The evidence is compelling: Diverse and inclusive workplaces lead to higher profitability and performance. Yet many companies do not appear to be making diversity and inclusion a priority in the workplace.
Instead, women are significantly absent from leadership positions within organizations, despite making up half of the workforce.
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But building a gender-balanced workplace isn’t just about hiring more women or even promising equal pay, although that’s important.
Gender inequality is a deep-seated systemic problem that requires fundamental changes in workplace policies and legislation.
Organizations must implement policies that mandate fair practices and create an inclusive culture where all employees, regardless of gender or identity, feel supported. Among other things, employers must ensure equal pay, prevent and eliminate violence and harassment in the workplace, promote work-life balance for women and men workers, promote equal representation of women in leadership positions and invest in what works for women.
While social equity is the primary driver of diversity and inclusion (D&I), some companies have begun to recognize that inclusion gives them a competitive advantage and is a key driver of growth, according to a 2018 McKinsey report titled Delivering Through Diversity .
The report “reaffirms the global importance of the link between diversity – defined as a greater proportion of women and a more diverse ethnic and cultural mix in the leadership of large companies – and the financial superiority of companies”.
However, despite the evidence on the benefits of such practices, there is still resistance among employers. In Malaysia, for example, the recent amendment to the Employment Act, allowing fathers seven days of paternity leave in all sectors, has not been well received by all employers. A group of small and medium-sized businesses in Penang has even urged the government to reconsider increasing paternity leave because it would impact their business.
However, companies that already have D&I policies in place report that investing in policies and practices that support all of their employees, regardless of gender or ethnicity, produces positive outcomes not only in terms of employee morale and loyalty, but also in terms of employee morale and loyalty company performance had.
Shazmi Ali, Vice President of Human Resources at Shell Malaysia, says the company’s emphasis on D&I has resulted in a low turnover rate among female employees.
Data from the Malaysian Ministry of Statistics shows that many women retire in their 30s, around the time they start families. Most (more than 60%, according to a 2018 World Bank study) leave because of the “double burden” of household and childcare.
At Shell, says Shazmi, the women don’t go.
“We have very low turnover among our female talent. This family-friendly policy has helped the company retain its female employees. Very often the young women who come through our graduate education program stay on for 20 or 30 years,” he says.
In addition, approximately 40% of the company’s executives are women.
“We are an engineering organization that is traditionally very male-dominated. But in the last 10 to 15 years we’ve made significant changes and we now have women in leadership roles in all functions from legal to engineering. We’ve been fortunate to get good female talent, but our policies also support and encourage our female employees,” he adds.
Among other things, all employees are allowed to work remotely and also enjoy flexibility in working hours. For example, if they need to take a few hours off to run at school or take care of family matters, they can do that.
“These types of arrangements have become more common since the pandemic, but we have been practicing this for years.
“Obviously, working remotely doesn’t apply to those working on offshore platforms as it’s just not possible,” says Shazmi.
In addition, the company offers childcare support not only to its female employees, but also to men.
“We are aware that we cannot only support women. That’s why we have five days of paid paternity leave for fathers, but take-up is low because of the flexibility that’s already in place,” he says, adding that mothers are entitled to 120 days of paid maternity leave.
The company also has mentoring circles for its female employees because “unlike men, who network easily, women often don’t have the time or opportunity,” he says.
“We’ve also worked with other energy companies to create the Women in Energy group so that women can network among their peers in the industry, not just within the company,” he says.
Senior management also attends online D&I training annually to “check ourselves and make sure there is a balance, not only in terms of internal jobs, but also in terms of the graduates we hire or even the scholarships we offer consists”.
“For such a culture to exist, we know that not only can we encourage good behavior (inclusion), but we must also correct bad behavior. So we have to call out those who misbehave. I’ve seen politics fail because companies look out for bad practices like sexist jokes, harassment, misogynistic comments about how female employees are more family focused and so on.
“We also have a global hotline for employees to report – anonymously – any complaints that are being investigated,” he shares.
During the lockdown, Shazmi said the company has been holding online webinars to help employees deal with the challenges of working from home, such as: B. caring for their children while at work.
“We are pragmatic. We recognize that women play a bigger role than men in the home and we want to help them, and that includes helping them manage their mental well-being.
“We allowed our male employees to attend these sessions, which are also all voluntary. Up to 1,000 or more employees attended these meetings,” he reveals.