Going Beyond the ‘Female-Friendly’ Workplace
When Tehelka founder and former editor Tarun Tejpal was charged with sexual harassment of a woman journalist in Goa last year, businesses across the country scrambled to put in place the policies to protect themselves against a similar situation. They drafted and circulated a sexual harassment policy, celebrated Women’s Day with a sponsored brunch, and conducted a few trainings.
And they think they’re done. HR heads resoundingly recite something to the tune of: “Our sexual harassment policy is in place. We’ve conducted a gender sensitivity workshop. I think we’re ‘female friendly’ now.”
The question to ask ourselves is: Can gender equality in the workplace be achieved through a few HR trainings, a sign-off from the CEO, and an official stamp?
The answer is obvious. Companies must think more thoroughly about what constitutes a culture of overt and unspoken equality and empowerment. Do both female and male staff in the business perceive they have equal opportunities for promotion and negotiation? Are there safeguards in the performance review system to minimize the potential for reviewer bias? Do managers and team leaders have adequate knowledge and skills to elicit the full contributions of staff with diverse backgrounds and approaches?
Investing in this kind of culture building pays off on multiple levels. According to McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index, firms with three or more women in top positions score higher than their peers. Another study found that organizations with a better gender balance at board level enjoy a 42% higher return on sales, a 66% higher return on invested capital, and a 53% higher return on equity than their rivals.
So, given these alluring benefits, how can your business attract a diverse workforce? Here’s the secret: Start by just making your office a better place to work for people overall. Because what women demand from their employers aligns exactly with what men want: better work-life balance.
Here are two rules to help your organization both increase gender diversity and decrease overall employee churn:
Freedom & Agency: Both men and women want more flexibility in their careers. They want to be able to work remotely, manage flexible hours, and telecommute. Most importantly, they want to find their work meaningful through creative brainstorming and decision-making. When employees feel they have latitude, companies experience greater employee commitment, better performance, improved productivity and lower turnover.
No Special Treatment: Employers should think less in terms of women or mom specific perks that other employees might resent as special treatment, and instead roll out policies that recognize all employees’ need to balance work-life demands. For example, rather than a policy for maternity leave, companies should embrace paid leave for both parents. They should work to establish a flexible work environment (see above) that enables both men and women to balance their career and family.
In other words, businesses need to go beyond traditional notions of what a ‘female-friendly’ workplace means. It’s not just about mommy policies and sexual harassment initiatives, but creating a space where all busy individuals can thrive and balance the demands from their career and their personal life. Historically, women have been more willing than men to ditch any workplace that doesn’t meet these demands, and suffer the career fallout that may result. Businesses have internalized this as inadvertent discrimination: they are inherently less invested in hiring, training, and promoting women who are more likely to take family-related leave than their male counterparts.
Yet, as businesses begin to build cultures that support independence and autonomy, more women will join the ranks, and all employees will benefit from a more fulfilling professional experience. Airtel, for example, allows all employees to apply for flexible work timings, part-time hours, and designated days to work from home or another remote location. The company also provides parent trainings, and actively encourages both males and females to attend. Unsurprisingly, Airtel is one of the top companies on Naukri’s employee satisfaction survey, and boasts a ‘higher than average’ gender diversity ratio.
Organizations should follow the example of Airtel and other leaders like it. You know, less ‘female-friendly,’ more ‘people-perfect.’