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India Inc takes baby steps to bridge gender gap at workplace

Source : BUSINESS_STANDARD
Last Updated: Sun, Jan 20, 2013 00:30 hrs
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Archana Dassani, a 34-year-old mid-level executive with a financial services company in Mumbai, was annoyed with a senior executive who would often use indecent language and make explicit remarks about her body. She decided to report this to the human resource personnel in-charge of the harassment cell. But when she was informed that she needed to make a formal complaint, she refused, arguing she did not want to spoil the career of her senior colleague. Today, after a year, both of them still work in the same organisation.

Dassani is not alone. Scores of women in corporate offices in India either decide not to complain about harassment and gender discrimination in workplace or prefer to quit to get out of the situation.

Sexual harassment is not the only issue that women face in a corporate environment. Gender discrimination, lack of equal opportunities and inferior treatment by colleagues are some of the others. Though companies have started the process to hire more women, human resource professionals opine it is still a long way to go before the gender gap is bridged.

Aditya Narayan Mishra, president, staffing, Randstad India, said, "We see an increase in companies looking at implementing diversity, including gender diversity at the workplace. However, it is a fact that opportunities tend to be more tilted towards males."

Maternity is a major issue that affects employers, say experts. While corporates have introduced initiatives for women to re-join after their maternity leave is over, these have not been very effective, said the experts. "Companies, including ours, have put in place systems wherein woman employees have been given an opportunity to come back and work at a same level than their peers, post maternity leave. They are assessed based on the performance before they go on leave. However, the woman executives themselves choose to stay back at home," said the chief human resource officer of a FMCG firm.

NOT A FAIR AFFAIR
  • Sexual harassment is not the only issue that women face in a corporate environment. Gender discrimination, lack of equal opportunities and inferior treatment by colleagues are some of the others
  • Maternity is a major issue that affects employers, say experts
  • While there is a proposal to compulsorily have woman on company boards, HR officials believe this would only lead to further discrimination against woman employees
  • A human resource consultant said women would be discriminated against in terms of projects and promotions if they joined a company based on a quota and not on experience
  • Pre-conceived notions about assigning women different posts is also a constraint, say recruiters

The official added there was also a lack of respect for such employees who came back, since other colleagues felt that they were out of touch with office work' post their break. "We can only implement policies. Mindset of employees cannot be changed," the official added.

While there is a proposal to compulsorily have women on company boards, HR officials of companies believe this would only lead to further discrimination against women employees. A human resource consultant, on condition of anonymity, said women would be discriminated against in terms of projects and promotions if they come to a company purely based on a quota and not on experience.

Pre-conceived notions about assigning women different posts is also a constraint, say recruiters. Explaining this, a consultant, specialising in manufacturing and engineering sector recruitment, said some companies openly told them to find male candidates. "It is not just positions that are physically challenging, but others as well, since some companies believe men might be more suited for these roles," he said.

This is, however, not the general trend. Yamaha, for example, has recently hired 200 woman for its plant in Uttar Pradesh for the assembly line of its new scooter Ray'. The women would also undergo an apprenticeship programme, which has been approved by the state government.

To deal with sexual harassment cases, companies have set up cells to address such issues. Though all such cases do not get reported to these cells, companies have attempted to provide for the safety of woman employees. Overall, while women and woman-related issues have been on the forefront of the corporate focus this year, recruiters believe much more remains to be done.

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