What good are gender diversity policies if companies break the law?

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History and literature are full of tales about struggles against injustice, victory against seemingly insurmountable odds, sacrifice, the fight for freedom and of misfits who simply ignored popular wisdom and chose to follow their own path to destiny.

Why is Galileo still revered today? Because in the 17th century he chose to challenge the doctrine of the time and provide evidence that our planet was not at the centre of the universe but in fact spun around our own sun.

He was charged as a heretic by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which concluded that his “foolish and absurd” philosophy “explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture”. He spent the remaining 27 years of his life under house arrest. But his conclusions were based on sound logic and reasoning.

It is that same reasoning which inspired women’s rights advocate John Stuart Mill, and led, in 1897, the founding of the suffragette movement which came to be closely associated with demands for women to be given the right to vote.The movement was led and driven each in their own way by Millicent Fawcett, her sister and founder of the Kensington Society Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Emmeline Pankhurst. Women have continued to be at the forefront of such struggles often standing alongside men in the hope of achieving worthy goals. The salt march, led by Gandhi as an act of non-violent protest against British rule in India in March 1930, was unique as for the first time women became mass participants in the freedom struggle. It was Rosa Parks’ protest in December 1955 that ultimately led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which became an important symbol of the US civil rights movement.

The boycott led to the rise to prominence of Martin Luther King, Jr., another follower of Gandhi’s principle of non-violent political protest. We are lucky that we have none of the disadvantages of these first equality and human rights campaigners. It is their sacrifice and hard work that has laid the foundation of current equality laws. Women have since become heads of state, heads of industry, leading scientists, engineers, designers and astronauts. The list is endless.

We are no longer an underclass of “roti makers” and “child producers” to be cast aside and held back from progress. Given an equal opportunity, we are capable and ambitious as our male colleagues. But it will be wrong to assume that the work is done. We are still faced with organisations like Wipro, which claim to be award winning supporters of gender diversity.

We are no longer an underclass of “roti makers” and “child producers” to be cast aside and held back from progress. Given an equal opportunity, we are capable and ambitious as our male colleagues. But it will be wrong to assume that the work is done. We are still faced with organisations like Wipro, which claim to be award winning supporters of gender diversity.

But as the UK employment tribunal verdict against this company has highlighted – what good are these gender diversity policies if companies are breaking the law? Policies can be self-serving, law is not.

Even though I never had any second thoughts about fighting discrimination, it was never my intention to be thrust into a lawsuit. What made me fight was the hard evidence of my discrimination, personal intolerance towards inequality and my absolute conviction that the judiciary would give me the respect I deserve.

It took a long time for me to realise and accept that Wipro was not the ethical company that I had believed in and worked hard for. To discover that I was being paid 50 per cent less than my male colleagues for doing the same work was shocking.

The chauvinism that I had to contend with at the hands of Wipro colleagues, Sid Sharma and George Joseph was appalling. That my well founded grievances were never addressed by Wipro was both disheartening and distressing. But the worst was yet to come.

It was only as a result of finally being forced to take my case to the UK employment tribunal, that I learnt the full extent of Wipro leadership’s involvement in my discrimination and victimisation.

From the moment that I raised a grievance against Wipro, which included allegations of sexist treatment, the decision was taken by TK Kurien, Saurabh Govil and Inderpreet Sawhney to move me out of my role and block all job opportunities in Europe. So all possibilities of bringing any legal claim against Wipro “would be most effectively contained or averted”.

The judgement stated that the “direction had come from the very top and was followed through with considerable resolve”. It was painful for me to discover this conspiracy as these were the very people I had reached out to for help over and over again. And they had acted out their role very well. None of this would have come to light had I simply accepted this unlawful treatment and chosen to walk away. I know I wouldn’t have forgiven myself for not standing up.

There are many thousands of women who go through similar acts of discrimination and victimisation every day with no hope of redress. Many of them have reached out to me since the verdict against Wipro became public knowledge.

Their distress and sense of hopelessness is what drives me now to make a change happen. Ignoring the ugliness and discrimination would be a tacit compliance. Now I am inspired by the rallying call of the Suffragettes – “Deeds, not Words”.

Today, I have a new profile – Shreya Ukil who took on Wipro, an $8 billion outsourcing firm and won. I now find myself sharing my personal story with the world, so women in similar situations can step out of the shadows and challenge prejudice. I want them to know, change is possible. But for that change to come about quickly, more of us – both men and women – need to challenge discrimination.

There remains a lack of transparency with regard to corporate disclosure of the gender pay gap. The employment tribunal system unfortunately is overly lengthy and expensive, which only makes it harder to fight against deeper pockets. Wipro has appealed the equal pay verdict three times and lost. But they have succeeded in drawing the process out and delaying the financial resolution.

I fought Wipro because they would not acknowledge my legitimate grievances concerning equal pay and discrimination. I continue to fight them because even now they refuse to accept the verdict given by the UK employment tribunal or take action against those individuals guilty of discrimination, victimisation and sexism. Wipro’s gender diversity policies seem to conveniently exonerate these lawbreakers and continue to employ them.

Wipro has always boasted of its gender diversity policies and awards. I am tired of these awards being used as marketing propaganda. If you have no pay transparency, no published and independently audited pay gap and if you have less than 30 per cent representation of women serving on your board or in your senior and middle management leadership teams, then I see no reason for an award in the first place.

As recent as in May 2016, Monster released a gender wage cap survey for the Indian private sectors and the gap is highest in technology and manufacturing sector at 34 per cent. It’s a shocking and deplorable number to have against any sector or country.

The report further states, some of the reasons behind this gender pay gap could be the preference for male workers over female employees, and preference given to male employees when it comes to promotions to supervisory positions.

The gender wage gap is a quantifiable indicator of sexism and sex discrimination and only law, compliance an stringent penalty can fix these deeply rooted biases.

It’s depressing that even in 2016 as one of largest democracies, India is still carrying such patriarchal bias.

If companies proactively accept gender pay gap disclosures and women’s representation mandates, then the pain and shame of enforced change will be far less. I believe a fair workplace always creates a positive and productive environment.The energies of employees will be directed towards serving customers, being more innovative, creating for financial value rather than infighting and launching damaging and expensive lawsuits, which will completely erode trust and reputation for these companies.

source: dailyO
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