As a son, a husband, a father and the leader of an organization committed to building a sustainable business, I recognise my responsibility to realise women’s rights for an equal future. There is enough empirical evidence to confirm that organisations that build a welcoming environment for all sexes, perform better.
While I am still learning to become a better ally of women at work, here are some principles I am following that may be of interest to others wanting to follow suit:
- It starts with acknowledging male privilege: Just 6.6% of CEOs of the 2019 Fortune 500 list are female. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 confirms that it will take another 99.5 years for us to achieve gender parity. That is clearly not happening in our lifetime or that of our children. In India, notions of sexism and gender disparity start early. When boys are encouraged to be stronger, sporty and tough while girls are urged to dress pretty, learn dance and cooking over sports, we are nurturing sexism in each new generation. It is time to shatter such stereotypes and question social norms rooted in patriarchy. To begin with, I’m learning to listen, to really empathise with the way in which women in my family and women colleagues at work, experience the world differently. At home, I actively participate in my children’s lives – whether it is attending to their health, meeting their teachers, helping them with homework or preparing them for exams. It is time to move beyond tags that say women are homemakers and men are breadwinners. Men should be ready to shoulder an equal share of domestic responsibilities as their spouses, and especially participate in children’s’ upbringing.
- Get more men involved in the conversation: A study by Boston Consulting Group showed that 96% of companies where men are actually involved in gender diversity, report progress. Conversely, among companies where men are not involved, only 30% show progress. While I admit getting men to recognise the social privilege conferred by their gender, is a challenge, we want to be part of the solution, rather than just be told what to do. For our part, men need to realise that if we are not actively involved in helping dismantle gender disparity at work, we are supporting it. At ReNew, we place a lot of emphasis on men playing an active part in supporting women’s empowerment – whether that means encouraging fathers to take parental leave, to ensuring women are heard, equally. It also means we get men to regularly champion women’s empowerment programs, like ‘Power of W’ – an initiative to promote stronger diversity and inclusiveness, ‘Recruit HER’ – focusing specifically on hiring more women in middle and senior management roles and Vedica Scholars program – where a woman scholar gets to ‘Shadow a Woman leader’ for 1 month and learns how to muster up the confidence to ‘lean in’, shed self-doubts, and speak up when it matters most.
- Institutionalise gender equality: While I’m a firm believer in the power of role-modelling inclusive behaviour, organisations also need structures and policies that eliminate gender differences and build stronger, more equitable workforces. This means working on our recruitment processes to take out gender bias in how we identify people for specific roles. It also means keeping appraisals and evaluations focussed on performance, rather than personality traits and eliminating any element of difference in compensation based on gender. Although ReNew ranks above the industry average when it comes to representation of women, we still must make a conscious effort to get more women on board. We’re working hard to create a more enabling environment for them and provide necessary mentoring so they can rise to leadership roles. We’re also building flexibility in the system that considers the needs and concerns of women resuming careers, post a break.
I’ll conclude by saying that women’s empowerment is no longer just about doing the right thing. If we truly want India to realise its growth potential, we need to encourage more inclusive behaviour at home, at work and across our institutions. That will only happen when each of us recognises our bias’ and actively works towards correcting it.