Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Diversity at work

Diversity spans across gender.  Being a career woman and a working mom, I would however like to share my observation on this topic close to my heart.  In Asia, many industries are relatively dominated by men and hence drive a macho culture within the organization.  Senior management networked over drinks and golfs where women are inclined not to join.  Women in senior management position struggle to be part of the pact.  

The absence of back-slapping camaraderie may result in women being side-lined in important decisions and promotion.  Most women I speak to feel they have to work harder to be where they are.  And there are enough studies to show women make less than their peer holding the same positions.    The challenge for women is whether to conform to the macho culture and start acting tough; playing by the boy's rules or risk letting our femininity discount our capability?  

With half of the world's population women and with more women graduating college, we cannot afford to ignore this talent pool.  As we try to build a sustainable business, we need to tap and retain the women in the work force.  Women tend to bring in a different approach to management.  It will benefit organizations to embrace the difference.   

I am an ardent believer that everyone should be credited for their merits. Women want to be promoted because we deserve it and not because of diversity.  And I've seen enough examples of women compensate for the lack of social networking within their organizations by working harder. 

How can an organization attract and retain female employees?  For a start, senior management of the organization has to walk the walk.  Diversity cannot simply be a marketing gimmick we flaunt.  It takes a cultural change to learn to accept and respect the female counter-parts at work.  It means sexiest jokes are no longer acceptable, networking has to be more inclusive and more conscious decisions on changes to be made.  It means supporting our female employees through their different stages in life.  Many women leave the work force because they are frowned upon for ensuring their family especially young kids are adequately taken care for without compromising on their work.

Organizations with the the right frame-work to support women through their different stages in life help attract and retain female employees.  A nursing room, flexible working hour (this may not be suitable for all jobs), and work from home (which can be most helpful in most traffic congested cities in Asia) are examples of some initiatives already implemented by several organizations.  

Some skeptics question whether all these are good for business.  I've seen lower turn-over at organization that makes serious effort on diversity.  I rest my case and long hail to some of the organizations in Indonesia I personally know which are advocates of diversity; Unilever and Standard Chartered Bank.  May the others learn form the best in class.

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