The terms ‘gender parity’ and ‘women rights’ are not new to us. For decades, equal opportunities are being demanded, requested and fought for. We have been challenging stereotypical/patriarchal norms and fortunately, the efforts are yielding great results and the matter has been given the share of attention it deserves.
As a woman entrepreneur, I too am devoted to empowerment of women from different walks of life. I firmly believe that it is only through skill development and financial independence that the desired change can be summoned. A major role in this direction is, however, to be played by employers like us. By revisiting the existing systems and finding new approaches, we can identify and promote gender parity at workplaces.
My take on this is summed up in the following seven mantras:
1. Underdogs should not be under-represented
We need to promote gender diversity and eliminate any biases and discrimination that hinder the career growth of any employee. A healthy environment should be enabling, that is, growth must be based on merit and everyone should be treated with respect, irrespective of their socio-economic background, skill set, gender or designation.
Biases can be fatal, particularly in succession planning, promotions, or new hiring. To curb the conscious and unconscious biases, employees’ goals should be discussed to help establish their career path and performance should be monitored in such a way that underdogs are not under- represented.
In fact, performance should not only be monitored but acknowledged. We have a culture of employee development and many of the leaders working with us have chosen to be with us since the beginning of their careers. Our home-grown leaders are a matter of pride for us, and we always make sure that talent is identified and adequately nurtured.
2. Women and management skills are naturally intertwined
Gender diversity brings with it a number of benefits. Managing a house is no less demanding than managing a business. It involves similar principles, such as resource allocation and their optimum utilisation along with strong problem-solving skills. Holding the family together and ensuring every member’s well-being without a break can be taxing, but women do it all the time and that too with a smile.
I have myself brought up two daughters along with a flourishing and growing business simultaneously. My responsibilities at home are no less than any other woman’s. However, this art of wearing so many hats is something women are naturally blessed with. Organisations must value and harness this innate strength of women, instead of assuming it to be a limitation.
Not only as an advocate of women empowerment, but also as an entrepreneur, I feel that having women in the workforce is advantageous to the organisation. Women form over 35 per cent of our workforce and most of them are from rural backgrounds, who had not ventured out of their sheltered village life earlier. With the right guidance and support, however, they have overcome the barriers of formal education and won awards at international platforms for presenting their case study in English and answering the questions of the jury in English too.
3. Opportunities must be created
Expansions and innovation are key to any business and it applies to employment opportunities too. With different people come different perspectives, thus a variety of ideas and approaches. Companies should be open to creating recruitment possibilities with options like part-time, flexible working hours, work from home etc., since the benefits of such options are not restricted to women alone. When we requested the State Government to allow women to work night shifts, we had a complete plan of action ready. Not only were the women workers who were staying within our factory premises benefitted by the decision but with them coming to work at night, more women were employed in the roles of security officers, supervisors etc. Possibilities and opportunities are everywhere, one just must open his/her mind to them.
4. Overcoming inhibitions is healthy
Hesitancy in investing in the development and growth of its people is not healthy for an organisation. In fact, it is the organisation’s responsibility to ensure holistic development of its employees. Women are a greater disadvantage on this front too, since their probability of relocation and maternity benefits are seen as a problem. However, investing in human capital is highly advantageous. By inculcating skills and developing potential, it is possible to tap the large pool of human resource — the most important asset.
Organisations become stronger when they invest in people and must overcome all inhibitions when it comes to development of human resources. We firmly believe that human capital is the harbinger of success and for their development, we have started sending selected candidates for higher education to globally recognised Indian and international institutions.
5. Craving Work-life balance is not to be frowned upon
In the existing workplace model, sometimes it is assumed that women are unfit for profiles that require an anytime-anywhere kind of approach owing to their greater share of responsibilities at home. However, a look at the stats gives a completely different picture — women are the single breadwinners in more families than men.
Women can be as ambitious as men and work-life balance is not a barrier, but an enabler in the realization of these ambitions. Family-friendly policies boost employee satisfaction for both men and women. The professional world cannot thrive for long at the cost of personal life and relationships. Moreover, researchers are suggesting that “it’s unrealistic to expect humans to work like machines” and extra working hours can sabotage creativity as also productivity.
6. Reframe policies and the outlook
Approach or outlook towards a policy is directly linked with its successful implementation. Change is a multi-layered process, which requires persistent efforts and the right approach. Policies and compliance are just a part of change. Organisations should develop a work culture that is supportive of its goals to reap the benefits of the framed policies.
If we take the example of the ongoing pandemic, at the beginning of it when there was a lot of uncertainty, nobody understood the problem and a lockdown was imposed. At that time, our primary concern was to make sure that our employees were safe and comfortable. Besides making arrangement to provide everyday essentials within the premises to workers, we also remodeled our safety policies which were successfully implemented. We could easily introduce those revised safety policies because of the culture of safety that we have always promoted. Concepts such as that of Officer on Special Duty (OSD), helped us manage over 20 manufacturing facilities spread across four states, despite the challenging times.
7. ‘Women for women’ approach is the panacea
If a woman is behind a man’s success, there certainly should be women creating the possibilities of success for fellow women. We need to move from Middleton’s ‘women beware women’ to a modern and supportive ‘women–for-women’ world.
Women who make it to the top have a major role to play in empowering other women. I recommend not only engaging women at the centre of business activities, but also imparting necessary skills so they can make the most of opportunities. Organisations too, whether women led or not, must reach out to connect women with the mainstream economy.
To conclude, women leaders must drive the change and lead the chain of empowerment. They must help their sisters to not be limited by other’s opinions about their capabilities.
Suchita Oswal Jain is the Vice Chairman and Joint Managing Director of Vardhman Textiles. She is a woman who means business, particularly when it comes to weaving success in the cutthroat world of textiles. The London Business School graduate has woven connections between Vardhman and global brands such as GAP, Benetton, Esprit. Vardhman group has a turnover of $1.1 billion and is the country’s biggest textiles conglomerate engaged in manufacturing of yarn, fabric, threads, fibre and garments.