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The debate over importance of workplace diversity is not new. It has been in discussion for last 6 decades. Many researchers, academicians, human resource professionals and entrepreneurs have debated about its benefits, negatives, challenges and way forward. The intensity of debate was also linked with various waves of feminisms. For example, the second wave of feminism in 1970s to a large extent drove huge amount of gender research. There was a lull in the research on gender diversity but that has gained steam after 2010 due to the fact that companies want to retain best skills, no matter what the gender is.
Over the years, the researchers have tried to focus on identification of psychological and structural barriers. Consistent with labour predictions, current workforces comprise employees with diverse abilities, cultural backgrounds, and work styles, with projections for even greater diversity. “Workforce diversity and organizational culture has been frequently said to be responsible for all manner of positive and negative ills” (Shani and Lau, 2005). A better understanding of the concept has a direct relationship with problem solving abilities and performance improvements of employees. Organizations can now dodge this bullet only at their own perils with world moving towards a knowledge economy with focus on intellectual property rights. In order to move ahead in this race, organizations and nations need to leverage all the skills of all available talent, no matter what the gender is. Due to this compulsion, various steps are now being taken to bridge the gap between male and female workforce. Organizations need to come out of the illusion that inclusion is just a social act and must understand its impact on bottom line of company. The focus on proper management of gender diversity is also critical because improper management can actually lead to negative results as will be seen in upcoming section. Female candidates have been put to disadvantage for many decades and thus this equal opportunity concept is aimed at ensuring that organizations realize that female candidates are equally worthy of the trust, responsibility and respect as male candidates. With advent of technology and various social movements emerging around the equal rights have also brought the focus on corporate culture of inclusivity. Thus it is imperative that corporates start thinking long term on making their place inclusive.
Gender diversity at workplace is considered to be a complex phenomenon (Janssens & Steyaert, 2003). For some time the topic of gender diversity has attracted the limelight of various information platforms. Among other considerations, recent studies have investigated the so-called ‘‘glass ceiling effect’’ (Farrell and Hersch, 2001), which refers to the “somewhat implicit barrier women face as they attempt to climb the corporate ladder” (Li and Wearing, 2004). “To increase board effectiveness it may not be enough to simply increase the number of female directors on the board; diverse boards may require additional mechanisms to ensure cooperation between directors”. Kanter (1977) was one of the first to put forth the idea that “changing the gender composition of top management teams may have implications for organizational design”. In chapter 3 of her book, “Men and Women of the Corporation”, she argues that “homogeneous top management teams cooperate more, because social similarity breeds trust”. It takes investment and efforts to bring in a sense of belongingness among diverse members of board. It is the faith among team members which help in better governance and outcomes. As a result, she argues that “when uncertainty is high, firms rely more on the homogeneity of the managerial team than on formal governance mechanisms as a means of providing incentives”. “The Tyson Report” (Tyson, 2003, p. 7) on the recruitment and development of non-executive directors, commissioned by the British Department of Trade and Industry, suggests that diversity initiatives cost money. Members who are used to homogeneity resist both financially and mentally and this makes training them difficult but critical. Another issue can be that turnaround time of decisions reduce because, as Blau (1977) argues, “heterogeneity in groups can increase conflict”.
According to Sherbin ( 2017), leaders have long recognized that having gender diversity at workplace helps in confering a better position to the organization as they know what different segment of market wants by gathering information from their own employees. According to Mkamwa, T. (2010), diversity has a solid business case. It helps organization in dealing with talent shortage by making full use of capabilities of all our employees. It also helps in better communication with the customer segment. Diversity within teams and workgroups has been shown to bring its own rewards, including a healthy return on investment from human capital. According to Information and decision making theory, diversity has positive effect on performance as different segments in your workforce bring in unique perspectives on a particular issue or product. Knouse and Dansby (1999) hypothesize that “organizations that engage in diversity will experience increase synergy amongst staff, varied network contacts, and staffs taking on varied roles and tasks”. Differences help the company to get more viewpoints, more inputs which help the organization better understand needs of consumer as well as find better solutions to each problem. Beneficial diversity policies help in reducing attrition but only when they are made part of habits of organization and are not just a investor attracting propaganda (Stranberg,2009).
According to Social identity theory and self categorization theory, “people who are different are less likely to collaborate with one another than people who are similar because they do not consider themselves to belong to the same social category and thus do not share the same identity”.In my opinion, due to widespread prevalence of patriarchy in Indian society, men with patriarchal background find it difficult to follow instructions from their female lead and at the same time are biased at the time of sponsoring a female talent. It is not just about workplace which is cause of poor gender diversity as many researches tend to showcase. External factors are equally responsible. With changing nature of work which includes late night working hours, work from home, on-site client meetings, women are challenged not just by work but also because of various attitudes, biases and artificial barriers by society. According to Mkamwa, T. (2010), gender diversity and performance always do not share beneficial relation. It can be negative too if it is not managed properly. It can lead to dysfunctional conflict and lack of consensus.
According to (Ibarra, 2013), “there is a subtle gender bias that persists in organizations and in society”. This gender bias leads to neglect of the efforts by the others in organizations. It often hampers the chances of a woman to become an acceptable leader. Another challenge that has been explained by (Ibarra, 2013) is that culture also plays an important role in establishing credibility of women at workplace. Many cultures impose a particular image on women that they can not exercise authority and those who try doing that are labeled as vicious or unfaithful. According to the author, psychology also plays an important role in viewing women as a credible employee. We have seen many cases where powerful men have supported other men for leadership roles even when female candidate was clearly the logical choice. This not only impacts the culture and business but also the morale of women working at lower levels. Ibarra (2013) also says that the biggest challenge in reducing workplace discrimination and subsequently increasing gender diversity at workplace is that most often women do not even know or recognize that there is gender discrimination. Author introduced a term called as “Second generation bias”.Milliken (1996) argued that “diversity appears to be a double edged sword”. It can help organizations in becoming innovative but may also increase number of people who do not have organizational commitment behavior. Also,Kanze (2017) have put forward the point that men are asked questions about potential benefits from a new project whereas women are asked questions regarding potential losses. This inherent bias leads to women being subject to neglect at workplace. Their skills are not used to full extent and they are always considered as secondary to men. In my view, the gender diversity will not improve just because there will be more women in higher positions after sometime. In order to enhance gender diversity at workplace, steps like automated screenings through artifical intelligence might help. Use of technology can, to some extent, reduce the gender bias at selection.
According to Sherbin (2017), the biggest challenge that women face in moving up the ladder is lack of sponsorship. As was stated by Ibarra (2013), “human tendency is to gravitate to people like oneself”. These two authors agree on this argument. Solutions to above challengesAccording to (Ibarra, 2013), conventional methods of sensitizing and educating are necessary but not complete. The author says that lack of knowledge and awareness about second generation bias is the root cause. According to Sherbin (2017), to enhance gender diversity, leaders must exhibit various inclusive traits like “making it safe to propose novel ideas, empowering team members to make decisions, taking advice and implementing feedback” etc. Diversity training can also be suggested as a useful tool for raising awareness about importance of gender diversity in the business. But before that, it is vital to know what context does the word “gender diversity” serves to the organization. Diversity training will vary according to the understanding of semantic (Wheeler, 1994). According to (Wheeler, 1994), from the broad corporate perspective, diversity training is defined as “raising personal awareness about individual differences in the workplace and how those differences inhibit or enhance the way people work together and get work done”.
Even after 5 decades about research on gender diversity, organization are confused and unclear about the term, meaning and importance of gender diversity. Due to this, organizations are left in a lurch and because of that they could not implement any robust management program to handle this issue. The impact of gender diversity can be both positive and negative for the organizations. Some negative effects include “dysfunctional conflicts, lost productivity, and difficulty to achieve harmony in group settings”. Positive effects include a “strong knowledge base created by a variety of cultural experiences, an in-house resource of cultural trainers and informers, and a greater tendency to expand the business in foreign cultures”. For most part, the effect of gender diversity depends on leadership and its commitment towards the topic. After analyzing many research works and business, I am of opinion that gender diversity needs to be at the centre of any strategy that organizations now make. It is high time that both the wheels of society are given equal oportunities. It is not a matter of benevolence and social service but rather a hardcore business need.
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