Leaders should encourage women to apply for all the relevant opportunities: Binu Mathew

Leaders should encourage women to apply for all the relevant opportunities: Binu Mathew

In an exclusive conversation with Human Capital, Binu Mathew, Human Resource Director, HP, details the challenges confronted by women employees at the workplace and lists the various measures that organisations must undertake to build a gender-neutral workplace.


The pandemic-driven job losses have resulted in more women losing their jobs. Also, the jobs that are emerging are not going back to women even in female-dominated domains such as retail, hospitality and leisure. How can companies ensure that women are given preference when it comes to hiring? 


Companies are increasingly recognising that the success of a business is intrinsically linked to a diverse workplace. A healthy mix of gender identities has the potential to proffer a more holistic business perspective, which ultimately fosters high-grade talent. Diversity in talent paves way for a broader range of skills and varied experiences which resultantly improves productivity and allows better synergy. I strongly believe that we should hire candidates with the right attitude since relevant skills can always be taught on the job. Hence, if a female candidate walks in with the right attitude, but her skill set is not 100% in sync with the job description, she should still be considered for the position.


My advice to leaders to encourage diversity and inclusion has always been two-pronged. The first is to invest, grow and promote existing talent. Leaders should encourage women to apply for all the relevant opportunities that come their way, even if they are not 100% ready. The second is to earmark job roles or positions for diverse candidates. With all being equal among applicants, one should intentionally hire diverse candidates.


For every female employee who moves on from an organisation, the leadership team should make sure that there is a clear alignment with the recruitment team to consider diverse profiles for that role. However, in certain areas such as sales, it becomes challenging to recruit women who are appropriately suited for the job and hold relevant experience. This is when it becomes desirable to diversify the search into other industries like Telecom, hospitality etc.


At HP, we run a tried and tested initiative to empower women to resume work after a career break. We have experienced immense success and witnessed strong loyalty from our female employees who were hired as a part of this initiative. 


Deloitte’s global study of ‘Women @ Work’ released in May 2021 revealed that more than sixty percent women wanted to quit their jobs given the physical and mental stress amid the pandemic. How do you believe organisations can enable women to continue in the workforce?


The pandemic has landed us in an unprecedented context that has no playbook and no precedence. While this has been a difficult time for all employees across the board, it has been particularly challenging for the women employees who are constantly juggling to maintain a work-life balance.


As a woman myself, I have grown to believe that the key to establishing a balance between work, family and one’s individual life is flexibility. Working women who are also mothers or wives have been exposed to a more complicated version of work from home. Thus, it becomes critical for organisations to ensure that women are empowered, trusted, and empathized with. In return, it goes a long way in creating a sense of belongingness and loyalty to the organisation. Managers must have meaningful conversations with their employees and openly discuss their challenges, be willing to flex old ways of working, and embrace newer ways. It is imperative for managers to create and foster an environment where employees can bring their authentic selves to work.


 A Multi-year study by McKinsey & Co and Sheryl Sandberg through LeanIn.Org revealed that there were fewer chances for women in entrylevel positions to get promoted as first-level managers. This led to the creation of the widely used term “broken rung”. How can organisations get rid of the “broken rung” which has been further impacted by the pandemic and enable greater Diversity and Inclusion among the workforce? 


The broken rung is a serious issue; however, I believe that it needs to be looked at differently. In most organisations, leaders largely focus on getting women to fill leadership positions which typically directs the concentration to the pipeline rather than progression. However, the real problem lies in the first few promotions. It is imperative that we invest in women at lower levels to ensure that there is a healthy progression for the pipeline. If a woman is mentored, recognised, and given the right opportunities early on in her career, we will hopefully see lesser women leaving the workplace. Parallelly, women should take strong actions as well which will ensure equality in opportunities for both men and women, with no broken rung.


“Act like a leader and you’ll become one” is my golden advice for all young women. Early on in my career, I was not promoted when I thought I deserved it. However, I also realised that I needed to speak up and be my greatest advocate at work, no one could do that for me. Even though I wasn’t given the title of a leader, I decided to act like one, in the hope of becoming one. I said yes to all projects that came my way, supported, guided and mentored team members who needed help. From being unrecognised and invisible, I went on to become someone who was impossible to ignore. Female employees must think of ways in which they can add value, bring new ideas to meetings, roll up their sleeves and help with projects big and small, even if it is beyond their job description. The best leaders today are those that inspire, and, I strongly believe that we possess the power to inspire. 


A report by the Pew Research Center has consistently highlighted the fact that women earn 84 percent as compared to men. The pandemic has worked to exert added pressure on women in terms of domestic responsibilities and women coming back into the workforce are levied with a wage cut for staying away from active employment. How must organisations regulate their wage policy to encourage greater participation in the workforce? A It is important for organisations to create an enabling culture for women hires. Policies like Flex Work which allow women to work parttime are essential, especially for those juggling multiple roles and responsibilities on the work and home front. I strongly believe that a pay parity check must be done every six months and corrective measures should be taken if there are any pay gaps, solely based on gender disparity. These parity checks must be done for both, new hires and internal promotions in an organization. 


A 2021 survey by Pearson which was conducted on Gen Z women has revealed that 36% of Gen Z believe that workplace Gender Equality will see a marked improvement in the days to come as against 25% of millennials and 29% of boomers. What are your views on the same and how should organisations educate the younger workforce to embrace gender equality? 


Inclusivity is not an initiative but a state of mind. To propagate it in action, it is essential to appropriately sensitise the younger workforce. Organisations must talk about equal opportunities in their campus to corporate programmes. They should also stress their gender equality and inclusion policies which foster a culturally healthy workplace environment. Additionally, 50% of positions should be earmarked for diverse hiring, across both campus and intern hires.


Being intentional at every step, embodying the essence of inclusivity in day-to-day operations will be a great start to mould the mindset of the younger workforce towards embracing gender equality. 


Organisations are working towards gender neutral communication viz. hi friends, hi colleagues, workforce as against manpower and so on. Also, the pervasive use of pronouns in email signatures by senders who indicate the way in which they want to be identified, and, is also an indication by the company that it is inclusive. Do you believe this is a move in the right direction to ensure a gender-inclusive workplace? What are the other things that organisations can do to endorse gender diversity? 


I advocate this move. All company policies should be framed by imbibing the DNA of diversity and inclusion. Gender stereotyping is a major issue that I have dealt with and it is important to educate our managers on what Unconscious Bias means and how detrimental it is to the progress of an organisation. This can be done by role-playing scenarios and asking participant managers to comment on what went wrong and how can it be rectified. We had leveraged theatre groups multiple times to educate managers and employees about inclusivity. Making people more aware, sensitised, and open-minded, will help an organisation to move ahead by leaps and bounds towards a more inclusive and diverse workforce. Considering gender-neutral applicants for every position, providing similar opportunities without any bias is the only way forward to intentionally change the mix.


Sexual harassment at work, long working hours, lack of physical and psychological support from their families, cognitive bias etc. are some of the many reasons for women to remain disengaged with their employers and also for quitting their jobs. What are the measures that can be undertaken by companies to ensure women remain committed to their jobs?


Every organisation must strive to make the workplace a safe space, and this is only possible when there is zero-tolerance for any form of harassment and non-compliance. Having an open-door policy with confidentiality and zero retaliation is an important step to ensuring a safe workspace. It is essential to provide flexibility to all employees and ensure that they are given the freedom to complete their jobs without micromanagement or prejudice.


Providing Employee Assistance Programmes with qualified counsellors to support all employees despite their gender roles is very critical for their emotional and mental wellbeing. Employee resource groups also play an important role in becoming a support system. This gives each of them access to a network of colleagues to whom they can reach out for advice or guidance at any point in time.


For example, HP’s maternity support group gives young mothers or ‘mothers to be’ a channel to ask for advice or solicit support that has been pivotal in easing their journey of motherhood. Finally, organisations must focus on investing in the development of women which will help strengthen their commitment to building loyalty to the organisation.


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