The web defination: “Workplace diversity refers to the variety of differences between people in an organisation.” Sounds simple doesn’t it? However diversity encompasses race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organisational function, education, background and more.
Anybody and everybody who is literate, working, on Twitter, LinkedIn suddenly seems to be asking, talking, commenting about “diversity at your workplace”. I have seen Twitter, IRL friends, acquaintances turn rabid in protecting or portraying that their organisation is the best, or that they practice diversity. Add the potent mix of putting them on a panel with a mike, or in an social environment the decibel level goes up proportionately.
For the purpose here, let’s refer to gender as the most relevant one. When applied in the Indian context, one can only respond ‘BULL@#$%’.
It sounds great to say equal opportunity, and other words when one is talking public relations (PR), best practices, so on and forth or even at seminars, panels but fact of the matter is that we are far from it.
At number of discussion panels where I have been part, it was amusing to find CXOs waxing eloquent on ‘diversity’ till they were asked ‘What is your male : female ratio? Why is it so? What are the steps you intend to take?’
And isn’t it quite the norm to have only men on a panel to discuss diversity? Or am I missing something.
1. Few companies have managed gender diversity well.
2. Few companies want to manage, or even have gender diversity.
3. Men are hard wired to not accept this, yeah yeah I am one too.
There are some organisations, and I have been fortunate enough to work where the M:F ratio was 50:50 or even 40:60 at times, but they are in the minority. The popular refrain has always been, ‘Oh women can’t work long hours, they cannot commute long distance’, and so on.
People who chant that, conveniently forget what unfolds closer home, the housemaid who travels & works 16-18 hours, or the clerical staff, the receptionist (the lowest common denominator but the face of the brand). Take customer facing industries such as retail, hospitality, logistics, where women are an integral part of the business, work long hours, are responsible, accountable. I have had the opportunity to work with and continue to do so with such women. And no, they’re not super-women, and they want to be accepted as equals. Are they? Mostly not.
Yes, there is that small percentage of women who have broken the glass ceiling, but I have personally witnessed many of them falling prey to the same thoughts that they accuse their male counterparts of. It is a case of Me, Myself first.
I compare this to most of the elite or supposed elite schools, colleges, coaching classes. You need 90% to get in. Brilliant, most of the times training somebody who secures 90% to reach 95% is easy. Or flip it around and say recruit 10 people who score 90% and we become a 90% organisation (no mathematics or probability factors are involved, this is just an example), is just dumb. Recruiting five 70% and 5 90% and coaching them to achieve 80% may yield better results at times, but then my brand, income, bonus will suffer.
Till as recent as 2015, there was a large organisation which felt six working days meant higher productivity. Most entrepreneurial organisations as well as ‘disruptive startups’ still feel that way. There was another which had an underlying policy of not hiring women, in the organisation.
Yes, there are some that have broken the shackles, ‘turned professional’ so to speak. However, if the owner is still the manager or has executive powers, it is extremely difficult or impossible to break it down and achieve any kind of a diversity.
Males are preferred because they ‘work harder, longer hours’ not smarter. That ‘women will get married and leave’, is still the popular thought. Training, counselling, managing diversity are just words taught in school and good as theory.
Most industries need to take a step or two away from their perceived culture and comfort zone, to experiment, and benefit.
Will this change? I am hopeful. Having worked with women bosses and in organisations with 40% female ratio, I see with pride many of them move towards gender diversity. It feels quite good to see some organisations, small they may be, having only female workers with just a token male colleague. Working with the younger generation, I definitely see many changes, but it will take a lot of hard work, ability to tune out the bad, focus on professionalism for it to really make a difference. Perhaps another decade or more.
This post first appeared on www.sheroes.in here