Gender diversity initiatives not effective: Survey

By Rica Bhattacharyya

MUMBAI: India Inc.’s gender diversity initiatives are failing to make a mark. While most companies have inclusive policies in place such as career advancement and fair deals for women returning to work after breaks, they don’t have a real impact, according to a survey by professional services firm BCG.

Almost 60% of the women respondents in the BCG survey, shared exclusively with ET, agreed that their company is focused on promoting diversity, but only 29% believe they benefited. Poor implementation is the primary reason that 50% of the initiatives have not been effective, showed the survey titled ‘From Intention To Impact – Bridging the Diversity Gap in the Workplace’.

BCG surveyed about 1,500 senior men and women leaders across 25 large Indian private and public companies including Hindustan Unilever, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Lupin, PepsiCo, Mondelez, Mphasis, Axis Bank, State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail, Hero MotoCorp and TVS Tyres. “Companies are investing time, energy and money in diversity initiatives, but progress is slow and results woefully short of expectations,” said Priyanka Aggarwal, a partner at BCG who leads leads the Women@BCG initiative in India. “Diversity initiatives at Indian corporations have yet to show significant impact on the ground.”

On an average, respondents were aware of 12 out of 39 diversity-related initiatives in their companies. The survey showed that gender diversity measures have helped more women in multinational companies operating in India (33%) than those working in Indian companies (27%).

“The gap remains because of poor implementation even while ticking the box on best practice,” said Naina Lal Kidwai, Chairman of the India Advisory Board of Advent International Private Equity.

“The focus often times is about counting the numbers and not on how the gender-diverse employees are being assimilated in their roles and in the company,” said Vinita Bali, strategy advisor and independent director on several boards. “If boards and CEOs have conviction, they must drive it. Diversity initiatives flounder for lack of belief and therefore, lack of the right and sustained actions.”

Women perceive career progress as the largest obstacle but only 40% of the companies have interventions in advancement with only 14% of the senior leaders considering it a top priority for future interventions.

“The fact that only 14% of senior leaders consider it a priority is a clear pointer to the lack of conviction and possibly a bias,” reckoned Bali. “The key obstacle is the mindset of decision maker. Diversity is neither a check box nor nice to do. It is a business imperative.”

Kidwai, former chairperson of HSBC India, said biases still exist, especially against midcareer women and whether they will leave when they have children. “While flexi working and sabbaticals are provided by companies to retain women, giving them a fair deal when they return fulltime remains a challenge,” she said.

Nirmala Menon, founder of Interweave Consulting, a Bengaluru-based firm that focuses on diversity management and inclusiveness in the workplace, said that even if women are being given benefits and support such as flexible time options during key life stages, many do not translate into advancement and growth and they get sidelined along the way.

CEOs and the top management have to lead by example, said women leaders of India Inc. “It has to be an agenda driven by the CEO and the leadership team with the core idea being competency and not diversity for the sake of diversity,” said Bali.

Falguni Nayar, founder of beauty and wellness product startup, said companies have made a lot of progress but it will take some time for the real impact to be seen.

Source: Economic Times

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