until women are older, and hit that stage when they are faced with the choice to take a break from work.
D&I should be the CEO’s goal, not the CSR department’s
Seema Singh started her career in Diversity and Inclusion around the issue of Workplace Harassment, becoming the first person in the company where she was working at the time, to design a specific policy around the issue of Workplace Harassment. Seema Padman agreed that diversity must absolutely be the mandate of the CEO, in order to ensure better creativity and productivity.
She also made a valid point that diversity is somewhat easier to achieve, in the sense that numbers and targets can be set. Inclusion is much harder, in that it involves a cultural change which needs to be driven from the top of the organization. When inclusion is ingrained in the leaders and managers of an organization right from the top down, then a culture of inclusion is shaped and honed.
Catalyst, an organization headquartered in New York has been working in India for 6 years now. Shachi Irde, Executive Director at Catalyst India shared some interesting insights based on their research on gender inclusion in the workplace in India:
- Many organizations are talking about diversity, showing a lot of good intention but there is very little accountability; nobody is tracking or monitoring if women are getting access to returnee programmes. A true culture change has not happened yet in corporate India.
- Employees that have been with an organization longer get promoted faster, compared to employees who contribute equally or more but aren’t visible in the office.
- More men receive training and development compared to women.
Nirmala Menon, CEO of InterWeave Consulting, had a tough time returning to work after a 6 year career break. She agreed that while the discourse has definitely improved around D&I, not a lot has changed in reality. Conversations have changed and moved to not just looking at diversity in terms of gender/LGBTQ, but looking at it at a deeper level. It’s also important to bear in mind that women are also diverse, and bring different skillsets to the table.
Seema Padman outlined what Epsilon is doing to bring more women back to work:
- Set a target of 50:50 – men:women by 2018. In 8 months, the number of women in their workforce increased from 24% to 32%;
- Designing part time roles for women returnees;
- Creating special mentoring opportunities;
- The unique Hyphen initiative, creating a space for anonymous conversations about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, without fear of judgement.
Seema also pointed out the sad reality that many women undersell themselves in interviews and don’t negotiate for better pay, as compared to male interviewees who negotiate their salaries upfront. Women tend to take the first offer they get.
Seema Singh from InMobi said that career breaks were not a deciding factor in the company’s appraisals and promotions, whether for men or women. InMobi is one company that pioneered in the maternity-leave discussion and implementation of family-friendly policies for their employees, paving the way for other corporates to follow.
Challenges, Mindsets and Leadership
Our CEO Neha then posted an interesting question to the panel – what wasn’t working, and what were the challenges that the panelists saw, in terms of mindsets and environments?
- Diversity needs to be taken seriously by an organization’s leadership, as a business priority and not just HR. Corporate leaders need to look at data, ask questions, reflect on insights and initiate a culture change – and while all that is said and done, it’s no easy task for any leader! If companies want to hire women, they need to understand them first.
- Communication and deep dive thinking needs to happen, where hard questions are asked and answered. Why should a company hire more women? What is the business case for diversity? Answering these questions will lead to buy-in for diversity at all levels in an organization.
- Setting goals is very important, as is “not using the Q word – quota”. Nobody wants to be treated as a second-class citizen, as someone who didn’t earn their place.
- Training is necessary to unpack and unravel unconscious biases that have formed over many generations of gender discrimination.
Catalyst also uses an open platform developed by MIT and Harvard for development and training, which has 6 courses on D&I, that have been taken so far by 250,000 people.
What should India Inc. do?
Neha then steered the discussion towards what companies should implement in India to push the diversity needle. The panel’s collective responses highlighted that the first step was figuring out HOW to bring women back to work; the next step was shifting the focus to development for men (awareness and leadership) and women (putting themselves out there, grabbing the opportunities).
We’ve talked before about the importance of family-friendly policies, as opposed to women-friendly policies. If men were given paternity leave for 6 months, it would balance the scales and help them learn patience and all the many skills that women pick up while looking after a baby.
An audience member made an interesting point, in response to this question – that we are running before we’re walking. Before we even think about D&I, everyone needs to be on board. This means higher wage pay and paid maternity and paternity leave. Women returnees are also ideal candidates to fill the gaps when employees go on maternity or paternity leave, and are available usually at no notice period.
It’s also interesting to note that Indian law does not discriminate in pay for women and men – all are equal on paper, so the inequalities that we’re hearing about today have all been brought about by our own biases.
All in all, it was an insightful, well rounded panel discussion and we’re so happy to have been a part of it. Learn how your company can partner with JobsForHer, to bring more women back to work in India – write to firstname.lastname@example.org TODAY!
Priya Desai is a working mom to a two year old. She has studied Environmental Law and Journalism, and works in the digital media space. She researches and writes for companies on JobsForHer.