Diversity is a word that is getting thrown around a lot these days in organizations in India, gender diversity in particular. That India is waking up and acknowledging, the indisputable potential of this underutilized work force is fantastic news. However the good news pretty much ends out there.
The latest Kelly Global Workforce Insights (KGWI) survey on Women in STEM, "India faces a sharp drop-off of women at mid-career level. The most significant driver is the “double-burden syndrome” of women struggling to balance work and family in a culture where both women and men feel family and household duties are primarily the woman’s responsibility ”. While this study specifically addresses women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), it’s not hard to imagine that women across industries in the corporate world drop out of the workplace in India. So what gives?
Keeping aside the culturally ingrained patriarchy that exists in society, which in its most simplistic form translates to a lack of familial support for a working woman. The corporate environment itself acts as a deterrent, the lack of sensitization to changing gender norms, no semblance of a work life balance, de-motivating salary disparity, to name a few.
Policy makers and good governance play a very big role in propagating gender equality as well. The biggest and most challenging problem being, how unsafe it is for women simply to walk down a street, let alone hauling themselves to and from work on a daily basis. Add to that inadequate maternity leave benefits (there is some good cheer in this regard as you might have heard and the changes will be implemented in early 2017), non-existent paternity leave benefits. The challenges are plenty and multipronged.
According to the world economic forums Global Gender Report 2015 out of a 145 nations India ranks 108. At the top of the index are the Nordic countries Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden (these countries top the list consistently year after year ). The obvious thing to do is to look to these countries to find solutions to India’s Gender disparity woes.
Here are some (some because we really can’t cover this vast topic in one article!) of the things that they are doing ….
The work life balance in these countries is enviable to say the very least. In Iceland a country that tops the index, policy governs that the maximum working hours per week , including overtime , cannot exceed 48 hours on average during a four month period.
No amount of flexi hours, work from home options will suffice if an employee is over-worked and overloaded. The importance of work-life balance cannot be stressed enough irrespective of gender. The more women have partners, who have the bandwidth and time, to take on child and home care (cultural tuning aside) the better their ability to not only cope and sustain but thrive at work.
Not maternity, not paternity, but parental leave. In Sweden which boasts of one of the best parental leaves in the world, when a child is born or adopted,it is mandatory for both parents to take the first 3 months off, and then can split the remaining 10 months however they see necessary, giving a total of 16 months of parental leave.
Sweden has employed the welfare state economic model, so maybe India can’t start doling out parental leaves with this level of generosity, but surely we can do way better than what we are doing right now. Underestimating the impact of parental leave on reducing gender disparity in the workplace would be very shortsighted.
Parents generally look for quality, flexibility and affordability when it comes to child care. In the Nordic countries again, because of the socialist economic model child care is very affordable. With regards to quality, the child to staff ratio is very low. Denmark for e,g has 3.3 children per staff. In addition, in Denmark, Iceland and Sweden, 50% or more staff members have finished college or university level education. The government of India passed the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) policy in 2013. If one had to compare what the policy states with the above numbers for e.g. Child to Creche worker ratio in the 0-3 age group bracket is 1:10. While passing the ECCE policy was an important step taken by the Government of India, the challenges in implementation still remain.
Work environment, Training and Management
The organization culture and environment in these countries are not only gender sensitive but progressive. The organizations, senior management take a gender sensitive stance and communicate this clearly, sending the right message to the employees and setting the right company culture. Mentoring high-potential female employees, promoting deserving candidates to management positions, providing a definite and progressive career path post parental leave, ensuring there is no gender based salary disparity, are just a few of the steps that management in these organizations take. Organizations have also seen great benefits by putting in relevant training programmes for both their male and female employees.
We have our work cut out for us, so the question is can India rise to the challenge? I personally am looking at the future with a great deal of optimism because signs of change are there everywhere, but we do have miles to go before we sleep!
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