Women at Work
A project in India is helping to educate companies about the importance of a gender-diverse workforce and improving the prospects for women working in the country.
Called everywoman, the organization provides learning and development for both men and women to help create a more diverse global workforce.
Research has shown that companies with a more diverse workforce have a better understanding of their market and customers. And specific to projects, diverse teams have been found to be more innovative, creative and profitable.
The aim of everywoman’s program is for the participants to develop a great network where they can get support and advice at any stage in their careers.
“We're actually about unlocking the ambitions of women at whatever level they are working at, wherever they want to go,” said Karen Gill, MBE, cofounder of everywoman. “Our motto is every woman, everywhere, at every level. We're not just focusing on the board. We're not just focusing on leadership.”
The everywoman project came about after two clients—Barclays and RBS—had their Indian employees complete personal development and leadership courses on their digital platform.
A face-to-face forum was created to teach both female and male talent how gender diversity can improve the performance of companies. Due to COVID-19, the event was held digitally last year.
The impact of COVID-19 on working women
Women account for only about 20% of the total labor force in India, according to Catalyst, a diversity inclusion specialist. But COVID-19 has exacerbated this problem and further kept women out of the workforce.
“Out here, people live more in joint families,” said Shaista Khan, sales director of everywoman in Mumbai. “After the pandemic hit this year, there was a lot of apprehension because people lost their jobs and the attrition rate everywhere in India was really high. Salaries in India were cut down by almost up to 70%.”
Normally, women who work have domestic help, but because of lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions this was not allowed. A lot of the domestic responsibilities were shouldered entirely by women.
“That kind of brought about an internal frustration, and there was no way to vent,” Khan said. “Work was an outlet for them, where they could get away from the house and the responsibilities for eight to 10 hours.”
The training everywoman gave in India focused on these issues.
“It is about being able to think about yourself and understand what your ambition is,” Gill said. “How do I make sure that I can do all this, while at the same time my family comes with me? They are supportive of what I'm trying to achieve.”
Finding the right person to talk to
The course also centered on overcoming challenges that held them back in their careers and being able to have difficult conversations with people in the workforce.
“It gave them the confidence to have the right conversations with the right people to get the right help,” Gill said. “That they put their hands up and say, ‘I want to get involved in more projects. These are the things that I'm interested in.'"
Another important part of the project was about finding role models and mentors that women can look up to.
“The whole thing about role models is you can't be what you can't see,” Gill said. “It's when you see somebody and you see the challenges that they have overcome, actually, then they start to not look so different from you. That can be inspiring for you to do more with your own life and your own ambitions.”
Khan explained that the clients she is in conversation with would like to develop their own diversity projects within their companies to find role models and mentors for their fellow employees.
“They want a community where they find women mentors for their workforce, especially the people who are now entering the workforce,” Khan said.
Gill believes more and more companies around the world are realizing the importance of diversity and having different opinions on project teams. She thinks the tipping point was the 2008 financial crisis, where the companies that stuck to the same way of thinking and failed to adapt struggled to stay afloat.
“That's when the world woke up to groupthink,” Gill said. “There actually wasn't anybody around the table thinking differently and asking challenging questions of the decisions that were being made.”
“The world today is a global marketplace that's made up of lots of different cultures. If you're a global organization and you don't reflect that or understand that, then you're not going to survive. It’s critical for any project.”
Digital Exclusive article developed for Project Management Institute, Inc. by Joanne Frearson. Frearson is a U.K.-based business reporter.