Simply say, SHE ROCKS!

There is a sure-shot formula for companies to make workplaces inviting for women, And a few are already implementing this easy-to-replicate model. All you need is intent

“Intuit gives me that space to excel and pushes me to learn new skills and innovate. I had my support system at home. Flexibility at work made it easier. Intuit sets you up for success, rather than test you for your failures.” — Lata Agarwal, software engineer and a returning mother at Intuit India

From the recent amendment of the Indian Maternity Act, 1961, to large corporations making diversity part of their business goals, the Indian economy has started to recognise the deficit of women’s participation in business success. In its recent three-year action agenda, NITI Aayog, the think tank of the Government of India, stressed on the importance of promoting equal participation.

A recent research published by The Catalyst says, “Increasing women’s labour force participation by 10% could add $700 billion to India’s GDP by 2025.” Can there be a more powerful economic incentive?

How women feel

In the India Development Report, released by the World Bank, India ranked low — 120th among 131 nations — for female participation in the workforce. The report adds that the participation has dropped from 35% to 24%, over two decades, which have seen reasonably stable economic development. Reasons shared by researchers vary from lack of women-friendly workplaces and lax administrative support to concerns around safety. A patriarchal mindset continues to play a significant role in keeping the larger population of women outside Indian workplaces. 

A recent survey conducted by Great Place To Work® Institute, highlights that female employees continue to give poor feedback about their workplace when compared to their male counterparts. Their top five areas of concern are workplace politics, lack of fair compensation for the work they do, lack of equal opportunity for recognition, not feeling that they are making a difference in their organisation, and biased treatment by managers.

However, this is not the case in the Best Workplaces for Women. Here, women employees report positive feedback, in line with their male counterparts. These companies go beyond one-off initiatives such as “Women’s Day” or “Bring Your Child to Work”. 

These organisations spend sufficient time to understand the needs of their women employees and act on the feedback shared. The Women Initiatives Network (WIN) at HERE Solutions India runs surveys to understand the needs of their women workforce, in specific. The Best Workplaces integrate the importance of driving an inclusive culture into the way they carry out their business. Whether it is with the Blue Box Values of American Express India, the Business Beyond Bias at SAP Labs India or Welcome to All at Marriott Hotels India, Best Workplaces stop at nothing to create an inclusive culture. Some even extend this philosophy to women outside the boundaries of their workplace. Girls in Technology, by PayPal India, invites science students to the technology centre to give them a glimpse into the work done there.

What women want

As the advertising director of a leading sports brand in the movie What Women Want, Mel Gibson was fortunate to stumble upon his superpower that helped him read the minds of women, to create a winning marketing strategy. For the rest of us, there is research!

Research data from Great Place To Work® Institute shows that there are three factors that women look for in great workplaces (see: How to keep them).

Although career growth and fair performance turn out to be key drivers for the male workforce as well, Best Workplaces for Women customise their programmes to address the needs of women employees.

To ensure fairness in performance evaluation for women, SAP has a writing assistant designed to help managers deliver clear and relevant feedback devoid of biases. To build clarity and focus in career growth, SAP launched Headway, a three-month career progression programme, helping women choose between two career-paths of becoming people leaders or continuing as individual contributors.

From external mentoring programmes to educational sponsorships, the ecosystem at Best Workplaces prepare women for future leadership roles. However, even the Best Workplaces for Women see a sharp dip in their numbers as we move up the hierarchy (see: Look who’s on top).

Having studied programmes run across 50 workplaces, along with data from more than 600 organisations, is there a secret mantra to create a great workplace for women? Yes, just remember “SHE-ROCKS!”

SHE-ROCKS is a framework designed keeping in mind the key drivers and differentiators required to create a workplace that women professionals can grow and thrive in.

S–Support women by drafting meaningful policies that help them get through critical junctures in life. Aanchal, a maternity programme at Inorbit Malls India, provides additional support to expectant mothers, including transport allowance and reduced working hours in the last trimester.

H–Hire more women, irrespective of life stage or career breaks, to integrate them into the professional space. From constituting diverse hiring panels to additional referral bonus for women recruits, organisations have found creative ways to add to their diversity index. Intuit Again is a project-based, returning programme for women, who have been on career breaks.

E–Equal pay and promotions for similar work carried out by women. At Kronos, pay and promotion parity checks form part of the bi-annual compensation review. To support flexible working options, People Combine Educational Initiatives also has a clear policy around partial work-partial pay.

R–Rejoice and celebrate successes in the workplace, however big or small. Sheroes is a recognition program at Pegasystems Worldwide India that celebrates the spirit of leadership, pride and volunteerism in women.

O–Orientation on unconscious bias includes specified training programmes for all employees, to enable a bias-free and inclusive workplace environment.

C–Continuously inspire women. From workshops on breaking stereotypes to inviting successful women from other streams, best workplaces keep the fire burning. Aspire to Inspire is a monthly programme run by Tata Communications to highlight their women role models. Wonder Global (India) Technology Center has a practice of Speed Coaching for their women employees, which helps them get career perspectives from different leaders within the organisation.

K–Knowledge and growth opportunities for women to develop professionally. In the IT sector, women are encouraged to participate in hackathons and tech fests. During the latest Grace Hopper Celebration, women from HP reinvented their gaming product, Omen, attracting over 1,200 women technologists to their booth. At SEWA Rural, this support is offered to women in the form of a one-year paid sabbatical, so that they can pursue higher studies. 

S–Stress-free workplace environment is a key driver. Best workplaces create an in-house community that enables better work-life integration for women. Office Mavens support programme run by Jones Lang LaSalle Property Consultants (India), Lean-In Circles at HP, the Pay-it-forward programme at American Express India and the Run-Mummier programme at SAP Labs India are examples of the how some of the Best Workplaces provide an environment that enable women to cope with ongoing challenges.

While there are few organisations, which have now started to think through and design their programmes keeping in mind the needs of women employees, many others are yet to catch-up.

Make them happy

As reported in The Catalyst, by 2050, India will be the most populous country. Currently, women constitute about 48.5% of its population. The All India Survey on Higher Education released by the HRD Ministry, earlier this year, reports that the gender gap in enrolment for higher educational studies has reduced by over 900,000.

However, the participation rate for women in the labour force is only 24%. This signifies a great deal of opportunity that can be leveraged through:

  • Awareness programmes aimed at addressing the patriarchal mindset existing in the Indian society at large
  • A proactive approach by organisations to attract and retain women professionals
  • Utilising the existing network of women professionals, so they can contribute to community projects on women development

While organisations embark on this journey of creating a diverse workforce, it is important for leaders to remember that women need a more mindfully designed eco-system — a workplace that screams She Rocks. A workplace that will empower them to reach where they belong — the boardroom.

Sandhya Ramesh is a project manager at Great Place To Work® Institute, India.