Delivering Inclusive Progress, Not Promises at the Workplace

Sabin Muzaffar delves deep into the critical role of gender equality in the corporate world and how it benefits not one but all.

Supporting Women at the Workplace – a highly relevant topic that needs more attention than a mere bird’s eye view. So what is it all about? Women’s Empowerment – Economic Empowerment, Gender Equality at the Workplace, supporting women etc.– these are some of the buzzwords emphatically voiced these days, yet to be enforced properly.

It is not rocket science that development beckons innovation and the driving force behind innovation –  where both companies and their employees thrive is diversity. Workplace productivity increases multifold with balanced (read equal) representation – not just in terms of number but also in terms of salaries and opportunities. According to regional managing director for Accenture Middle East and Turkey, Alexis Lecanuet: “In an increasingly competitive world, companies must create an environment that encourages and harnesses innovative capabilities.” And in order to attain that, an empowering environment needs to be created to have a more positive impact on employees. This can be achieved by pay rises, skill development but one must not ignore or underestimate the importance of creating a culture of equality and more importantly ensuring actions and decisions of the management has a positive impact on employees, especially women.

An Accenture report “Getting to Equal 2019” reconfirms the idea of creating a robust culture of equality, stating that it is not only a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth, an employee’s willingness and ability to innovate is six times higher than in least-equal companies.

That said, the situation looks glum at the moment with Mckinseyreporting in 2018 that progress on gender diversity at the workplace has stalled. “To achieve equality, companies must turn good intentions into concrete action.” This means they not only need to address under representation of women but also look at ways to support diversity and inclusion; starting with the “need to change the way they hire and promote entry and manager level employees.”

So how does this add up to disempowerment or creating hurdles in the way of supporting or lifting women at the workplace. Underrepresentation has a deep impact on the talent pipeline, and because lesser women are hired at entry or even managerial level when compared to men, there are significantly fewer women to promote. So even through hiring and promotion rates improve at more senior levels, according to Mckinsey, women can never catch up.

“If companies continue to hire and promote women to manager at current rates, the number of women in management will increase by just one percentage point over the next ten years. But as companies start hiring and promoting women and men to manager at equal rates, we should get close to parity in management—48 percent women versus 52 percent men—over the same ten years.”

Levelling the uneven playing field is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to supporting women at the workplace. A number of issues factor in starting with misogyny and unconscious biases. Yes we face misogyny on a day to day basis, many of us fight it, many are numbed by it and yet there are those who even endorse it! We also need to look deep within ourselves and see what wecan do to help create a thriving environment based on diversity and inclusion.

But what exactly does an equality-driven, thriving environment mean? It is ideally a workplace where each and every employee feels safe and confident, has space to create and innovate. Every day, we face discrimination or in other words micro-aggressions, some are subtle and others not. For instance, assumptions like one individual knows better than the other, or assumes seniority without any real reason. Harassment is yet another issue that creates major problems for women at the workplace and is magnified when companies have either unclear policies, harassment is somewhat tolerated, negligible steps are taken to address the issue. Unsurprisingly women also feel companies do not address microaggressions, cases of disrespect or harassment as quickly as they ought to.

To achieve equality, companies must turn good intentions into concrete action.” This means they not only need to address under representation of women but also look at ways to support diversity and inclusion; starting with the “need to change the way they hire and promote entry and manager level employees.

Moreover, having an only woman at the workplace makes it difficult for the individual to reach her full potential, being the only woman can not only make her feel alienated but can also stifle her voice. According to Mckinsey: “More than 80 percent are on the receiving end of microaggressions, compared with 64 percent of women as a whole. They are more likely to have their abilities challenged, to be subjected to unprofessional and demeaning remarks, and to feel like they cannot talk about their personal lives at work.”

The way forward to supporting women and by extension promoting diversity – for companies it to take fundamental actions starting with getting the basics right with transparent and unbiased reporting, and accountability. Ensuring that hiring and promotions are fair. Bold leadership that not only introduces but also open measures equality targets and enforces a comprehensive action plan which includes family friendly policies that promotes advancement of all free of unconscious, conscious or patriarchal socio-normative biases. It is high time progress, not promises, is delivered!


PHOTO CREDITS: Proxyclick Visitor Management System on Unsplash

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