Is Your Workplace Really Women Friendly?

“Women are doing their part. Now companies need to do their part, too” – That was the conclusion that came out from the latest Women in the Workplace Survey of companies in America, conducted by McKinsey and LeanIn.org. The study noted that while companies have been reporting that they are highly committed to gender diversity, the commitment has not translated into meaningful progress. “Progress isn’t just slow—it’s stalled”.  

Reading this, one wonders what is the status of women in workplaces in India. A similar assessment of India’s progress is necessary because statistics show that we are not a great country to be born in, as a woman, and we are not getting any better: we have one of the world’s lowest female workforce participation, a very low proportion of women in leadership (20%) and the World’s highest gender wage gap. The country remained stuck on the 108th rank (out of 149) on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2018 for the second year in a row, after falling from 87th position in 2016. Worse still, we ranked 15 places lower than last year on the ‘Economic Participation of women in the economy’ parameter – a huge chunk in the armour of the World’s fastest growing economy.

While the main blame for these pathetic statistics is put on the deeply ingrained patriarchal mindset and the burden of family duties on women, we need to assess whether we are even building an enabling environment that entices women to get out of their homes to work, rather than having to struggle to fulfil professional and personal aspirations. Off late, diversity, inclusion and “Women-friendliness” have definitely become trending buzzwords in corporate and HR circles. And many employers have taken conscious actions to provide incentives that make their organisations women-friendly.

So, does that mean that Indian workplaces are truly and really becoming women friendly? That they are adjusting their workplace policies, processes, infrastructure and attitudes that were traditionally designed for men? Probably yes, if one looks at the “Best employers for women” awards and media reports that provide the “employers perspective” of steps that organisations are taking to make their work spaces women friendly.

But, to assess whether organisations are merely ticking off the “diversity check-boxes” without bringing the necessary cultural and mindset changes, what is needed is to get perspectives of employees on the same parameters. And that is something that is really missing, because there is often a huge discrepancy between solutions companies offer and the problems women face.

Following are some examples –

  • Several companies have rolled out maternity benefits to help women return to work after they have kids and complete their maternity leave. Despite that, many women have reported they quit their job because of the humiliation they suffered during their pregnancy – pregnant women are often given lesser responsibilities and taken off major projects, they are taunted when they seek leaves or are unable to take on travel commitments, and when they are questioned whether they will remain committed to the job post-maternity.
  • Many women have reported that although their workplace offers flexible-working and work-from-home options, it goes against you if you actually avail the option on days your child is sick or nanny is on leave.
  • While a majority of organisations now have formal committees to report sexual harassment, many women have reported that their complaints are not taken seriously and no action is initiated , especially if they are “just” complaining against cases of uncomfortable casual sexism in the tone or language used by male colleagues.

It is possible that there are many such instances in even the “best companies for women” which we do not know of. So, to bridge this knowledge gap and to see through these “blind spots”, India’s leading think-tanks have initiated a study to gather perceptions from employees across sectors and industries. We are requesting all working men and women to be a part of this first of a kind study.

If you are interested, please answer a brief questionnaire about your organisation – by clicking here.

The research is being carried out in partnership between ICRIER, Talentnomics India and elleNomics, and your responses will be completely anonymous. 

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