Making IndiaInc work with women

Mumbai-based firm that conducts gender sensitisation workshops in offices talks bias and redressal

A couple of years ago, when Tata Power realised that the gender ratio in its offices was skewed, top management decided it had to do more than just hire more women to fix the problem.

“We wanted to create a climate where women felt comfortable joining the organisation,” says Vivek Talwar, chief culture officer, Tata Power, adding that currently women employees form 11 per cent of the management cadre and around nine per cent overall. Fixing the skewed balance is a battle most industries in India are grappling with.

It’s something that city-based firm, inHarmony hopes to help IndiaInc with. Over the last one-and-a-half years, the firm founded by Deepa Agarwal and Anupama Easwaran has been conducting gender sentisation workshops, including in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi. The workshops make both genders sensitive to the other while busting stereotypes.

“Our first step is to conduct a diagnostic study,” says Agarwal, who was previously on the faculty of School of Human and Labour Studies for the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. What this means, she adds, is having one-on-one and focused group conversations with the men and women at a firm, and then, based on their views, conduct a workshop where gender stereotypes are discussed and addressed.

To pick a common contentious issue, Agarwal poses a question like “do you think that the leadership styles of women and men are different?” It’s when some participants express their belief that women bosses are softer than their male counterparts that Agarwal says, she and Easwaran step in to point out the bias.

Stereotypes need to be addressed because they get in the way of better work and promotions, often with women getting the short end of the stick. “Often, we have them saying they don’t land certain roles, for instance, a sales job or as supervisor of a manufacturing unit, because the bosses, in an effort to be protective, prefer not to send them out on the field or interact with labour staff. They resent this,” she adds.

Talwar says there’s also a management bias that needs to be addressed. “In engineering and manufacturing centric companies like ours, there is sometimes a mindset down the organisation that work attendance is impacted if you hire women employees. What if the child at home falls sick? We have begun asking the question across the organisation.

Why should it always be the mother who has to take leave on such occasions. Why not the father? Conversations like these make the office climate more amicable for gender diversity, by breaking stereotypes.” However, gender sensitization programmes work both ways. “Women may expect support from their office (and rightly so), but they also need to understand that the organisation has business requirements.

They need to remember that when they were away, team members pitched in for them,” says Agarwal. Easwaran says that within industries, new-age firms like within IT, are more gender sensitive, while manufacturing firms need to go a long way.

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