The SHEROES Contributor

Anurag Shrivastava

Anurag Shrivastava is CEO and founder of HRNEXT. Extensive experience in senior management capability development & staffing, building start-ups ground up, assessment centre work, competencies and one of the most networked HR professionals in mutual fund and technology businesses. Education at IIT Kharagpur , 1990 ; XLRI , 1992 ; Formerly : Vice President - HR , Prudential ICICI AMC ; Director HR, Talisma Corporation ; Director HR, Aditi Technology ; Manager - Compensation/ Staffing, Digital Equipment ( DEC ) ; HR Lead, UB Group. Currently also Vice President of XLRI Alumni Association , Mumbai Chapter. His complete profile is at LinkedIn and @hrnext

Workforce Diversity & Inclusion

Well, diversity as the word suggests has different notions for different individuals. Whether in our personal or corporate life, we are indeed surrounded by varied set of individuals - who are at times poles apart yet need to professionally collaborate at various instances to accomplish common business goals and stay inclusive.

In my capacity of being associated with Human resources for last 23 years, have observed various shades of how in Indian context, diversity is envisaged and managed. It is interesting to see the cultural shift, changing times and aspirations amongst young Indians to break the traditional models and come out faster & quicker to the opportunities that wait, far and near.

I know most of you reading this, may have your own experiences of staying positively connected with diverse, challenging and breakthrough ideas that diverse workforce brings - while some of you might find these 'creatively distracting', experimental and reactive. The fact of the matter my friend is - the workplace is changing with multi-cultural and multi-generational population all pooling energies to aid collaboration and pump in innovative solutions...and many a times, you may be surprised, organizations today are dedicating special task force to drive such diverse and inclusive initiatives - to enable balanced thoughts, customer focus and promote newer ideas.

When I started HRNEXT back in 2006, women had a lot more career options and opportunities compared to the last five years. While low job creation has been the trend in last few years, most new jobs have been created in areas that have traditionally excluded women - by design or self selection. By and large, I think eventually organizations have become less women friendly, reducing flexibility at work. These are the reasons we see less number of women at work especially at the senior and middle management level. In my role, I talk to the top industry talent and do a lot of diversity hiring (that runs like a project in most top MNCs) and what I hear straight from tops execs are - number filling on diversity metrics can be well archived via campus hiring, however the real challenge is to have female fitment and availability in Senior leadership roles. I am also aware many bosses go flexi with benefits, offer desired support yet female retention at top LT remains a concern due to internal office dynamics, political environment and selective relationship building that females find exceptionally tough, over and above stressful performance oriented work commitments. I often wonder, the myopic view of HR is not limited to just rolling an offer to diverse population but also ensure how they are treading within organizations DNA. A failure to retain talent pool in this scenario showcases failure of HR, the hiring team as they might be too rigid in their ways to accommodate any newness (they fear anyone challenging 'status quo')

As I pointed out, by design or self selection or societal stereotypes - women have found employment in human resource, information technology, product, financial services, marketing and have since long kept away from sales and manufacturing. Women showed less interest in these sectors traditionally, primarily because these sectors do not provide flexibility or involve travelling/hostile workforce.

IT Services and back office operations have been successful in providing long tenure and stability to careers of women. The sector has women friendly support groups, provides a secure environment and flexible working hours. But this happens very rarely in other sectors despite several attempts except in MNC FMCG organisations, typically over the years I have observed number of women at senior and middle management levels fall drastically, this fall can be attributed to lack of the aforementioned factors.

Companies do want gender diversity, and that is why we see in campuses around to 30%-40% recruits are women. Within 5-8 years, dropout rates are high and that is a hugely concerning factor. In a lot of cases the stereotypical society is to be blamed. Women do not find support back at home, or have to take backseat to enable their spouse's careers. Some women feel a lack of inspiration to keep working once they have a family, suffer from self and society induced guilt and lose the desire to work fulltime. This trend is more rampant in tier-2 cities; metros like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore still have a larger number working as those enablers to a career are strong. Organizations need to realize the need of women to boost the economy.

The increase in participation helps the economy on both the Supply and Demand front. It adds to the size of the working population on the supply front, which promotes division of labour and greater specialization. On the demand side, it supports the economy by generation of additional demand for a range of varied products and services.

Another impact of having a larger of number of women in workforce is indirect, as shown by studies women tend to invest more in the education, nutrition and health of their kids, which, in turn develops the future resources.

But before anything else we need to ascertain the factors that keep women away from the workforce. These factors can be varying from personal reasons to security. Fear of sexual assault, molestation, unsuitable working hours, distances from workplace, extremely unfavourable working conditions are few these reasons. There is an urgent need to solve these issues to improve the number of women in workforce, which will further impact the economy.

HR can play a huge role to resolve these issues. There are four areas where HR can be of immense help:

  1. Create a good workforce culture:
    Women should be encouraged to build networks at the early stages of their career. There are a lot of old boys groups in offices, people in these groups hang out informally after work hours. Such practices at work should be discouraged. These groups should be identified and banned by the HR department. A lot of these men also do not acknowledge the work of women at home. It is due to this women are left out at work and cannot network or interact properly.
  2. Having a formal mentor:
    In order to keep growing and for support women should seek mentorship. A good mentor can play an important role at any stage in a woman's career. This mentorship must be provided at all stages of career.
  3. Having good work ethics:
    Organizations must encourage a culture of efficiency in organizations with strong rewards for output rather than time spent in office. This message must flow from the top - reward for output than time spent. Further, out of office social networking groups of employees which typically exclude women must be discouraged visibly.
  4. Benefits:
    Benefits need to be gender sensitive as well. One example is companies must provide hospitalization coverage of parents as well as in-laws for women- this special provision while it may sound discriminatory, but will help retain women at work longer. The other provision is of course day care reimbursement in case same is not provided in office over and above other benefits.

I am sure that that facilitation of above and many more initiatives are not limited to HR, but all people managers - both men & women are equally accountable to drive these within, report its progress and ensure the impact is reaching beneficiaries, which include 100& of employee population rather than limiting to diverse workforce.

SHEROES Android App