Women In The New World Of Work & Beyond

Women In The New World Of Work & Beyond

Two years since COVID-19, organisations are working towards mending the effect of the pandemic on women in the workforce.


We cannot say enough how much COVID-19 has changed everything– especially when it comes to working women. When life as we know it changed in the blink of an eye, we witnessed women take on a whole lot more beyond their work priorities to cement the cracks caused by the sudden blow of uncertainty. Numerous surveys, reports, and stories tell us that more women than men chose to turn their lives around to shoulder a disproportionate amount of housework, childcare, and other domestic responsibilities.


It is hard to believe that in 2022 we are going back to the drawing board on gender diversity in the workplace. A question we may ask ourselves – how did we miss noticing this while it was happening in 2020/2021? The simple, honest answer is that most were too busy, focusing our attention to solving the immediate effects the pandemic brought in, that we did not (or rather could not) proactively notice this impact on women. While we cannot go back and fix the past, there is always the opportunity to build a better future.


 A question to ask ourselves is this an organisational or societal challenge? Most of us are quick to answer that it is both. While it may be challenging to disrupt the foundational values of the social order overnight, I do believe that organisations have the power to influence a change in mindset. While there is no silver bullet, we can tackle this issue with a marriage of an individualistic approach and organisational structure.


It starts with YOU!


According to the latest reports, women make up 34% of the IT workforce in India. Can this number rise to 50%? I firmly believe so, but then it starts with every woman in India. Building awareness that having a career is not secondary, but a necessity is key. While I do not in any way discredit the importance of being present for the family, I firmly believe that women should use their right to explore opportunities beyond the household to choose what is best for them. We must refrain from setting age limits or boundaries when one can start their career. After all, we have amazing examples of  women entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses at 40 or 50. In most cases, we see most women wanting to own their career, all they need is that launchpad to try. It is fundamentally important to first ignite the passion of owning their careers and providing them with the supportive environment that helps pivot them to seize opportunities at the workplace head-on.


The balance begins at HOME!


The first step to ensure that a woman successfully thrives at the workplace is to have her family, partner and children with her on this journey. In a recent conversation with a female colleague, I covered the irony in dividing household responsibilities. Although called equal partners in marriage, the wife took on providing all meals while the husband took on the finances. While this arrangement may feel like a natural fit, breaking down the proportionality of these responsibilities – meals need to be provided at least 3 times a day, every day, while financial planning is staggered and filing taxes happens only once a year. An equal partnership should go beyond the division of responsibilities to being independent and able to step in for one another. While men and women are not made the same, the ability to take care of oneself is innate as humans, irrespective of gender. To be truly liberated is to first be open to a mindset of true equality – otherwise, we are only crippled by our age-old perspectives and thoughts.


Organisations need to play their part!


Women make up half the population, and yet, we scarcely see them have a seat at the table. If we lose the opportunity to listen to their ideas, our economy is at a big loss. Creating fancy policies without understanding the needs of the female workforce is like developing a cure to an unknown disease. While standing up for women in the workplace, we need to look at their needs holistically to enable them to be at their best.


1. Making headway: No career is built in a vacuum. Women get support and encouragement from the strategic relationships built in the workplace. Developing women for a meaningful career is not a one step process but a systematic approach, one which needs to begin with the start of their career while introducing meaningful interventions along the way. It is important to provide them with programmes that enable them to explore multiple career paths, encourage women to take up key decision-making positions, and understand what drives them to stay and grow with us. For example, we had a behavioural scientist visit us to conduct a series of workshops for women in early career levels, to understand their intrinsic needs and desires for their careers. The results of the workshops were very useful and helped us create custom programmes for women in this segment. For those in mid-level roles, we connect them with a sponsor, and provide them with cross-functional exposure, leadership projects, and sponsor recommended training. Every step of the way, we leverage technology to map progress and use data-driven insights to map our way forward.


2. Building Networks, Sponsorships and Partnerships: No one can achieve anything alone. The sense of community and network drives humans, and this is even more important for women as the aim is to bring more women into the workforce. Networks build sisterhood among women to share stories and learn from each other’s successes and failures. We leverage these networks beyond social connections and interest groups. A common reason why women do not move more easily up the career ladder than men is their lack of access to informal organisational and industry networks. ERGs like these help women not only support each other, but also provide key insights to career-changing opportunities.


Most importantly, women are likely to find their career role models, mentors and coaches when avenues like these are leveraged at their best. A vital part of this story that is often missed, is to bring men into the journey. We cannot expect to bring change into the world where half of them are not invited to participate. We de-stigmatise the belief that “your work alone will get you ahead” by providing platforms and avenues that break gender myths and help women build their confidence as they grow their careers. We also bring in workshops where we can learn from each other – be it in areas of compassion and empathy to gearing ourselves to be less riskaverse.


3. Freedom to be themselves: Merely creating programmes and asking women to apply for key roles is not going to cut it. The underlying challenge was their inability to seize these opportunities because of a multitude of factors that stemmed from the lack of opportunity to showcase their progress. So, giving them platforms to drive topics gives them the foresight to think about their potential opportunities. No matter the avenues, the key to making a difference is by enabling a culture that nurtures and promotes everyone to be their best selves. With 5 generations of women in the workforce at different life and career stages, organisations and leaders need to craft benefits that enable them to flourish – be it inclusive policies or gender-neutral hiring processes. Policies like equal parenting, leave for family care, miscarriage, period, and menopause, among others, reaffirm their trust in the organisation to care for their needs. The more we look at the holistic wellbeing, care, and development of people within the organisation, the more likely we would have women coming on board and growing their careers with us.


Every day, we wake up to the opportunity to dive and lead change. People are the greatest assets and if we do not look to break the silos of inequality be it gender, generational, identity or any other, we fail to do right by them. A question to ask ourselves – are we creating an impact that will withstand the next tide of uncertainty?


We need to be reawakened that the moment we lose sight of a well-rounded vision of women in the workforce, we are down on those slippery slides taking us decades back in our work of gender parity. The more cognizant we are about the gaps and how we can fill them, the more we can say that we are a step closer to achieving a higher level of inclusivity not just within organisations but in a society where everyone has a part to play in achieving greater equality.

Shraddhanjali Rao heads HR for all entities of SAP in India. She is passionate about Future of Work, Leadership, Inclusion, nurturing Startups and introduced policies like supporting victims & survivors of Domestic Violence; Family Care & Mental illness Leave, extension of EAP for employees’ families, and samesex partner coverage under the company insurance benefit. Shraddha has coauthored the book, ‘Why Blend In When You Can Stand Out?’


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