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Gender diversity: supporting India’s first generation women workforce: JLL

Gagan Singh

The following is the report by Gagan Singh, CEO – Business & Chairperson – Sri Lanka Operations, JLL India

One of the main challenges every CEO and HR manager in India faces is availability of ’employable resources’. While this is certainly ironical in a country of over 1.2 billion people, it becomes even more complicated when they seek to adapt their companies’ hiring programme towards the cause of gender diversity.

Women constitute almost 50% of the employable resource pool of the country. However, this is purely an academic observation – the worrying fact is that India has the second-lowest representation of women in the work force in the world, and that the percentage of women’s participation has in fact dropped from around 33.7% to 27% from 1991 to 2012.

Having women at all levels in the organisation is critical not only to increase the resource pool, but also as a business imperative – namely, to provide the enrichment that diversity brings to business and the workplace.

Corporate India has woken up to the need for an extra effort to increase the inflow of female employees at all levels. At several Corporates, including JLL India, which have a focus on gender diversity, for instance, recruiters and 3rd party support agencies are incentivized to get more female candidates for interviews.

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The whole issue of gender diversity in India needs to be approached with a great deal of understanding and sensitivity. It bears remembering that a large percentage of women employed in the junior levels are 1st generation working women. They are young women hailing from families that have no precedents of working women at all, leave alone women who have been exposed to the corporate world.

As a matter of fact, many of these women move out of their homes to live on their own in hostels or in paying guest facilities. These women need special support and nurturing in these initial stages. Especially when they are faced with a corporate environment, they require a great deal of hand-holding and guidance to decipher the dos, don’ts and protocols – not to mention their intrinsic rights.

If we take a hard look at Corporate India today, there is no dearth of cases where young women put up with protracted harassment by male bosses, assuming that it is normal and that such treatment must be endured in order to win acceptance in the workplace.

While the West seems to have evolved more rapidly in finding a wholesome equation on this front, there is still a very distinct need for proper induction and awareness of ethics at the corporate workplace in India. Young women must understand that while they must certainly work hard and deliver results, they can and must raise their voices against discrimination or harassment of any kind.

At JLL India, awareness creation and empowerment of women employees is assigned to specially-appointed ‘mavens’ – senior, experienced women who are well-versed with the work environment and the culture of the Company. They are the ‘go-to’ women for any concerns other women employees face but are hesitant to bring to the attention of their managers or even HR. Many other corporates use the ‘buddy system’ to see the young women through the settling-in/settling-down phase.

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Only when companies offer the right kind of support and nurturing to their young 1st generation women employees will they be able to boost their diversity programmes.

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