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Catalyst India WRC conducted the third session of its three-part series of virtual discussion forums, on Addressing Biases That Hold Women Back at Work on the 26h of June 2014. The panellists who participated in the webinar were: Shachi Kaul, Head, Talent, Development & Diversity, Deutsche Bank India; Rajita Singh, Head, HR, Broadridge Financial Solutions (India) Pvt. Ltd. and Priyanka Sudarshan, General Manager, Human Resources, Wipro.

The basis of this event was Catalyst's new tool Making Change in India Inc.: —Addressing Workplace Biases That Hold Women Back. This tool addresses how companies can assess themselves on the prevalence of biases that hold women back, and identify opportunities for the organization to tackle bias.

The webinar was moderated by Aarti Shyamsunder, PhD, Director, Research, Catalyst India WRC. The session commenced with the  acknowledgment that while there are several terms related to bias (such as stereotypes, discrimination, prejudice), there has been a lot of recent interest in ‘unconscious’ or ‘implicit’ bias, which refers to the automatic or unconscious judgement made by people based on memberships to particular groups (such as gender, religion, disability status). Most people are unaware that they are even making these biases, as they are hidden and unconsciously affect behaviour, preferences and interactions.

These biases then cascade throughout organizational systems to produce what appear to us as the symptoms – gender gaps in representation and pay for instance

What underlies these symptoms are often biases and stereotypes about men and women in society, such as “Think Manager, Think Male” and “Women are the caregivers, Men are the breadwinners”. Women also tend to suffer from doublebinds based on stereotypes and biases such as women being seen as competent but unliked, too tough or too soft. Women are also more likely to be promoted on performance, where as men are more likely to be promoted on potential. Research shows that becoming more aware of one’s own implicit biases against certain groups may backfire, leading some people to become anxious when dealing with those of the other group, or even refusing to take action, blaming their discriminatory behaviors on their ‘unconscious’! Instead of solely focusing on awareness, therefore, organizations must focus on building more inclusive behaviors and dispelling systemic biases.

In their presentations, each panellist elucidated upon what their respective companies were doing to create an inclusive workplace and positive work culture.

They expressed that some of the key factors to addressing gender bias in the workplace:

  • Eliminate systemic biases in processes such as hiring, performance management etc.
  • Put into place policies (such as flex work time and crèches) which are gender neutral and will benefit both genders
  • Create mentoring and sponsorship programmes
  • Identify individual champions especially those in leadership roles, who would act as role models and change agents
  • Increased corporate governance by setting up a sustainability council with direction and progress reviews of inclusivity initiatives
  • Measurement of inclusive initiatives with benchmarking and metrics
  • Defining roles for both men and women, with career conversations with managers
  • Focus on aspirational roles, opportunities, domains and locations

The discussion concluded with the fact that it is possible to address gender bias in the workplace with the coupling of both awareness that it exists and with companies putting into place policies and programs to eliminate systemic biases and encourage inclusive leadership behaviors.  

For further details about this event, contact [email protected].

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