Guest AuthorPrarthana Sethumadhavan

GENDER DIVERSITY – Are we there?

By | Sakalya Holistic HR Solutions | Services across HR Consulting 

The other day, I had visited one of the well-known MNC factories for a business call. The factory was totally state of the art, the campus clean, the signage in place.  I was meeting the Head of the Factory for discussing the impact of training and coaching and building in house capabilities. I was treated to a cup of green tea ( me being health conscious and all) and our discussions progressed fruitfully.

A while into the discussion,  I saw a bunch of young girls punch in at the time office, and proceed towards their respective work stations. The sight filled me with pleasure, and as a champion of equal rights and opportunity, I congratulated the Factory Head on their organization’s gender diversity policy and said it was good to see women coming into bastions like manufacturing that were previously male dominated. I mean who would have imagined women on the shop floor around thirty years back?! His next sentence however dragged me back to the dark ages! . He said- “ Haan, thode bahut girls ko recruit kar lete hain, company ki policy hai- kya hai ki thodi hariyali hoti hai aur logon ka man behla rehta hai’’!!!  meaning , yes – we recruit some girls as it is the company policy, it keeps the guys in good humour to see women around.

The meaning and implications of the sentence were horrifying at the very least. I found I was speechless at the mind-set and attitude of someone at such a senior rank, – and the impact of the same that would/will percolate. We are in the 21st century, and yet here was a man, who was in a Leadership position, making sexist, regressive and irresponsible comments without showing any kind of sensibility or sensitivity. This statement took me back about 30 years, when I was interning at one of India’s most respected business houses, and was doing my rounds with my questionnaire for a survey I was working on. In the filled questionnaire was a comment, that the person in question ( a leader/HOD ) had written of how pleasant his days are when he sees me/ any other woman on the shop-floor and that my HOD should definitely take more women interns to infuse better productivity on the shop-floor. I had marched with that filled questionnaire to the Vice President HR and had demanded an explanation for such a frivolous and sexist comment. The said person was given dire warnings, but was not asked to leave despite having made such an undignified comment, not to mention nurse such regressive and insulting mind-set towards women (because he was associated with the company for a long period of time) Translate – lengthy service records protect you even if you are a sexist and you can get away with a reprimand. There was no disciplinary action, and I had felt violated. I could empathize with women who were working on that shop-floor, many who came from underprivileged backgrounds, who needed the jobs and did not have the courage to voice the suppression they met on a daily basis, with so called men of rank, who abused power so blatantly. My internship got over, and it could not have been sooner!

Fast forward thirty years, and here I was, an educated woman, strong, independent and sitting in front of another guy who was spouting the same mind-set of thirty years back!! What had changed in the interim years – I mean REALLY?

I have visited so many organizations that have a wonderfully scripted gender diversity policy on paper, but in actuality the soul and spirit of the policy is missing in organization. Today, the Governement of India has introduced POSH ( The Prevention of Sexual Harassment) law that promises to give an aggrieved woman justice and curtail at the workplace, – sexually aggressive behaviour and hostile work environments and make the workplace safe for all women. But, then the question arises, how does one weed out from the minds of men, the socially conditioned fact that women are in a workplace , not to decorate the landscape but actually do meaningful work and contribute. They bring to the table much more than just their gender.

The said person above is not a stand alone case. Over the course of my career, I have had, sometimes the misfortune to meet many a men, who carry such regressive thoughts, and who unfortunately for the organization hold key and impactful positions. What can a woman look for when such men hold key mantles?

One of the requirements of POSH is to have an Internal Complaints Committee  that would be chaired by a woman, have a women majority composition, but also senior ranking male officials as a part of the committee. Will they ever cross the hurdles of their social conditioning and mental mind-sets to look at women deserving of dignity at their workplaces, and the right not to be manipulated, suppressed or oppressed because they have chosen to come out of centuries of the very same, – and live as humans first and women later and do something they enjoy and contribute to society???

I believe social conditioning of men in our society is one of the key culprits of the existing malaise today. A differential treatment of boys and girls in their homes, privileges of education, allocation of work at home (girls doing household work , cooking, cleaning etc.) are some of the strong impressions embedded deep in the male psyche. Many a women in the previous generations were housewives, and not part of the Indian workforce, which also builds a strong stereotype in minds, that subconsciously plays a pivotal role when viewing modern women in the workforce.

Education is the key. Education, that breaks stereotypes and empowers people to break their mental conditionings to embrace, propagate basic human dignity sans gender. Organizations should invest in Gender Diversity trainings and Coaching to bring change – in mindsets of people. Communication that reflects respect and trust towards all employees at the workplace should be the hallmarks – especially of leaders and all senior ranking professionals –so that the role model percolates downwards. Inconsiderate, insensitive, derogatory and sexist behaviour and remarks should not be tolerated as they violate basic human dignity and the right to work in a collaborative and supportive workplaces.

Women are here to stay – as a significant part of the labour force in India, and globally. The tides are turned. It’s a change that has swept over, when no one was truly looking. Today, most people are at loss on how to deal with what they feel is – coup de women! They resort to trivializing their presence and thereby expose their deep rooted fears and insecurities.  There is another way to do the same – Accept and welcome women to the workplace, support them in their contributions and be champions for them. Organizations should truly uphold `Equal Opportunities Employer’, `&   Workplace diversity’.  For them to do so, would require systematic education and training of all the workforce on Gender Sensitivity, dissemination of the POSH law , creation of an ICC with responsible and fair minded people sans gender bias.

It’s a long haul, requires effort from the top to truly make workplaces safe & assure dignity.

Republished with permission and originally published at Sakalya Holistic HR Solutions’s Linkedin

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