Diversity across all levels has become a priority in the corporate world. In fact, it has come to be the most important aspect today. However, its ratio differs from one level to the other in a company. At what level is it easier for companies to achieve diversity and where is it a challenge?
“Achieving gender diversity at the entry level is simpler than at senior levels,” points out Shailesh Singh, CHRO, Max Life Insurance. Firstly, colleges and campuses tend to have a more diverse representation than organisations. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of women entering the workforce from colleges. Compared to five or ten years ago, there are now more women being admitted to campuses, which makes it easier to achieve diversity at the entry level.
Agreeing with the same, Maneesha Jha Thankur, Senior HR leader, also points out, “At the entry level, it’s much more easier to visit campuses, where one will find a lot of diverse applicants.”
“Achieving gender diversity at the entry level is simpler than at senior levels as there has been a significant increase in the number of women entering the workforce from colleges. Compared to five or ten years ago, there are now more women being admitted to campuses.”
Shailesh Singh, CHRO, Max Life Insurance
However, at the senior levels, the story is different, and also achieving diversity becomes more complex at the higher levels. One way to do it is by developing an internal pipeline of talent over the years, but that’s clearly not the case because, as a priority, it’s only now in the last few years that organizations have begun to focus. So that ratio unfortunately is a little adverse for most organizations at the senior level,” points out Singh. This results in an adverse ratio of women at senior levels, making it difficult to bring in more women.
Emmanuel David, senior HR leader, enumerates, “The number of women in the workforce tends to reduce for various reasons, including marriage and childbirth, and this is where the pipeline becomes a little brittle. Therefore, at the top or leadership level, the pipeline tends to become thin or leaky.”
Thankur opines, “Many diversity initiatives aim to support the careers and retention of women and other diverse groups, as these individuals often leave their careers mid-way. Despite efforts to bring in more diverse candidates at entry and junior levels, many leave mid-career due to various reasons such as life-stage issues, organizational treatment, pay gaps, and lack of career opportunities.”
This makes it more difficult for organisations to get more women at the senior levels as there are hardly any being fed into the pipeline at the leadership level. Singh opines, “Organisations can only induct more women at the senior level when there is attrition or a new role is added. However, these opportunities are limited, and in most cases, it takes time to hire someone from the market at the senior level if the internal pipeline is not ready.”
However, organisations have been focusing on this issue of late. In the past few years, there has been some internal pipeline building and timber building, which is making it easier to improve gender diversity at the middle levels, albeit gradually. Therefore, it is comparatively easier to execute and deliver diversity at these levels than at senior levels.
“In addition to the mega trend of prioritising gender diversity, there are also subtrends or next-level trends, depending on the sector, as some may be lagging behind in this area,” says Singh. For instance, manufacturing sectors require a higher level of physical presence compared to service sectors, where working from home is more feasible. Service sectors also tend to have a more progressive work culture and better policies for work-life balance, making it easier to attract women. However, this is not necessarily the case in manufacturing sectors, where long working hours, difficulty in achieving work-life balance, and security concerns when leaving the workplace late at night or on weekends may discourage women from joining. Therefore, there is a variation across sectors regarding this issue.
“The number of women in the workforce tends to reduce for various reasons, including marriage and childbirth, and this is where the pipeline becomes a little brittle. Therefore, at the top or leadership level, the pipeline tends to become thin or leaky.”
Emmanuel David, senior HR leader
“Currently, prioritising gender diversity is a widespread trend across all sectors,” believes Singh. He further points out, “In the past, certain sectors, such as financial services, placed greater emphasis on gender diversity at all levels compared to others. However, I have noticed that this has changed and now all organisations must prioritise gender diversity regardless of their sector.”
“Along with the sector-specific nuances, another aspect to consider is diversity across different functions and areas of an organization,” points our Thakur. There may be more women in certain areas, such as HR and customer services, but fewer in others like sales and manufacturing. Giving example of her own previous stint, she adds, “In my previous role at an FMCG company, we made efforts to increase diversity in our manufacturing and supply chain functions. Many organizations are working to do the same in various functions, by identifying talent and providing training and development opportunities within those areas.”
Why is it important?
From a company perspective, gender diversity at the leadership level has a bigger impact on the enterprise as a whole. While it may be easier to achieve diversity at the entry level, the impact of having women in bigger and senior roles is rather more significant. “Having senior women in leadership positions creates a better platform for role modelling, mentoring, and encouraging other women to continue in the workforce,” observes Singh. Senior women can also mentor the younger women, which can have a positive effect on the pipeline and hierarchy of the organisation.
“Representation is key, and senior leaders must drive the diversity program to create a culture that prioritises diversity. Therefore, it’s essential to have full conviction and commitment from senior leaders to achieve diversity goals.”
Maneesha Jha Thankur, senior HR leader
“Without women in leadership roles, diversity initiatives can sound hollow, and representation becomes vital,” opines Thakur. When there are female leaders at the top of an organization, it sends a clear message that the organization is committed to diversity and fairness. Representation is key, and senior leaders must drive the diversity program to create a culture that prioritises diversity. Therefore, it’s essential to have full conviction and commitment from senior leaders to achieve diversity goals.
David adds, “We need to spread awareness regarding some special skills that motherhood can develop in women. The industry needs to not only acknowledge and accept this, but also make use of it.” Giving his wife’s example, he explains how she decided to not work after she became a mother. He goes on, “I asked her share the skills she gained from becoming a mother. She responded by email after about four or five days, listing out the skills she had learned as a mother. This sparked my interest, and we decided to conduct a survey. About 115 women responded and shared the skills they had acquired during motherhood, including financial management, interpersonal communication, planning, budgeting and event management! Except for those who already possessed an MBA or a PhD, we found that most women developed these skills on reaching certain milestones in their lives. From this informal survey, I hypothesized that motherhood provides women with unique competencies that are not typically taught in school.”
This has a positive impact on workplace policies and culture, and having women in senior roles can influence how organisational policies are crafted and tuned.
Role of leadership in fostering a diverse culture
“When CEOs and CHROs hire new employees, they should focus on creating a robust pipeline of talent in the middle-management level,” suggests David. They need to ensure that there is a plan in place to nurture these employees so that they can advance to the next level. Since this is a long-term project that requires continuous engagement, it’s important to have a development plan in place to ensure that progress is being made.
“To effectively implement and sustain the focus on gender diversity in an organisation, leadership’s primary responsibility is to advocate diversity and make a compelling case for why it is essential for the organisation,” asserts Singh. Specifically, in the context of gender diversity, it is crucial for leaders to focus on creating a workplace culture that reflects a holistic understanding of gender diversity, rather than simply setting quotas for the number of women in various roles. Once this case is made, it will be easier for employees at all levels to understand and support the initiative.
Thakur also highlights the role of a leader in fostering a diverse culture and adds, “In my opinion, as leaders, it’s crucial to lead by example and fully support diversity initiatives. Leaders need to model appropriate behavior within their own teams and remain dedicated to the organisation’s diversity goals. They must maintain an unbiased and fair mindset and continuously assess whether the organisation’s culture is conducive to diversity. Since they’re responsible for setting the culture and ensuring everyone else follows suit, it’s vital that they prioritise diversity initiatives; otherwise, they will not be successful.”
“The role of leadership is to nurture, build and take care of the middle so that there is a reasonable pipeline for leadership roles,” believes David. The key to achieving this is to implement policies that are easy to understand and acceptable. These policies should ensure that roles have meaning and purpose, and foster a work culture that is supportive and empowering.
The second action is for leaders to model their commitment to gender diversity and demonstrate their conviction to their teams. This will inspire others to act on the initiative and create a workplace culture that supports and sustains gender diversity. “By doing so, they can help employees understand how a diverse workforce can contribute to more balanced products, better work-life balance, and a workplace that caters to diverse customer needs,” explains Singh.
Additionally, a company that reflects gender diversity is viewed as an employer of choice, providing a range of benefits.
Companies may prioritise diversity at different levels depending on their specific goals and circumstances. However, in general, companies tend to place more emphasis on diversity at the leadership level as it has the greatest impact on shaping the organisation’s culture, values and strategic direction.
At the entry level, diversity initiatives are relatively easier to implement as companies can focus on recruiting a diverse pool of candidates. They can do so by creating inclusive job postings, partnering with diverse organisations and educational institutions, and implementing blind hiring practices.
At the middle level, diversity initiatives become slightly more complex as companies may need to focus on retaining and developing diverse talent within the organisation. This can be achieved by providing mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, setting up diverse employee resource groups, and implementing equitable promotion and pay practices.
At the leadership level, achieving diversity can be most challenging as there is often a lack of diverse representation in the pipeline. Companies may need to focus on developing and promoting diverse talent from within the organisation, creating inclusive leadership-development programmes, and holding leaders accountable for driving diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Overall, achieving diversity at all levels of an organisation requires long-term commitment and a multifaceted approach that includes recruitment, retention, development and promotion. It not only brings unique perspectives and nuances that can be missed by men alone, but also works as a superior model for organisations to respond to the marketplace and customers. It is important for leaders to make the case for diversity and explain how it benefits the organisation from a cultural standpoint.
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Great read !.
The inflection point is age bracket of 27-35 where female employees tend to settled down with a family and need a career break. This is where organizations can step in to support with flexi working , relocation ( if they can ) and alao have a robust program in spirit and not only in paper for returning mothers.
Besides, this building sensitization in our leadership team , reporting managers for building acceptance and develop empathy to support this category of employees. They may not be wired the same way – The talk has to translate to walk