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Women do not need special favours to progress: AVP, HCL Technologies

Mar 20, 2013

Srimathi Shivashankar, Associate Vice President, Diversity & Sustainability, HCL Technologies, urged the corporate world to have zero tolerance for violence against women at the workplace and beyond. Excerpts from Srimathi Shivashankar’s interview with OneWorld South Asia.

Srimathi Shivashankar

OneWorld South Asia: How does a fair gender balance make business sense for corporates?

Srimathi Shivashankar: The gender balance is important because if you look at the market place we hire from, there are a fair number of women along with men.

So, in many ways companies lose out on recruiting women through such a talent pool, and in many ways it is a loss for them in terms of building up the bottom of the pyramid.

Secondly, even companies including HCL have realised that the longevity of women is more than the longevity of men who have joined the company. According to one study done by Harvard, women-led teams are much more productive than the men-led teams.

Most importantly, if we don’t have a gender balance, we will not have conflict of ideas, which is crucial for innovation.

OWSA: In what way can boardrooms of a company initiate more empowerment for women at the  workplace?

Shivashankar: We at HCL run a separate programme other than the usual leadership development programmes to ensure that women are groomed for leadership roles.

If you look at the leadership of any company, it might not reflect a gender balance, but there is a large talent pool of women, who have the potential of moving up the ladder very fast. If we don’t consider this layer and start investing on them, they cannot move into the leadership sphere.

OWSA: How friendly to women are the Human Resource (HR) policies practiced by India Inc?

Shivashankar: Most of the policies of HR in any company are gender friendly. But, it is how they are communicated that makes all the difference.

If the policies are only oriented towards one gender, they cannot be called friendly policies.

OWSA: How important it is to sensitise men towards women at the work place?

Shivashankar: Within the company we have realised that more forums we create for men and women to talk about their issues, it helps to breaks the silence.

We run multiple programmes to bring both the genders together and create a balanced work place. We also run a programme called Break-the-silence, especially to tell children how to speak up when they are abused and harassed. We teach both the boys and the girls in the same room and tell boys how girls need to be treated.

We also ensure that the HR managers do not look at people as high risk resource.

OWSA: What are the immediate challenges for women joining the corporate sector?

Shivashankar: At the entry level most of the women do not face any challenge. The challenges are varied for women at different levels.

One of the most common challenges women face is the ability to speak up when they are a minority in the room full of men.

OWSA: Do you think women need special favours for their development?

Shivashankar: Women do not need special favours both in terms of policies as well as how you train them or pick them. Availability of equal opportunities consciously by the company is enough.

Companies can stretch that extra mile to create an inclusive environment.

OWSA: How can women make a difference by playing the role of a mentor or a coach?

Shivashankar: Women leaders should take a lot more time to coach younger women and also act as councilors if there is a need.

Most of the young women look forward to role models who are able to break the barriers. So, peer coaching by women is more important than mentoring. Mentoring of aspiring young women leaders by male leaders is also very crucial.

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