The Law of Balancing | Outlook Business

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The Law of Balancing | Outlook Business


What began as a movement for equal rights for women has now become a call for greater justice. Equality means treating all people equally, but equality includes recognizing, understanding and accepting differences and seeing how companies can benefit from diversity. At the end of the day, women are different in that they have different needs. That doesn’t make them any less equal. What it requires is to rethink systems that have traditionally been designed with only men in mind. Sometimes a certain degree of adjustment makes a process or policy gender compatible, but in other cases the problem needs to be looked at with fresh eyes. I remember reading interviews of a number of women who broke the glass ceiling in different sectors, and they all had funny stories about how when they started out, there were no women’s toilets. Typically, in the old days, offices had wall-mounted urinals that catered to an all-male employee base. Now no alteration of the height, size, or number of these urinals would make them fit for women; you just need toilets with a different design! While women got toilets made specifically for them, the minor modification solution seems to be a popular approach when trying to make things inclusive. There are also several issues such as safety, sexual harassment and maternity leave that only women face and their input should be taken into account in policy formulation.

There is a growing realization that diversity without inclusion is meaningless. Since bias is the main reason for the non-inclusion of minority groups, many organizations put their employees, both male and female, through sensitization programs to help them understand unconscious bias. As the term suggests, often the behavior of individuals has less to do with malicious intent and is more a byproduct of patriarchal conditioning and systemic sexism. Interestingly, men report that these types of programs at work are eye-opening and helpful at home as they begin to value their wives more. Many mothers find that their daughters call out their fathers for sexist remarks or treat their mothers unfairly. Fathers are more likely to listen to daughters than wives, which makes this all the more encouraging in our efforts to create an equal world.

Deepali Naair tells an interesting story about how even women can be guilty of unconscious bias. In 2016, when she was on vacation, she and a colleague planned a CMO conference and began compiling an invitee list. When the entire list was ready, they noticed that there were no women on it. In this age, and given her personal commitment to diversity, someone should have pointed it out. It wasn’t like there weren’t any female CMOs. Some of them were less visible women and therefore not in the first place. They had to be consciously included.

“Nobody ever says they don’t want women; sometimes it’s just an unconscious bias,” she says. “Just like when you search for carpenters or drivers, the first names that come to mind are male.”

The only answer to break this stereotype is to have more women in these positions to make them more visible. More women on selection and promotion interview committees will also give women applicants a fairer chance. Asking the question “Why don’t we have enough women?” in as many forums as possible will help keep the issue alive in the collective consciousness of the entire organization.

In fact, this process should start even earlier than the workplace. While we rejoiced at the statistic that 25 percent of IIMA’s batch consisted of women, I was horrified when Prof. Promila Agarwal mentioned to me that less than 1 percent of the case studies that are used in class have women as protagonists ! I’m happy to see that this is now being fixed.

It’s not that men don’t want to have more women as colleagues. It’s just that they are in no way uncomfortable with the existing system and its unspoken rules. Changing it in a way that makes it more inclusive is too much of a concern, something that will require considerable sensitivity and personal initiative. Right now, most men are happy to be “mental feminists” and believe that all is well with the world.

Actions to achieve real change

Implementing practices that prevent unconscious bias and ensuring a level playing field are two ways organizations can advance their diversity agenda. Hiring based on blind resumes, where the applicant’s name and gender are hidden, is one such practice. Another is targeted recruiting, which involves taking care as you hire to include colleges that have large numbers of women. Consciously ensuring that women face a variety of challenging roles, rather than making allowances they don’t need or assuming they won’t be able to, is another. Correcting the imbalance in a system that is primarily male-centric would in itself do half the job. For the rest, some corrective actions may be necessary if we want to speed up the process.

Ideally, all policies should be scrutinized through the lens of diversity to ensure they are free of bias and offer equal opportunity.



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