Gender Balance is Smart Business

By ABT Editorial Team

Gender balance is an essential element of an inclusive workplace – and when women rise, men do, too. According to research, when more of these factors are present, women are more likely to thrive and advance but, equally, men are 23% more likely to become a manager and twice as likely to reach the senior-manager level. Indeed, companies make real progress in the workplace when men and women are equal.

Gender sensitivity and women empowerment is one of the most discussed topics globally. As per the finding of a McKinsey Global Institute report, by 2025 a $12 trillion could be added to global growth by improving women’s equality. A country like India could add $700 billion to its GDP by boosting participation of women labour force by 10 percent. With gender equality and providing opportunities to women will help both advanced and developing nations to achieve their economic goals and societal developments.

Diversity of thinking makes for better teams. That’s now an established fact, in addition to being common sense. Diverse teams by definition mean more diverse ways of thinking, producing more options for decision makers to consider. Having more varied team members to choose from increases a team leader’s chances of assembling the best team as a whole, balancing, for example, approaches that are analytical, experimental, practical or relational.

As public discourse around International Women’s Day reached a feverish pitch, Equality Unbound at AsiaBizToday reached out to a section of HR & Diversity heads to get views on what their respective companies are doing. Below are some of the comments that we received.

Salika Suksuwan, Director, Human Capital, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Malaysia
I believe men and women have equal opportunities to excel in my organisation, but more women than men opt out from progressing to senior roles. This is typically influenced by the expectations from their family (and themselves) to spend more time at home. My advice is to have conversations with your family before opting out and consider an equal partnership with your spouse at work and at home.

At PwC, we allow for flexibility in our ways of working and we have introduced more family-friendly practices. We have recently extended paid paternity leave to 30 days to encourage men to be more involved in taking care of their newborn.

Whist we continue to enhance workplace policies and practices, there needs to be a change in mindsets and behaviour in our wider society to see women and men as equals in the corporate world.

 

Monila Kothari, President, APAC Flavours, Givaudan, Singapore
Givaudan’s purpose provides a strong and unified reason for why we do what we do as a company, reaffirming what we stand for at every level of our business. One of the tenets of our purpose is focused on our People. We want to be a balanced and inclusive company for our employees. We have defined a set of goals to ensure that we do what we say we will do. For example, on inclusivity and diversity, we want 50% of our senior leaders to be women before 2030. We also have in place a number of initiatives that will help us meet our goal, like our “Better Balance” initiative.

Better Balance is the term we use to describe our approach to enrich our organisation’s talent mix to better reflect the customers we serve, the changing consumer landscape, and to drive innovation. Ensuring we have a diverse organization is essential to meet our business goals, and to create an inclusive culture. Better Balance for example, allows our female employees to balance their life between work and taking care of their family. Better Balance also offers flexibility to our employees who are new mothers and who are coming back into the workforce after a short break.

Additionally, we have in place tools for our leaders to ensure that our talent processes are inclusive and remove or minimize our unconscious biases ensuring that all women in the organisation have the same career opportunities as their male counterparts.

I would like to encourage all women to challenge themselves consistently. When new opportunities are available, be it a stretch assignment or a job posting overseas, always rise to the occasion, step out of the comfort zone and accept the challenge. A lot of times, we are quick to offer reasons as to why these opportunities won’t work and spend little time addressing them to make them work. I have seen many instances where female employees have been successful when they push boundaries and grow with these opportunities. If you have a family, bring your family along for the ride and watch them grow with you on the journey.

R P Yadav, Chairman & Managing Director, Genius Consultants Ltd, India
I believe that power of parity would help to create a balanced workforce. The strengths and styles each gender bring to the role are different. Practicing equal opportunities will help to broaden our horizon to inspiring conversations, professional developments, cultural change and create a healthy & supporting workplace for all employees. An inclusive working opportunity would bring in various perspectives and ideas to boardroom conversations as our clients are from diverse background and we should be reflecting that.

Looking beyond employee benefits, there’s a lot Genius Consultants Limited does to support women at work. Well, it should be practiced by other organizations through their actions and decisions, company heads can set the tone at the top. It’s time for the organisations to think beyond sharing equal benefits and providing a supporting working environment for women employees.

Tina Vinod, Head – Diversity & Inclusion, ThoughtWorks, India
Gender Equity & Equal Opportunity is what we strive for as a community in ThoughtWorks. Gender Inclusion has always been a key business prerogative as well. We believe that no matter who you are or how you identify, you deserve respect, empathy and equal opportunity to succeed.

Empowering Women’s success is critical for us and VAPASI is one such initiative. The free technical training program is designed to enable experienced women technologists who are currently on a career break to re-enter the world of tech. The program is inline with our efforts to drive real change.

The program aims to elevate conversations around inclusivity, equal opportunity and leveling the playing field, encouraging more women to come back to work after a break. We believe our role in creating positive social change extends beyond our organization and hence work with various other companies and partners to meet our commitment to build gender equity in across.

The gender gap in our workplaces is a reality and holistic leadership development programmes, exclusive policies and comeback initiatives for women who’ve taken a break are critical, in addition to building safe bias-free, inclusive workplace.  Unfortunately, the systemic patriarchy and unconscious bias in our culture continues to seep into the workforce creating toxic workplaces for women. Having 100% leadership commitment, engaging with dissent, building a pool of male allies and questioning age-old bias on a male centric approach to success in the workplace, is important.

Driving a gender-equal world is a shared responsibility

Jennifer Alejandro is Senior Director of Corporate Communications and Content Marketing at Workday, based in Singapore. Outside of the corporate world, she is the Founder & Designer of Onepoint61 Asia handcrafted clutch bags and accessories, much sought after in Hollywood as well.

What according to you are the successes of gender equality movement which gathered momentum towards the end of the last decade?
From the increase of women in leadership and boards, to closing the gender pay gap in the workplace, we saw positive and progressive changes taking place towards the end of the last decade. For example, the gap has significantly narrowed (by 38%) for management positions as they’re more likely to be held by women compared to 20 years ago.

However, even with the current rate of progress, it will take another 99.5 years to reach gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap report. We should not be complacent and if anything, we should pick up the pace and take significant steps to make the world more gender-equal.

At the start of this decade, what would be your three priorities for gender equal workplaces?
My priorities would be to promote strong and capable women in the workplace, being involved in women initiatives within my community, and most importantly, speak up and make positive changes as a female leader. From external media coverage to internal employee culture, I will actively take part in improving workplace equality and inclusivity.

How important is the role of men in this movement and what according to you should organisations do to involve them?
The role of men is crucial to this movement and I’m proud to have supportive men around me to validate the work that women are capable of doing. They should not be afraid to show their support and enable women to advance and be heard whenever it’s needed. Driving a gender-equal world is a shared responsibility.

How important is the concept of “Sisterhood” in accelerating change and do you think we need a young champion like Greta Thunberg for this cause as well?
As with everything in life, having the right support system makes a huge difference. The bond between human beings (not just between women) can be so powerful and together, we can all strive to be better versions of ourselves.

Greta Thunberg represents everything we need to make a positive change in this world: strong and driven, fact-based, fearless and hopeful. I truly think that everyone of us could be a champion of their own if we believe that we could achieve great things.

As long as we remain hopeful, we can become the change we want to see. Represented by the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, #EachforEqual, each one of us can help create a gender-equal world. As the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Pace of change gives much hope

Dr Leez Hassan is the Founder & CEO of ADLA Sdn Bhd based in Malaysia. Through her various programmes she works towards inspiring women to attain high self-worth and esteem.

What according to you are the successes of gender equality movement which gathered momentum towards the end of the last decade?
I think we started out very strong in the 2010s, the decade started out with 71% of the formal labour in South East Asia consisting of women. By the end of the decade, this translated into us having more women in formal paid work today than at any point in history.

From there it snowballed into the mass influx of women crossing over, moving into jobs that used to be exclusively done by men. By 2013, women were filling 24% of senior management roles; a percentage that continues to rise steadily to this day.

I’d say that the biggest success that the last decade brought would be women breaking the stereotypical mould even more and realizing their potential in positions of power.

The significant increase of high-profile women chief executives in the workplace is proof enough of positive progress. It might not be full on integration just yet, but this only shows that the glass ceiling isn’t as impenetrable as we all thought it was. A very good sign of better things to come.

At the start of this decade, what would be your three priorities for gender equal workplaces?
First and foremost, the most important priority for gender equal workspaces is achieving a healthy work-life balance. I believe that women are dynamic in the way that we can be in charge, trailblazing all the way but we are also encouraging and nurturing. We make sure the office and the household runs smoothly and this is no easy task.

To ensure employees aren’t leaving the workplace because of punishing hours or work rules, employers should give them more control over their schedules and not prioritize time in the office over delivering results.

Secondly is the implementation of equal pay. Pay should be reliant on job role, and a regular pay structure needs to be introduced to improve transparency and to eliminate discriminatory payouts. Companies across the globe should start taking steps to offer equal pay for women as they are no longer considered as a weak gender anymore.

Last but not least, is creating an open-minded working atmosphere. Gender equality can be achieved at the workplace, only when the employers, process owners, managers, and team leads have a broad and open-minded policy. If most of the departments within the enterprise are gender biased, then it will surely affect the growth of the company in the long term. Employees should be appreciated based on their talent and performance, and not by anything else.

How important is the role of men in this movement and what according to you should organisations do to involve them?
Men have responded to the feminist movement in very different ways, some supportive, some not quite. However, their importance in the quest for gender equality is not to be taken lightly.

For me, organizations can get men to be more involved in this cause by encouraging bothmen and women to challenge and change gender-biased organisational policies and practices.

Men can also be more involved if organizations ensure gender equality initiatives involve women and men as active and equal partners as well as treating gender equality as a business issue, not a women’s issue.

This also includes building individual gender confidence and capability – by providing opportunities for both men and women to change their mindsets, assumptions, and behaviours.

This way, we can work together towards a common goal instead of working against each other and losing out on the big picture.

How important is the concept of “Sisterhood” in accelerating change?
Sisterhood is obviously a very powerful tool and a stellar catalyst for progress. Inter generational and diverse, a sisterhood fosters growth and positive social change. Sisterhood is essentially a tribe and each member is gifted with something unique, which is collectively an arsenal of strength, knowledge and skills. Together women can find each other to connect, share resources and empower each other. When women are empowered, the entire community is empowered and this is exactly what we need to accelerate the quest for social change.

Do you think we need a young champion like Greta Thunberg for this cause as well?
Greta Thunberg has done very well for her chosen cause, the environment. The reason why she is so effective in her crusade for climate change awareness is because she is straight forward and she doesn’t feel obliged to sugar coat anything when she steps up to address the public. She speaks the truth backed up by concrete facts and she practically scares the indifferent into taking a stand. I think  she is already an inspiration to a whole generation of activists just waiting to come out and shake everything up.

Probably Greta comes off as being a bit militant at times and that kind of hard-line mentality could mean bad press for the already much-maligned gender equality movement, but yes; a fearless young champion with an unquenchable thirst for the truth and social justice…I think every movement needs an icon like her.

Male allies also key to achieving gender goals

Louise Corbett is the Founder of Exceptional Existence and Women Empowered based out of Hong Kong and works in the area of providing leadership strategies for companies, helping them to identify and communicate their message. 

What according to you are the successes of gender equality movement which gathered momentum towards the end of the last decade?
The last decade has certainly been very interesting! The Frontier Post recently found that according to the new Women Business and the Law (WBL) index, all regions of the world improved on average towards gender equality over the past decade, and six countries, Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden, now have a perfect score of 100, meaning that the law treats men and women equally along all the dimensions measured. It was also noted that no economy was gender equal under the law a decade ago. This is progress.

I think some of the successes of Gender Equality over the last decade include:

  1. Women stepping into traditionally Male Dominated leadership roles – we are seeing this more and more. The momentum is growing. An example would be how Women have gained more political power over the last decade. Hillary Clinton became the first woman to ever win a major party’s nomination for president and Jacinda Ardern, the second female leader of the Labour Party, stepped into the role of Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017.
  2. Women having more of a voice – Movements have spread across continents for women voicing their rights. Movements such as #metoo have provided women a platform to be heard.
  3. More focus on Paternity Leave and Shared Parental Leave – while there are some cultural hoops to jump through on this, the wheels are in motion as we see many organisations changing their policies on Parental leave. Now the challenge is working on the stigma for many men around taking it!
  4. The Male Ally Movement – This is growing. I am seeing more and more men step up to support Gender Equality and sign their name on their commitment. Interestingly, what I continue to see from the men that do put their hands up to be Male Allies, is that they all have a strong woman in their life such as a Mother or a Grandmother or…they have a daughter. As women, this demonstrates the role we have to play in inspiring male advocates for Gender Equality.

At the start of this decade, what would be your three priorities for gender equal workplaces?

  1. More inclusive conversations – It’s time for men and women to communicate and integrate more on the topic of ‘Gender Equality’. From the many events that I have now hosted or been a part of, I find again and again that men who are there to listen really were not aware of many of the challenges and struggles that women face or…what we want. And…for women, I think it is really important for them to hear from the men, understand their perspective and…share how they feel / what they need.
  2. Acknowledging our differences and therefore, our strengths  – If you put a man and a woman next to each other, no one can deny their differences but for some reason, we expect the two genders to act the same in the workplace. While working on one of my recent Women Empowered platforms, I was to truly discover the damaging short and long term effects on a woman who is to too masculine in the workplace. I think in this decade we really need to step back and acknowledge our differences and…how we can use them to come together in the workplace in an effective way.
  3. Keep the numbers coming! A C-suite executive once said to me…’I get that Gender Equality is important Louise but, I’m a busy man and you need to make it make sense to my P&L’. I totally appreciate and understand this and no one can deny ‘numbers’. I think this will help to give more weight to the gender equality debate. When you can prove that Gender Equality can improve business performance by a significant amount then if leadership DON’T listen, they are doing their company (and therefore themselves) a disservice.

How important is the role of men in this movement and what according to you should organisations do to involve them?
I believe that men are crucial to this movement. I believe in the past, men were too often positioned as the ones to ‘solve’ the issues of Gender Equality which I believe was the wrong approach. Why? Because when women ask men to solve their problems, women become victims and we don’t need that but we certainly need them to do this with us collectively and to make sure that men are aware of the situations and challenges women faces but also what they want from the workplace. So often, in my many women’s events I hear men say again and again ‘we didn’t know women were facing these challenges or felt this way’.

How important is the concept of “Sisterhood” in accelerating change?
Crucial (and I mean crucial). Sisterhood is dead in many communities and societies but … I truly believe that when it is tapped into, it can be an extremely powerful force! There is work still to be done in educating women on the power of this union. Unfortunately, many women still see other women as the competition, not an ally. In my women’s retreats, I see the power of sisterhood at its best! During the long weekends we always ensure there are daily women’s circles where we connect and communicate and as a result of that, I see again and again a bond and support network flourish that is hard to break. When this is set…it is a force to be reckoned with and…if we can bring this more into organisations, you will have a group of skilled employees that feel like they belong, feel understood, feel supported and want to stand up for and beside their fellow sisters. This is something I think many organisations miss the beat on. But the great news is, with the right facilitation, it is possible to fix!

Do you think we need a young champion like Greta Thunberg for this cause as well?
I think perhaps the focus should be on men and women who have had experience with the Corporate World (and a true passion for Gender Equality) and the organisations that are proactively supporting Gender Equality. I think giving them more of a voice to share their stories will be the catalyst for positive change.