Gender parity is the order of the day

Srimathi Shivashankar, Vice President, HCL Technologies, has always been a strong advocate of gender parity and equal opportunity. While she is presently involved in setting up new operations in India, her previous avatar found her at the helm of diversity and inclusion practice, employee engagement and partner programmes in the software major.
Gender parity is the order of the day
Srimathi Shivashankar, Vice President, HCL Technologies

Chennai

As a former working committee member of the Global Gender Parity Group of the World Economic Forum, she has a special interest in this subject that has become the talk of boardrooms the world over. In an interview with us, she talks about the Indian scenario and the way forward. 
Breaking the waves
The gender issues in each country are very different and so are the ecosystems for supporting gender parity. In many countries, today, gender parity is being regarded a matter of human rights. It’s an area that is yet to find clarity among several companies and policy makers – whether we should enable women or create all policies around compliance. 
Talking local
In India, the main concern comes when women hit the first milestone of getting married. Today, there are many metrosexual men who don’t mind moving to the cities where their spouses are based out of, work-wise.  It’s changing in this generation as opposed to the previous generation where women had to quit their jobs to be with their spouses.
Previously, few women could continue with their jobs in a new location as well because of the nature of the job. If you consider the IT industry in Chennai, a woman working here gets married to someone in Salem, she quits her job as there are no such opportunities there. But if it’s a healthcare worker or paediatrician, she can work from anywhere. So, the nature of the industry had also compelled many women to discontinue as they couldn’t find suitable jobs after marriage.
Motherhood blues
The second most important concern is maternity. A pertinent issue here is the absence of quality day care centres. When I created day care centres within our HCL offices, many people said, oh now, women will have all the benefits. The first person to apply to the day care was a male employee who wanted to enrol his daughter. We found there was an equal percentage of women and men enrolling their children in day care. Basically, to make your gender programmes work, you must stay gender neutral. For instance, a maternity leave should be equal to a short-term disability leave.
A level-playing field
Today, we also need inclusive HR policies concerning fertility. Many men, along with women go for such treatments. However, men hesitate to ask for leave regarding the same. Men should also have that leave, which is as of now available only for women.
On glass ceilings
What women face is basically what any minority faces when they encounter the majority. Everybody looks forward to listen to what the minority says first. And if they make a mistake, then the majority gangs up to laugh at the minority. At the same time, many companies are now looking at mentorship options. 
Twice as hard
Women are great at multi-tasking, which is not so the case with men, in my opinion. If I excuse myself in a Board meeting to attend to a call from my daughter, it might be frowned upon. This is because men have run Boards the way they want. So many of these exclusions for women have happened because they are considered a soft power, as they handle other things in life as well. This is a wrong assumption. The whole orientation towards inclusion is changing in this country as women are openly stating what they want. Companies fail where women do not state what they want.
In my view, women who fail at leadership, tend to do so as they do not proactively express what they want and don’t want. As a woman, I have the right to say, please do not call me between 8 and 9 pm. 
The middle path
I have only three mantras. If you get punched in the face, do not expect someone to help you up. You need to help yourself get on your feet and get back into action. I have never quit any jobs. I have lots of extended family. I attend to my social engagements with the same vigour that I attend to work. At home, I never crib about work and vice versa. More than anything, you must understand and be at peace with why you do what you do.

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