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ET Women Ahead: Workplace diversity possible only with high-visibility, female role models

Organisations must pay heed to 3 points if they want more representation in the workforce.

Updated: Feb 06, 2018, 10.09 AM IST
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It is high time that the conversation shifted from ‘what women need to do’, to ‘what we all need to do’ — in order to ensure that we make real progress when it comes to having more women.
By Sahiba Singh and Atul Bhandari

Back in 2007, when Drew Gilpin Faust was appointed the President of Harvard, she is said to have famously corrected a member of the audience during her appointment speech, saying, “I’m not the Woman President of Harvard, I’m the President of Harvard”.

Even today, an announcement on the appointment of women to CEO positions might include a reference to their gender as an ‘addon’ achievement.

As an executive search and leadership advisory firm and study partners for The Economic Times Women Ahead initiative, we are no strangers to the ‘D’ word – Diversity. Here are some learning from our experiences, and our advice for organisations and leaders who are serious about having more women in leadership positions:

Understand and acknowledge the issue, and the need for change
If you still think of diverse leadership teams as a good to have, rather than good for business — despite numerous studies confirming the linkage between diverse teams and superior business results - look within, at your own organisation. Look at your own data on the number of women at each level in the organisation, engagement and retention numbers by gender, average compensation at each level for men versus women, performance of diverse teams versus homogenous ones, and the extent to which your employee base diversity mirrors that of your customer base. It can be highly revealing – even to organisations who believe that they have got it in hand.

ET's dualpane (25)

Focus on leveling the playing field, not only equipping individual players
Building an enabling environment for all genders is the only way to build a diverse talent pipeline. The banking industry in India is a great example of this, with more women in leadership positions than most other industries. Bringing in senior female talent laterally at the top of the pyramid is always an option — but not the most sustainable. Ultimately, organizations who invest in building a level playing field not only build a stronger internal pipeline, but are more attractive for female leaders coming from outside too. Leadership and culture play the biggest role in leveling the field — work on yours. Address the conscious, as well as unconscious bias in the organisation’s culture to drive real inclusion. Hold leaders accountable to walkingthe-talk. Have them mentor high potential women across levels, take bets on them. Change policies that disadvantage a gender.

Also read: ET Women Ahead: Diversity will remain mere talk unless boardrooms become equal

Talk about it — internally and externally
Most organisations and industries today need more visible female role models and success stories. Talk about yours, and collaborate beyond organisational boundaries to create a new normal. In countries that have made more progress than us, commitment to publicly sharing data and actions have proven to be even more powerful than government regulations. Coalitions like the Paradigm for Parity – consisting of organisations committed to addressing the corporate leadership gender gap in the US, and one that Spencer Stuart is a proud member of — provide effective platforms for such partnerships.

In closing, it is high time that the conversation shifted from ‘what women need to do’, to ‘what we all need to do’ — in order to ensure that we make real progress when it comes to having more women — not only in leadership positions but also in the workforce.

Let's start now.

(Sahiba Singh is the Leadership Advisory Services Practice Leader for Spencer Stuart in India. Atul Bhandari leads the Technology, Media and Telecom Practice for the Asia-Pacific region, also at Spencer Stuart)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of

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