Why India needs women of steel?

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By Atrayee S Sanyal

“Lack of gender diversity can be detrimental to business. Beyond being an issue of social justice, diversity and inclusion in companies have a direct effect on their growth, innovation, value creation and performance due to limited to talent pool.” Atrayee S Sanyal, Chief of Group HR and Chief Diversity Officer, Tata Steel.

Why do businesses need women leaders, be it any sector, and across the globe? Simple: Empowering women is smart economics. Gender diversity is a key corporate performance driver because of the different perspectives and experience it offers while lack of it is detrimental to business. Beyond being an issue of social justice, diversity and inclusion in companies have a direct effect on their growth, innovation, value creation and performance. Studies by IMF, the World Bank and industry insights reveal greater gender equality can enhance economic productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation, and make our industries more vibrant. A diverse workforce ensures that we have different mind-sets dealing with challenges in different ways, and this helps us strategize better.

Unfortunately, despite making rapid progress on many spheres, India fares rather poorly on the Gender Disparity Index, which is extremely worrying. According to a study by Consulate General of Sweden in India, women are underrepresented in India’s manufacturing sector with participation ranging from only three to twelve percent though women were better represented in the service sector, with participation ranging from 27% to 40%. It has been observed that women were not aware about the job opportunities in manufacturing sector, and we need to bridge that gap.

While India has made mixed progress on closing the gap in various spheres since 2006 when World Economic Forum (WEF) started tracking gender gap, there has been slippages. India was ranked low at 108th position out of 144 countries in Global Gender Gap Index 2017 released as part of WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report. India slipped by 21 places compared to 87th rank in the previous year. As per the recent Report it would take 217 years for the economic gender gap to be closed, mostly because the gap has widened. Economic inequality includes disparity in pay for the same work done by a man and a woman. Unconscious bias, lax policies, few women in leadership roles and lack of awareness about the benefits of gender diversity are the key challenges to the progress of diversity.

Poor implementation is the primary reason that many of the diversity initiatives fail. The key obstacle is the mindset of decision makers. We must understand that diversity is neither a check box nor nice to do but is a business imperative. Significantly, a deficit in the participation of women means that the current levels of innovation and creativity are suboptimal. So how do we ensure to increase the full participation of women in innovation and creativity? Getting more women into formal workforce is priority for India and businesses need to embrace diversity because it offers a holistic perspective to growth in a fast changing global economy. This is vital as cross pollination of ideas acts as a catalyst to cope with the change and accelerate growth. More women in leadership roles enables better business performance, promote equality, and enrich the social development. Indeed, increased participation of women in economic activity can boost economy.

Research shows that gender diversity benefits a manufacturing firm through improved ability to innovate, higher return on equity, and increased profitability. When employees believe their organisation is committed to diversity and inclusion, they report better business performance in terms of their ability to innovate. Organisations can unleash the full potential of their female workforce by creating a culture where unique strengths thrive. Culture can’t change without women in the room, so companies should incorporate strategies to attract high-performing women and develop solid retention strategies. Further, focusing on leadership development can drive retention and foster diverse leadership perspectives.

Collectively, we as a nation need to take the responsibility of building an equitable culture and a diverse leadership team that fosters diversity and inclusion. We need to nurture young minds to experience real life challenges in the industry and gain access to management who act as mentors. Pioneering program in the Indian manufacturing sector such as Women of Mettle focus on nurturing girl students from engineering colleges, offering them scholarships opportunities and earning a career. When diversity is recognised and employees feel included, they have a better responsiveness to changing customer needs. Everything, cumulatively, helps progress and catalyse growth. Workplace diversity attracts the best talent and retains the same. It builds a great reputation capital.

Tata Steel aims to have 20% women in our workforce by 2025, from the current level of 11% among white collar workforce. Formal and informal mentorships, flexible work practices, and improving the visibility of key leaders who serve as role models can drive optimal impact that help manufacturers attract and retain women. And because these programs have enterprise-wide implications, both top-down and bottom-up support is crucial to their effectiveness and sustainability. The good news is women availability is gradually improving with the required skills in manufacturing, mining and engineering. It is supply-led demand to a great extent. Engineering institutes need to have more women and only then companies can recruit women in these areas. Companies need to engage early with various leading institutes which helps capture the best women talent in the early years of engineering. There is a need to devise policy interventions to offset the challenges which come with more women going for extended maternity.

My advice for young women who aspire to build exciting careers in manufacturing must look within to tap the inner strength. The mantra is clear: Women are no lesser mortals and equally capable of handling the best of leadership roles, across sectors, industries and technologies. If we do not value ourselves, others won’t. Be bold and ambitious, and constantly aim for higher and chart your own path. Don’t let others decide what is best for you. It is important to expand your horizon. Unless you decide to face the heat, the results won’t come your way. Don’t shy away from demanding roles that are high on accountability and impact top or bottom line. Get into the circle of life and network with the ecosystem to leverage synergies. Connect more, be accessible, enjoy the work and strike the chord with people around you to succeed.

Fostering holistic work-life balance policies, deploying best hiring and retention, nurturing gender sensitisation, skill and leadership development, improving diversity at leadership, transforming stereotyped mindsets and effective implementation of policies can help boost productivity. To reap the full rewards, manufacturing firms need to have a structured approach for harnessing the benefits of optimal diversity. We stay committed to increase awareness about women empowerment, safety, security, and health, and improve diversity recruitment ratio through campus and lateral hiring, with a goal to recruit nothing less than 25% women from campus with no upper limit. Effective policies like a five-day working week, equal right to work, extended maternity leave, satellite office operation, sabbatical leave policy and work-from-home, menstrual leave are great enablers. High-potential women employees must be identified and groomed for leadership roles through mentoring programmes and leadership development workshops.

Certainly, diversity and inclusion is not a choice, but a way of life. And, building an equitable culture and a diverse leadership team is our collective responsibility. The manufacturing industry in India must chose the mosaic path of diversity and inclusion to realise its true potential and nurture excellence for a diverse portrait in an organisation with a mix of people. Increased innovation, more access to talent and better business performance – the benefits of diversity and inclusion have proven to be aplenty. Recognising the positive impact of gender diversity, we must take a comprehensive approach to build a women first culture that celebrates and encourages diversity and inclusion, driven by a strong commitment, and sensitisation.

Source: BW Businessworld

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