Over the last few years, corporate India’s diversity agenda appears to be focused on how to get more women into mid and senior management roles. Unfortunately, the efforts to keep them in those positions appear to be restricted to rolling out a bunch of policies – flexi working hours, safe travel arrangements, generous leaves, and care facilities such as health check-ups, and child care options. The result? Most women don’t end up using these options available to them for fear of being singled out as having special needs and consequently being denied promotion and hike in the future.
A survey by People Matters and TCS indicated that the top three things that women wanted at the workplace was access to leadership development programs, mentoring and gender sensitization workshops for their managers. Benefits such as flexi working hours and internal women forums were seen as relatively unimportant to women employees.
Unfortunately, what women employees want cannot be provided via policies on a platter, but only via business change. Efforts need to be put in the area of nurturing women employees, not merely throwing them in the deep end of the pool and expecting them to swim after a weeklong masterclass. I would like to share an example of my friend and colleague who built a diverse team – gender diverse, as well as diverse in educational and socio-economic backgrounds – over three years without leveraging any such special policies and has seen business growth and near zero attrition. Here is what she did.
A sense of humour is what she looked for in candidates, besides their qualifications and the ability to get the job done. She consciously interviewed candidates with backgrounds different from her. For every male candidate, she interviewed two female candidates in the hope that at least one would be hired. While the interview process was lengthy and she faced flak from the senior management on the “delay” in hiring, she continued undeterred.
Having hired a team of 25 people, she was extremely conscious of the need to ensure they felt connected to one another and socially secure within the office. Informal pranks to lighten the seriousness of the office environment, creating a confidential WhatsApp group to gauge sentiments on work and leadership, and team lunches every two-three weeks during office hours (not billed to the company, but paid for by herself and eventually going dutch on the team’s insistence), helped build rapport and understand team members and their passions outside work. She discovered dog lovers, foodies (Non-Veg Biryani lovers actually), rock music followers, gallivanters, fashionistas, and financial planners within the team.
The team then connected with each other wonderfully. Collaboration flourished during work and friendship outside work. Now, whenever there is a special occasion at anyone’s home, food (sweets and savouries mostly) is brought to office to be shared with the team. I have personally sampled Chandigarh gajak, Christmas plum cake, gujarati aam shrikhand and chocolate khakra, south indian murukku, Jaipuri pyaaz kachori, and Tuticorin Macaroons.
I am aware that this is possible because the team comprises of largely unmarried people, including my friend, the manager. But by ensuring that fun activities happen during work hours, those with other commitments post work (such as me), also feel part of the team.
Career building support
On assignments, the team feels safe voicing concerns because they know their manager will represent them. Where concerns appear unfounded, she has investigated the root cause and attempted to solve them. How does she deal with jealousy and ambitions among team members? By speaking to them one on one or otherwise and setting expectations right. For example, while a large number of employees in other locations were getting promoted out of turn, she set expectations right by insisting why a two year promotion cycle was more beneficial in the longer term. Further, she went on to nominate only those candidates whose chances of out of turn promotion were high. While some team members resented this, they eventually saw for themselves how the newly promoted lot was struggling to cope with the workload, haven’t been prepared for it.
These examples may appear to indicate a utopian scenario to some readers, however, the reality is that it takes time to understand what people value and nurture them in line with those values. There were a few team members who left the organization for better prospects. However, they continue to be part of the group and meet frequently and continue the relationship they had built over the years.
Perhaps corporate India needs to re-think on these lines to action their diversity agenda, rather than undertaking token measures.
Archana is a Marketing leader and mother of two. Views expressed are personal. LinkedIn. Twitter @archvenkat