DISCUSSION Gender ‘Diversity’ – Is it really about Women?

by Yolanda Villafuerte _______9th May 2013
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Gender ‘Diversity’ – Is it really about Women?

Corporates that adopt gender diversity practices often end up feeling extremely frustrated and exhausted by the amount of time and effort spent towards these processes. In reality, the term diversity cannot be used towards gender because there are only two, male and female. Diversity is best used to address other issues or challenges in the workplace such as age, race, abilities and cultural differences.
Companies publish records that women at the top of the leadership in their corporation are a minority. This occurs despite the fact that more than 50% of the spending power, world population and university graduates are female.

The solution that most corporates adopt is to actively hire more female employees. Just pushing up the numbers does not solve the problem of gender balance. Many women never reach the peak of their careers or to the boardroom whether due to personal choice or unconscious bias. Ultimately, businesses need to understand and capitalise on the differences and skills of all their employees regardless of gender.

There are many creative and innovative solutions to tap the knowledge base these individuals have. These solutions can be customized and personalized according the organization and individual. The value of this process cannot be matched by standardized procedures. One of the solutions used in modern times is the work-from-home option, where a parent (not necessarily a mother) can still offer their services and insight to the company while being at home with the children. A few companies have incorporated day care systems within the organizations to increase the productivity of working parents. Such solutions help to foster the idea of reaching gender balance in corporates.
Another drawback about gender equality in corporates is the way it is measured. The general consensus on how to track the gender balance is to slowly and steadily increase the female representation in the boards in the coming years. However according to the article, Women on Board, Published by the UK government in 2011, it would take 70 years to achieve gender balance in the boardrooms across organizations. The report offers recommendations such as reviewing of percentage of women in the board over the years, disclosure of women employees in their annual report and governing bodies to enforce the previous two recommendations onto the corporates. The idea is not to increase the female representation only at the board but to understand and have gender balance at every level and function. Gender diversity is not a pro-women and anti-men concept but the recognition that gender is inconsequential to talent and all talent must be fully utilised.
Major corporates run several programs that are focused towards women mainly leadership seminars, women focus groups and mentoring. These are quite preferred by women as they are more comfortable among women. However, this grouping is not healthy as it isolates the two groups and ignores the aim of working together in an environment. The ideal way of achieving gender balance without any issues is to first understand how male managers work as they are currently in majority. The initial steps to integrate are changing of mind sets and culture. When branding everything as ‘women’ activities, men seem to consider that they are not relevant to them.

The only optimal way of ensuring correct implementation of gender balance practices is if it is recognised and endorsed from ‘top down’. The growth of a company is measured by the vision of its founder/CEO. Once the founder/CEO has understood why they should aim for gender balance and how fast they should achieve the results, they then have the tools and procedures to administer their best practices to achieving it.
By adopting the top down approach to achieve results in gender balance, helps to shift the culture of the organization and approach towards the concept. Though with all its advantages, we cannot ignore some of the difficulties faced. An organization with a diverse workforce is more innovative, supportive to its employees and risk-aware.

The flexibility in an organization can be achieved through the recognition that talent from any individual is of value. In this time and age, whether it is a launch of a new product or critical government decision, one should know how to connect to both men and women alike to achieve desired results.

Anusha Venkataraman, currently pursuing her Masters in Social Entrepreneurship in London, is an advocate of free thinking and equality for all. Indian by birth, brought up in Dubai and now currently in  London exploring the vibrant city, she left her job in IT to pursue her inner interest of helping people and teaching dance.

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