The world around us is becoming visibly diverse by the day, and workplaces are striving to keep up. In times like these, observing and ensuring that best practices of global events such as International Women’s Day are continuously practiced and accounted for at work is significant on two counts: First, it recognizes the continuing need to focus on gender equity as a way of compensating for the historical and social disadvantages that prevent men and women from operating on a level playing field.
Secondly, it broadcasts the organization’s intent to be empowering of various marginalized segments across society. The most enlightened organizations realize that they perhaps gain more than they give when they create a culture that embraces and promotes participation across all demographics and identities.
At the most fundamental level, a healthy diversity ratio means that the business is representative of the world they service and will thus do a better job of satisfying a larger number of customers. And even more deep-rooted is the proven benefits to business in terms of better cash flows, stronger team performance and improved revenues.
Although, Southeast Asia has come a long way with women’s participation in the workforce and efforts are being made to address the gender gap, there are still areas where we have yet to find much-needed breakthroughs. According to a LinkedIn survey, up to 41% of women in APAC feel they get fewer career development opportunities than men.
There are external as well as internal factors driving this gap. Conditioning drives gender conforming behaviors and these carry over from home to the workplace. If not consciously checked and addressed, career and life-limiting experiences could hold both men and women from achieving their true potential in all aspects of their life.
The corporate world recognizes the business impact of inclusion, and that drives tangible efforts to change behaviors. I propose we flip the popular Think – Feel – Do Model, and start with the ‘Do’.
ACTIONS speak louder than words
Many organizations have begun to take active steps such as hiring Diversity Managers, and these are signals that DE&I are becoming integral towards cultivating strong leaders and stronger organizations. Singapore sees a shift taking place, with a search on LinkedIn revealing that 202 professionals working in Singapore hold DEI-related roles for their organization.
When organizations make it easy to demonstrate the right behaviors, we make the first leap in driving real and tangible change. I consider myself lucky to have seen many of these at work.
1. We ensure that the benefit of flexibility at work is gender neutral. Women no longer feel conscious about needing time to balance life at work and beyond. Men experience the joy of packing in more than office work in their waking hours. And the downstream effect on our partners at home is not lost either, as the partners of our male colleagues experience the effects of equal participation in their homes and are able to make the time to thrive in their own careers.
2. We consciously work on ensuring a zero gender pay gap. By ensuring that women are paid for the scope of their roles, we are able to eliminate historical pay gaps that they may otherwise have carried forward from their earlier jobs.
3. Diversity ratio is a leading business goal. When inclusion becomes as important a factor as business delivery or technical expertise, every leader is able to step up and implement policies that ensure all genders in our teams have opportunities to succeed, grow and stay with the organization.
"When companies create processes that bring focus on diversity centerstage, leaders think before unconsciously falling into traps of comfortable behaviors.”
This movement will soon take root across all forward-thinking companies. The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 compiled by the World Economic Forum shows that Singapore has improved 13 notches to rank 54 out of 153 countries in promoting gender diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Still, this momentum must carry on. The advancement of women’s interests may still be a “work in progress”, but policy changes over the last few years are already beginning to deliver impact.
THINK diversity as you coach, mentor, and grow your teams
When companies create processes that bring focus on diversity centerstage, leaders think before unconsciously falling into traps of comfortable behaviors. I find myself being encouraged to consciously adopt this way of thinking through various aspects at work.
It begins with hiring. Almost all sectors probably see a 50:50 diversity ratio at entry levels, because our young women and men are equally educated, ambitious and raring to go. But as we go up the seniority levels, hiring diverse talent becomes a challenge as fewer women’s resumes seem to make their way in. When leaders work with recruiters to ensure a 50:50 split in the number of resumes they review, they help consciously create a level playing field across the hierarchy.
Keep an eye on the employee journey across life milestones. Marriage, childbirth, and elder care are key fault lines that can drive deep career losses unless managed effectively for work-life balance. When leaders recognize this and mentor their teams on the possibility of achieving balance irrespective of life stage, it results in happy employees and happier organizations. Personally, my advice to young women seeking counsel hinges on 3 key considerations.
If you choose to commit to a relationship, your choice of partner is one of the most important factors that will ensure a thriving career for you, so choose someone who respects your ambition and the money you bring to the table. Childcare is not a one-woman task and it truly takes a village, so nurture a support network of partner, extended family, friends and paid services to ensure your little one’s care is never compromised.
Eldercare is a societal responsibility and nothing brings more satisfaction, so find a way to balance your physical, mental, and emotional investment in caring for parents and in-laws with the right level of paid support, it is truly difficult for one person to do it all.
Consciously fill the leadership pipeline. Organizations that grow women across all levels, do not struggle with leadership or board representation. It took me by surprise the first time I was asked during a team performance appraisal meeting to start with one metric – The percentage of women amongst those being recommended for promotion. Now, we work through the year to ensure that the metric is met by the right type of hiring, mentoring and appropriate opportunities being offered.
To FEEL the need for diversity – that is the touchstone today
In a world that is designed by men, and therefore skews toward men succeeding, the world recognizes the powerful role that men play in driving change. And this majority needs to be empowered if change is to be truly achieved. As I personally experienced a MARC training at work recently, I understood what a minefield of emotions exist amongst each one of us, irrespective of gender when it comes to DE&I conversations.
"At the most fundamental level, a healthy diversity ratio means that the business is representative of the world they service and will thus do a better job of satisfying a larger number of customers.”
Organizations that create safe spaces for both men and women to question, understand and commit to action are at the forefront of driving change not just at the workplace, but across society too. And men advocating for and sponsoring women is a surefire way to undo many decades of unequal representation at the workplace.
In Singapore, some organizations have already taken this crucial next step, and men becoming allies to address bias and advocate for is driving real change.
The recent International Women’s Day in 2022 has seen an equal number of supporters and detractors. While we all do wish for a world that should no longer need a day to remind the corporate world of the value of diversity, it is also a leadership responsibility that each one of us carries to act, observe, call out and celebrate every small step that eliminates bias and celebrates our difference.