11/09/2015 8:13 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

5 Ways To Make India Inc More Inclusive Of Women

Group of happy Indian business women in a meeting at the office.
Stuart Jenner via Getty Images
Group of happy Indian business women in a meeting at the office.

It is a good time to be a diversity and inclusion (D&I) professional in India today -- there is a surge in awareness, interest and genuine eagerness on the part of leaders to see workplaces reflect the diversity of the country, especially by tapping into the underleveraged talents of women in India. This increased attention to D&I reflects not just global pressure to "do the right thing", but also an internal awakening about what needs to happen for organisations to retain top talent.

This energy is wonderful, but it needs to be matched by action and accountability on the ground. That's why Catalyst's new report, "India Inc.: From Intention to Impact", clearly highlights intentional leadership actions as essential to moving India Inc from talking the talk to walking the walk.

The report focuses on five areas where there are gaps, identifying opportunities for impact and strategies for making real change.

1. Focus on attracting women and other diverse talent

Organisations in India are increasingly focused on the foundational details necessary for gender diversity, such as providing a safe, welcoming work environment for women. Eighty-eight percent of organisations surveyed offered anti-sexual harassment training, and 86% claimed to be developing innovative recruiting strategies designed to attract women employees (beyond campus recruiting, which is the machine that drives a lot of hiring in India Inc). Unfortunately, over 40% of organisations did not hold senior leaders accountable for D&I results. Senior leader accountability can translate big-picture strategies (such as diverse slate policies) to local, contextual solutions such as hiring in smaller towns or from women-only colleges.

2. When it comes to flex, culture is crucial

Flexible work arrangements (FWAs) are increasingly becoming the norm, and are an important instrument to retain top talent, especially for women and those who battle dual pressures from home and work. Nearly all Indian subsidiary organisations and two-thirds of India-headquartered companies have flex work policies on paper. But our data revealed a reluctance to measure utilisation, which might indicate that employees hesitate to use these FWAs in the absence of a truly inclusive culture.

"Companies need to meet women halfway by offering reintegration programs for returning parents, onsite childcare, and/or a fair method of assessing performance after significant time away from the office."

3. Leave is great if you can come back strong

Generous employee leave options, especially for maternity leave, and a high return rate paint a promising picture on the surface. Yet, digging deeper, we found that these are not supplemented by post-leave reintegration efforts. Several organisations don't offer childcare services or facilities, nor do they have a fair means of evaluating employee performance after a return from a long break. For women seeking to reconcile their role as mother with their desire to grow in their career, these hurdles sometimes prove too difficult to overcome, and this is why so many women's careers stall after they take leave. Companies need to meet women halfway by offering reintegration programs for returning parents, onsite childcare, and/or a fair method of assessing performance after significant time away from the office.

4. Want women leaders? Make sure your development programs reach women

While many organisations offer leadership development programs, few of them offer programs geared specifically toward women. Even general programs target high potentials and senior leaders, which means that men are likelier than women to have access. Furthermore, most companies have no idea how effective these programs are for women: only five organisations tracked career advancement by gender as an outcome despite the fact that the most commonly stated purpose of these programs, especially for women, was advancement! This is another area in which holding senior leaders accountable -- not just for having a program in place, but for tracking its results --could reap rich rewards.

5. Include everyone

Employee networks or employee resource groups (ERGs), especially women's networks, seem to be on the rise in India. But they too often appear to be largely unrelated to sustainable business impact. Similarly, men's role in enhancing gender inclusion has largely been overlooked until recently. Engaging men as champions at all levels and utilising employee networks to engage employees more deliberately in D&I efforts will help translate lofty targets into on-the-ground actions.

With fewer women represented at all levels, hired at all levels, and promoted at all levels in India Inc, it's crucial to make targeted efforts to attract, develop, and retain talented women. The good news in India is that this need seems to be recognised by organisations -- and it is up to them to meet it. When they do, women and men in India will be able to succeed in more areas of life than ever before!

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