Talking gender equality in 2021: what has changed in the workplace?
This Women’s History Month, we bring you the latest conversations shaping gender equality and women empowerment through the lens of female thought leaders. We had a conversation with Devika Nair, Senior Manager, Diversity and Inclusion, CSR, Marketing, and Communications at Allegis Group India. In this interview, Devika shares her thoughts on what the fight for gender equality looks like in 2021, for the workplace.
Watch the interview
Read what we talked about:
What has changed in the workplace and society in general to support the inclusion of women? What more needs to be done?
A: The conversation around bringing women back to the workplace has been around for quite some time now. Today we see more women taking up jobs and growing up the career ladder than ever before. Overall, I would say that the progress has been steady, but slow.
There are multiple things that I have realized over the length of my career based on my interactions with the women leaders in my office and across the board. I’ve noticed that a lot of times when we speak to the women in our organization, especially when they’ve just started, aspiration is not something that is built very naturally into them.
Due to the cultural way we are set up, we are probably the first set of people who bring up these conversations with them. During these conversations, their reactions are always very heartening – most of them tell us that it’s the first time that they’ve had someone talk to them like that. The journey starts there.
Of course, companies must become more conducive and supportive to create an ecosystem where they encourage women to speak up more and take up responsibilities.
But somewhere I do feel that no matter what we do within our organization to make things more supportive for women, we get defeated a lot of times by the societal and cultural norms that pull women away from the workspace. Due to the persona of a woman being the primary caregiver in the family, there are a lot of things that women must battle at home, to be able to get to work.
Sometimes no matter how much we support the inclusion of women; many of the societal constructs are not things that we can fix overall. We do tell our organization on a broader scale that it is not just about the women in our organization, but also about the women back home. If we change at least one employee to go back home and empower another woman to work or build aspirations, that is a job well done. The only thing we could do at this point is to not feel defeated and to just keep working in the right direction.
What are the biggest challenges that you’ve seen women face in a corporate setting?? What are the things that organizations and women leaders can do to change this?
A: Like any other industry, when we move up the ladder, we have more women leaving the corporate setting. Why does that happen? Frankly, a lot of factors come into play here.
There is this common misconception that it is good for a woman to have a job but that it is not a necessity for her to have one. So, a woman is almost always asked to prioritize something else before her job. And going by the fact that many women do not have aspirations naturally built into them, they tend to sacrifice their independence and downshift their career growth to focus on family.
Women end up spending years, months, etc. away from work, focusing on their families. Interestingly, these breaks are not something men will generally witness in their careers. Due to this, we see men progress comparatively more quickly from one role to the other, as compared to women.
In this fast-moving corporate space, it’s important to know that business doesn’t ever stop. Even the shortest break could put you at a disadvantage. For women to come back, ramp up, and build from where they left – takes a lot of time. This setback plays a huge role in funneling women out of the corporate setting.
On the brighter side, within the corporate system, there are a lot of great things happening. More focused programs are actively being created to bring women back to work. There is more awareness, and hence more actions are being taken to ensure that we provide support through steps such as giving extra time off and helping women ramp up quickly when they come back.
For instance, in the last 5 years, we’ve run multiple leadership development programs for women at Allegis Group. From having women only in the mid-managerial positions to now seeing them move to senior leadership positions and head programs, the future looks bright. We are seeing the creation of a community wherein you uplift women, who go on to uplift more women.
Someone had an aspiration for me, that is why I am here today. I now have to build that aspiration within the women in my team and bring them up. And I am sure that they will continue to do that too.
As a CSR leader, you have led impactful projects to enable diversity and inclusion at Allegis Group. Considering that, can you tell us a little bit about a few projects that you’ve undertaken? What initiatives did Allegis Group plan for this women’s day?
A: At Allegis, women’s day is a year-long celebration for us. We are not into tokenism – we believe in creating a perennial program where we have interventions for our women throughout. Even last year during the lockdown, we ensured that we had monthly webinars with industry experts talking about things that we knew mattered to all women.
These conversations are almost always on general topics such as “How do you get out of your comfort zone?” or “How do you speak up during a meeting?” or “How do you negotiate better?” etc. Programs like these are something that happens around the year. At Allegis, we’re extremely passionate about ensuring that the women in our organization are getting the support they require .
From a volunteering perspective, I think working with our network of non-profits over the last few years has taught us many things. We’ve worked closely with a person from the disability community – which is one of the biggest causes we are associated with and something we feel very strongly about. We realize that women with disabilities face a higher degree of challenges within a community that already faces a lot of challenges. We work with our partners to prepare these women for interviews and ultimately help them secure a job.
Working in the talent space, we realize that it’s very difficult for people coming from underprivileged or disadvantaged backgrounds to walk into a shiny office, sit before the HR team, and give a successful interview. To address this, we run monthly campaigns to mentor youth from underprivileged backgrounds. We help them build great resumes, prepare for mock interviews, and help them present themselves better.
These activities have been a huge component of how we volunteer with our non-profits and through platforms like Goodera, to ensure that the bigger population can gain something meaningful out of it.
The battle towards gender equality feels more fruitful when we have both men and women support it. Do you want to give a quick shout-out to a man you know, who has done incredible work to support equality?
A: It’s a partnership indeed! Fighting for gender equality together is how we create a more holistic future. At Allegis, we run programs for our managers – both men and women – to help them understand how they can achieve gender diversity within their teams and bring out the best in everyone.
One thing I love about the opposite gender is that most of them are very vocal about their celebrations and they do not shy away from asking for what they deserve. On the other hand, I feel that we as women shy away and hold ourselves back while asking for what we truly deserve.
This might not be a popular opinion, but men are also affected by patriarchy to an extent. But they probably do not realize it. Challenging patriarchal notions also ensure that men do not have to fit into a certain bracket of being ‘what a man should be like’ and act as the sole breadwinners of the family – which is a very stereotypical view.
My father is a retired officer from paramilitary forces, and my mother is a retired government employee. Since my childhood, I’ve always witnessed the partnership between them. I always saw my father supporting my mother’s aspirations and being an equal contributor in the house. There were no gender roles, and I saw that translating into his workspace as well. As an army officer, he has always been able to support women, understand their challenges, and provide them with solutions. Similarly, with my husband, I have the same kind of partnership.
Coming to the workplace, I have again seen our male leaders being very supportive. What I like the most about them is that when they don’t understand something they always come back and ask more about it. Having these conversations with my senior leaders or directors on how certain things need to be done a certain way helps both parties understand different perspectives.
I’d like to specifically mention my managing director at Allegis Group India, Pravin Tatavarti. During meetings, he constantly encourages all of us, irrespective of gender, to come forward and actively drive programs. He also reminds us regularly that we are the future of the organization – giving us the confidence to dream big and work harder. These small actions amplify the message of gender equality.
Do we need more women in leadership roles? Why do you think so?
A: Here’s a quick experiment: Discuss with only men in the room. Now, have the same discussion with a more balanced representation. Compare the output coming out of the two – this alone will tell you why you need a more gender-diverse representation in the organization.
A homogeneous group will always behave in a set format and will be restricted when it comes to innovations. But if you bring diversity to homogeneous groups through women, through people with disabilities, etc., you naturally invite the perspectives and ideas of people who come from different walks of life. Diverse groups will also pave the way for more challenging conversations, which is great to have. Just think about it – If everyone is always saying “yes” in a room, then they are probably not being genuine about it.
Women are loyal, strong, steady partners, and can bring the same level of professionalism as men into any line of work. Also, I don’t like typecasting men and saying that male leaders are regressive because I see a breed of male leaders who cannot be associated with that word.
Characteristics are becoming more fluid and people from both genders can be anything they want to be. With a diverse set of people working together, the output will be far more impactful.
At Goodera, we’re trying to enable gender equality through a host of different virtual volunteering activities specially tailored for corporates. As a means to contribute to social causes, how effective is virtual volunteering in your opinion?
A: If you had asked me this question a year back, I wouldn’t have been very positive about it. We started seeing more virtual volunteering only last year. Before COVID19 hit, volunteering meant a lot of hands-on work for us.
But we do see that the impact of virtual volunteering is no lesser than that of physical volunteering. Virtual volunteering is the future of volunteering and it is here to stay. Thanks to it, we have been able to reach regions and bring in volunteers who otherwise might not have volunteered regularly as physical volunteers. Our access to the beneficiaries has increased drastically. Now, with a mobile or laptop, you can get connected and get the work done from anywhere.
For example, we recently began conducting mentoring activities with a non-profit that deals with youth who do not attend a school or have dropped out. Our access to them was made feasible thanks to virtual means.
Considering that we are from the talent space, being able to convince someone to go back to school and finish their education is a great feat. We love playing a part in enabling younger people to complete their education and showing them that there are companies out there for them to join.
Virtual volunteering has undoubtedly opened up our eyes and minds to possibilities that were more restricted to us before.
This International Women’s Day, what is the message that you would like to give out to young women who aspire to break the glass ceiling?
A: Believe in yourself.
If you believe in yourself, you can truly do anything. Everything else is just noise.
I have seen remarkable people, driven by belief, being able to reach high positions and make a difference for themselves and others. If you have a dream for yourself, that will take you a long distance. That’s what helped me as well.
We as women tend to listen to outside noise a lot (opinions and judgments from others), as opposed to our inner voice. If we start to believe in our capabilities, more of us will be able to break through the proverbial glass ceiling – no doubt about it.
What is that one skill that you would like to pass on to fellow women colleagues not as privileged as you?
A: The skill to talk about yourself.
I usually see women shying away from talking about their work or achievements. A lot of times we tend to say that, “if we do good work, we’ll get recognized automatically.” And that, “talking about ourselves sounds like boasting, so we do not want to do that.” I used to feel similarly until I was mentored enough to understand that it was not wrong to talk about your achievements, where it matters.
Sometimes, no matter how obvious we feel our contribution is, people might not necessarily see that. So, always reach out and let your managers know if you’ve done something remarkable. Be it at work or home, make sure your contribution is seen and acknowledged.
Tell us two stereotypes associated with women in leadership that you want to change.
A: The two biggest stereotypes that I feel strongly against are:
- That a woman’s priorities change after marriage and after we have children.
- That women are emotional. I think that being emotional is a good thing.
How can men play an active role in fighting for gender equality?
A: Destroy patriarchy! Stop listening to what these established systems tell you to do.
What is that one quality that you would like to pass on to fellow women colleagues not as privileged as you?
A: Confidence. Women are good at work, just like their male counterparts. When women start getting more confident, we will undoubtedly see more women taking lead and driving change.
In a nutshell, the fight for gender equality in the workplace is something that needs to be driven by both men and women. As women become more vocal and confident about their work and their freedom, men can support this change by being equal contributors and supporting women – both at home and work. As Devika said, this is a partnership that has positive implications for both genders.
Do you want to make a perennial commitment to driving gender equality and inclusion at your workplace? Goodera can help you. We have specially tailored a list of 15 interesting virtual volunteering opportunities for corporates, with the help of our strong non-profit network.
If you want to create virtual volunteering programs for your employees to contribute to gender equality impactfully, talk to us and get started with the opportunities of your choice. We’d love to have you onboard the goodness journey.
Accelerate your journey towards gender equality this Women’s History Month with Goodera!