As we inch closer to International Women’s Day, Entrepreneur takes a closer look at what are some of the basic issues bothering women at their workplaces. Corporate houses and startups have been forced to tweak their HR policies to retain talented and diligent women employees at their organizations.
Entrepreneur spoke to Shalini Natraj, Senior Director, Human Resources, Target India on some of the key policy changes that could be implemented to ease things for women at work.
According to her, the first step is to make all policies gender neutral and support employees as they go through different phases in their lives. Some policies that can be explored or amended include:
- Work from home / flexibility – Many companies don’t have a flexible work hour policy. That sometimes leads women to leave the organisation because they can’t balance work and home. Having a more flexible work hour policy will support not just women but everyone to balance work and home more effectively.
- Sabbatical – Companies must have policies that allow employees to take a break and have a mechanism for them to come back to an appropriate role at the end of the break.
I also think the eco-system a women lives in, influences her life quite a lot and the choices that she makes with regard to her career. There are several changes that can be made to help create a supportive ecosystem which will help her balance work and home even better; these include:
- Paternity leave - In India, the lack of a paternity leave policy forces men to be more hands-off when they become parents. We should make paternity leave mandatory, to ensure that men play an equal role in supporting the family.
- Safety and security – Stronger regulations that support a safe and secure environment in the organisation, business parks, public transport etc. will go a long way in improving gender equality and diversity.
- Corporate tax exemption – It would be great if the government were to roll out tax exemption policies that support the hiring and retention of women in organisations. It will encourage corporates to be more supportive.
Recently in an interview to Entrepreneur, Nestle India MD Suresh Narayanan urged companies to treat diversity at workplaces as a top management priority and not just as an HR or a CSR mission.
Speaking on the similar lines Shalini said, “To make a better impact on gender diversity in India, we definitely need to make it a priority for the entire organisation, not just top management or HR. The value that diversity drives in organizations needs to be better articulated and that is a bigger issue to address.”
“Every employee/leader working in the organisation should clearly understand this and their role in driving this forward. It is important for the top management to make gender equality and diversity a part of their goals, and equally as important as their business and financial goals. They need to build a culture that not only hires women candidates, but also ensures that they are paid and promoted as per their capabilities. Encouraging and taking deliberate action to include women on their board and have them lead global teams will also have a large impact on gender equality,” she added.
Stigma getting back to work post break
There are several social and professional stigmas associated with women getting back to work post breaks.
Shalini said that there were internal and external issues that play a crucial role in prohibiting women from getting back to work post a sabbatical.
External – This refers to the lack of suitable opportunities to return to the workforce. Often companies don’t invest time and effort in upskilling a woman once she returns from a break. That often acts as a deterrent for both women to apply and companies to recruit. There are also strong stereotypes that these women will need more flexibility, take more breaks, take more leaves, etc. These generalised assumptions often make managers rethink hiring women on career breaks.
Internal – Women often carry a sense of internal stigma that stops them from returning to work or being successful after they come back. To begin with, women need to work on their confidence and ensure that they are able to articulate their story right. They need to ensure their family provides the support needed when returning to work and often they can’t do this alone. They also need to ensure that they are not letting guilt of leaving their families behind impact their performance at work.
Whether the stigma and challenges are internal or external, making the step towards professional life after a break can be intimidating. We have an internship program ‘Back on Target’ aimed at upskilling women after a career break of more than two years. This gives the individual time to build confidence, be mentored and brush-up their skillsets before engaging in long term employment. The selected women are provided with industry-standard stipends, day care reimbursements, food and transport facilities. Such programs can be helpful in breaking through the inhibitions of employment and building their confidence after a career break, she adds.