As we release the fourth edition of Women Ahead, we once again celebrate and promote the great achievement of these remarkable India Inc leaders. These women have made great advancements in their careers and important contributions to their professions and society. As much as we celebrate the achievements of these women, we also recognize that the awardees have achieved their successes often playing on a field that is far from even. As study partners for the Women Ahead initiative, and a leadership advisory firm focusing on helping leaders and organizations maximize their potential, we believe in the value of having diverse perspectives at all levels of leadership.
To really move the needle on gender diversity, however, more concerted effort is required. The focus of gender diversity initiatives needs to move beyond ‘what women need to do to succeed’, to ‘what organizations, leaders and each one of us need to do’ in order to more effectively leverage the potential of one half of the world’s population. In addition to the commitment to change, addressing the unconscious bias that can limit opportunities for women — undermining even the best intentions towards increasing gender equality and inclusion at the workplace — is at the heart of this effort.
Hiring and promoting are the foremost areas where failure to challenge unconscious bias actively impacts an organization’s ability to bring more women in the workforce — with the downstream consequences of a less diverse leadership pipeline. Stereotyping based on traditional gender roles and expectations can impact decision-making, even at the earliest stages of the process when considering who to interview based on individuals’ CVs. In our experience, companies that are serious about countering such bias focus on broadening the slate of candidates to deliberately include more women and work to ensure that females are not unintentionally excluded in the process. They use more gender-neutral language in the job specifications, include more women in the hiring teams, broaden the slate of female candidates by embracing a wider range of target companies and prepare for longer searches when necessary. To remove the subjective biases in assessment that can disadvantage women, they start with a determination of the context in which the executive will operate and the objectives for the role. From there, it becomes possible to define specific capabilities that will be important for success and assess candidates against those criteria. Ultimately, an assessment approach that incorporates several rigorous, objective methods will provide multiple perspectives on executives and minimize opportunities for bias.
As human beings, we are inclined to think in terms of similarities in backgrounds, networks or interests as a way to get a feel for how individuals will fit in with the group. But “sameness” is not the same as culture fit and using it as a proxy for culture fit can put women at a disadvantage over time. A thoughtful and data-driven understanding of the current or desired corporate culture aligned to the strategic direction and the use of robust tools and methodologies to evaluate how candidates are likely to fit with the culture the company has or is building thus become critical. In fact, such insights could also enable organizations to be deliberate about bringing together a diversity of styles and thinking into leadership teams — supporting enhanced decision making.
This article was originally published in the Economic Times.