Are gender diversity programs in corporate India only about the ratio of female to male employees? Or about assertiveness training and power dressing? Are these programs delivering only flexi work policies and childcare crèches in offices? While these are all key issues that need to be addressed by gender diversity programs, there has to be more. Much more!
I believe that an integrated program to encourage and celebrate diversity needs to be inclusive. The program needs to address how women think of their careers. It needs to bring to fore unconscious biases that exist in the way we think and behave whether we are men or women. It needs to help us appreciate and leverage the gender differences in our world-space (not just the workplace).
Here is my list of Must Have’s in any Gender Diversity Program
It’s Gotta Start from the Top. Organizations can spend as much money as they want on Diversity Programs, but if they don’t OWN it, at leadership levels, then it means nothing. If employees in the organization don’t see women in top leadership roles, women who are respected across industries and countries as professionals, women who have got those roles because of their calibre vs. their gender, then any diversity program will be seen as hollow. Also, women in leadership roles will ask the right questions and challenge the program to be better.
Have Sponsors / Champions with an Emotional Connect. Sponsers / Champions don’t have to be women. They have to be individuals who have a strong connect and deep understanding of women’s issues. If you can’t find someone like that, then look for people who have struggled with and overcome discrimination or have strong authentic stories of overcoming odds.
Rebel Against Stereotypes. A real diversity program is NOT about women wearing pink on Women’s Day! Women (and men) are multi-faceted – they want careers, play games, listen to music, eat at nice places, smoke cigars, drink wine, love adventure sports, like road trips, play guitars, read books, etc. See how best you can add value to all those facets. I find it frustrating that on the occasion of International Women’s Day, companies continue to target women as if their only interest is in spas and salons, shoes and bags, clothes and jewellery, or how to look slimmer and younger (for thier husbands, boyfriends, or in preparation of marriage!)
Women Have To Believe That Careers Are For The Long Term. In India, often women (and their families) see careers as something that women do before marriage, or at worst, till they have a baby. I have often heard women say “I am lucky. My husband / in-laws allow me to work.” This tells me two things – that the women themselves see a career as a SOP or that their career is of lesser value than other things. Diversity programs need to help women recognise why they want careers and how they can commit to careers as if it were a marriage – be in it till death do us part. They may even need to involve family members actively.