Dec 162012

The author has posted comments on this articleNamrata Singh, TNN | Dec 17, 2012, 06.28AM IST
MUMBAI: The phrase ‘old boys club’ is not uncommonly used in corporate parlance. While it smacks of the absence of women in senior leadership teams, organizations are now using men to champion the cause of gender diversity.

Men are being looked at as mentors to push talented women employees up the corporate ladder. Leena Nair, the HR director of Hindustan Unilever (HUL), who is slated to take on a new global role, cites mentoring by former chairman Keki Dadiseth among the reasons that helped shape her career graph. She is set to take over as global senior VP, leadership and organization development , at Unilever.

Dadiseth started mentoring Nair way back in the ’90s when the talk of gender diversity was new to corporate corridors . Today, HUL has a gender balance council which is led by a man, Hemant Bakshi, the head of the home and personal care business for the company.

The view is that gender diversity cannot happen if men, who occupy substantial layers of the top rung, are not involved in the process. In its latest global study, Catalyst brings to light how gender inclusion training can help contribute towards producing a measurable shift in workplace attitudes to create an environment where women can advance . It talks about how companies can engage more men to become part of the solution to create inclusive workplaces, where differences in career paths and life-career cycles, and differing needs are understood , valued and leveraged to impact the bottom line, and not form the basis of leadership stereotyping.

“I keep going back to stereotyping and gender role expectations for women in India – and related to that the male mindset regarding women’s roles and capabilities. Senior male leaders need to call it out, and drive that mindset shift – walk the talk – to create an inclusive culture. They must also be mindful of the ‘male leadership default’ – that is assuming that leadership is and will continue to be male and conform to that model. Catalyst research shows that this model is embedded, often unintentionally , in the most sophisticated talent management systems. Until these stereotypes and expectations can be rooted out, companies in India will not benefit from an important pool of talent – educated women,” said Deepali Bagati, senior director , Catalyst India.

To break the monotony of the male leadership default, companies are changing the way they conduct recruitments. Accor, a leading hotel operator in Asia-Pacific , has started a unique practice of including a woman judge on recruitment panels. “Usually, since senior levels are dominated by men, panels that conduct interviews tend to become an all-male affair . We have started the practice of ensuring that the panel also has a woman to judge candidates . We also make sure that the final list of candidates has at least one woman candidate having all the required qualifications for the job,” said Ashwin Shirali, regional director, HR, Accor India.

Accor, which wants to increase its gender ratio from 15 to 25% in a couple of years, is launching a special initiative for its women employees at the global level – titled, ‘women at Accor generation’ . The forum would enable women employees to exchange and share their ideas, in addition to providing mentoring and a grievance redressal system. At Accenture India, on the other hand, champions are created with an approach that it is both bottom-up as well as topdown . Many men have actually come forward to champion the cause of diversity. “Besides, when a woman candidate does not make it to a potential leadership role, we do internal assessment with questions such as why she was overlooked and what were the circumstances,” said Manoj Biswas, human resources lead, Accenture India.

Considering that the subject is relatively new, companies are sensitizing employees on such matters. “There are instances where we may knowingly and unknowingly act in a manner which may appear normal but may not always be correct. We try to sensitize employees – both men and women – on matters related to gender sensitivity,” said Biswas. Attempts are also being made to improve the workplace decorum. “At Accor, we abstain from asking classic questions which are typically asked of women candidates during the process of an interview : such as regarding her marital status or whether she has a support system for her children,” said Shirali.

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