But things are changing...

Anita Vijaykrishnan details how companies are changing their perceptions about women at work

Today, a large number of women are increasingly shattering the glass ceiling to take their place at the helm of organisations.

A couple of decades ago, it was unthinkable for a woman to work late at night or aspire to leadership positions and aim for even bigger roles. Today, this is a reality for many as there has been a tectonic shift in the way organisations perceive the value delivered by women and gender diverse teams. And women, for the most part, are loving it.

Socio-cultural norms, the collapse of the traditional joint family setup, and the challenges of work-life balance have traditionally kept women out of the workforce. The women who did join often dropped out to focus on other priorities and couldn’t make it back. Today, a large number of women are increasingly shattering the glass ceiling to take their place at the helm of organisations. Some of the positive measures being taken by the industry are:

Focus on inclusivity & diversity

There was a time when corporate focus on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) was a token gesture. A 2015 report by Mc Kinsey showed that while 70% of organisations focused on diversity, the gender ratio at the workplace presented a different reality altogether. Women were hired to match the arbitrary diversity number that the leaders thought was appropriate for their organisation.

Unfortunately, this was not backed up by supportive or truly inclusive policies. Matters have changed significantly since then. Organisations today understand that diversity without inclusivity is worthless and are actively implementing supportive policies, flexible work practices, and focus on the prevention of harassment. Six-month maternity leave (as mandated by the Government of India), childcare facilities at work, flexible timings, work from home and even extended paternity leaves are some of the ways in which India Inc is working to retain their female workforce.

Back-to-work programmes

A report by the Centre for Talent Innovation showed that 36% of Indian women choose to take a break from work at some point, while 91% of them want to join work again and around 40-45% cannot find suitable opportunities after a hiatus. Many women engineers also feel that rapid developments in the tech landscape have led to their skillsets being outdated.

Corporate India is slowly waking up to the tremendous talent drain this situation presents and back-to-work programmes specially designed for women on a career break are now being implemented. Women are always looking for an opportunity to start work again. All they need is the right support and opportunities.

Bringing women into STEM

Women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields have traditionally had to deal with significant prejudice. As employers start to ensure gender parity by respecting women’s applications, the STEM bias might soon be a thing of the past. From actively working to retain women in STEM professions to encouraging girls to pursue STEM education in schools and colleges, corporate India is focussing on creating a more robust and diverse STEM talent pipeline.

Not too long ago, the average Indian workplace was predominantly male-dominated with women relegated to secretarial roles. Things have changed for the better since then, and today it is not uncommon to find women in leadership roles across sectors. Of course, there is still room for improvement, and it is encouraging to note that most organisations have realised the value of diverse teams.

From hiring pregnant women based on their skills and value to implementing back-to-work upskilling programmes, specifically for women — there has been a significant perception change towards gender inclusivity in recent years. I am confident this will continue well into the future.

(The author is vice president, IT, VMware India)

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