International Women’s Day is around the corner and I got two requests from two different companies to speak to their women employees on March 8. One of them invited me saying they were looking for an eminent speaker to motivate their women employees. I felt flattered being tagged as an eminent speaker but turned down both requests. I told them I personally do not believe in such events organized for women on women’s day, and most importantly I do not think women need to be motivated.
Given the nature of my work, I get to spend a lot of time with men and women, from different companies, who are at different levels of the organization. In most sessions, if there are women, they out shine men. They are more engaged, more astute and show greater desire to learn. During the break, I have noticed that these women are on the phone, dealing with the home front, coordinating children’s school issues, organizing after school activities and care, enquiring after the elderly parents, thinking through the dinner etc. I rarely see men do that. In most societies, women are required to manage multiple universes and are expected to manage them successfully. In such a scenario, women, often skillfully balance all the spinning plates and don’t let them fall. If this is not motivation, I do not know what motivation looks like.
I believe, women at large do not need a speech to motivate them. What they need, is for all of us to focus on removing things that demotivate them. Eliminate the many things that extinguish the fire that is within each of them. What if, on this women’s day, organisations not go for easy options, but choose to do what is truly meaningful and lasting.
The easy options to avoid: Hold Rangoli competitions for women or other such competitive events, hand out roses to women (especially by the security staff, how truly absurd!), give women employees money and time to go out and have lunch together, invite leading doctors to talk about health, a nutrition and fitness expert to talk about physical wellbeing or have an eminent speaker to motivate women. If you are involved in organizing such an activity, please pause and ask- will this make any real difference?
Instead, commit to creating a motivating work place, which is inviting and energizing. Where opportunities to learn and grow are available, without a fight. Foster an environment where women are respected and received for who they are, not just one day of the year, but every day of the year!
Here are a few ideas to consider:
1. Learn about the biases
Hold a mandatory session for all men and women, to learn and become aware of the subtle biases that exist in each of us that come in the way of women’s growth and development. These biases affect every stage of women’s professional life journey. They raise their head during recruitment, staffing, promotion conversations, role assignments, performance feedback, compensation fitment, team roles etc. It is not very difficult to list the various ways in which the subtle bias manifests at work.
These awareness raising sessions should not be organized by HR or the Learning Department lest they be seen as training programs. They should come from the CEO’s office or the equivalent. And all, with no exception, should attend the sessions. A no show must carry significant consequences.
2. Gather data on biases that exist
Launch a survey and ask all women to respond to two simple questions, anonymously.
- What kind of gender bias they have experienced in the organization?
- Where does it exist most in the organization?
The survey results should be reviewed by the senior leadership team, to understand how the biases and prejudices affect the motivation, selfhood and growth of women employees. Develop concrete actions to address on issues that are raised.
3. Analyse the compensation data
Every organization says they have a fair pay policy, that it is performance based and market driven. However, in most organisations, women are paid less than their male counterparts for an equivalent role. There are innumerable studies that expose this unfortunate reality. In our own experience of having worked with many organisations, we have discovered disparity arising due to biases. No one is doing this consciously, but they creep up over time – because she didn’t ask for more during the interview, she was away on maternity for 6 months and hence did not get a high performer rating, she quit and joined back after 2 years so had to take the salary from 2 years ago – are some reasons that come up.
Create a small taskforce to analyse the historic and current compensation data to see whether there is any disparity. The task force should be directly accountable to the head of the organisation. It should not be a HR or Finance initiative. What it needs is a good data scientist who can slice and dice the data in various ways to reveal the patterns of bias. With technology and analytics skills today, this is possible with masked data, thus not compromising any privacy. Discovering the patterns that lead to discrepancy in compensation and fixing them would be one of the most productive ways to bring parity.
4. Re-architect the policies and practices
Organisations have many practices and policies, many created decades ago and often by men for a male centric environment. These come in the way of women’s growth and development. Policies around when and where the team celebrations happen, who gets to work remotely, what time company transport can be used, what parameters are used for the round table discussion, how decisions are made about the promotions, what criteria is used for leadership assignments etc. Some are just cultural norms in the organisation that came about due to the presence of largely male workforce. Yet they continue to prevail when the ratios have changed.
Create an internal “glass door” where employees can name the policies and practices that negatively affect women’s growth, directly or indirectly. Use the data to pick the top three that can create the maximum positive impact and re-architect them. Seek suggestions from women employees to review and recreate. Slowly establish a new set of principles that are more inclusive and gender sensitive to drive all the policies and practices.
I have witnessed many organisations that we work with, are genuinely working towards creating a motivating and energizing work place for women and men. At the centre of this great work, are one or two awake individuals who inspire and persevere even when, what they do is not mainstream. My wish is for this tribe to grow.
My prayer on this women’s day is that we focus on removing what demotivates women and not spend time on trying to motivate them. Become conscious of the subtle biases within us and become aware of the everyday actions that emanate from those biases.
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