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Segmentation is key to successfully creating a workplace that is gender inclusive

Workplaces still struggle to attract and retain women staff. They battle the dreaded double dip

To attract and retain female talent, refine your programmes.
To attract and retain female talent, refine your programmes.

As March reminds us every year, gender is invariably the main focus for corporate diversity programmes and rightfully so. The business benefits of gender diversity are many. While winning the war for talent is the most obvious, many practitioners and researchers vouch for the complementary skills and perspectives that women bring, enhancing organizational productivity. Even customers demand organizational gender diversity before signing key partnerships.

Yet, organizations still struggle to attract and retain women. They battle the dreaded double dip—from junior to middle management and again from middle to senior management. Those who have succeeded in retaining high-quality female talent, have refined their women-oriented programmes by segmenting the workforce and addressing aspirations of each segment, much as in the case of customer segmentation of millennial-friendly programmes. Here’s my take on the different demographics.

The young aspirant: Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, she’s raring to go, eager to learn. Brimming with ideas and ambition, she is unfettered by the 3Ms—marriage, maternity and mobility. Don’t patronize her with “softer" assignments, and support her strongly if she faces organizational misogyny. Corporate tie-ups for suitable accommodation and secure work-home transport options are critical. Health food, peloton bikes in gyms and company-sponsored Zumba classes will get a strong thumbs up from her.

The tentative just-married: Marriage is a game changer, particularly when combined with a job and location change. Balancing two roles and trying to get them absolutely right (remember, women are born perfectionists) is challenging, especially as she takes cautious steps to mastering the dynamics in the “home ministry". Organizations must invest in sensitization training for her managers to appreciate her challenges and be patient as she regains her moorings.

The elated expectant: She knows that her life is about to change. The first trimester is usually tumultuous. So, bear with her if she cuts short an important meeting and rushes for privacy into the washroom, or unwittingly plays the gender card by bursting into tears for a well-merited reprimand. While the maternity benefits policy is a staple, crèches, nursing rooms and “work-from-home" options can certainly sweeten the deal and anchor her to the workplace. Again, reporting managers need sensitization. Last-minute, late-night deadlines will not work for her—instead, give her assignments with longer lead times and let her set her own pace. Finally, review her work fairly and don’t let the stork get in the way of that well-deserved promotion.

The many faces of moms : The working mother is a whole universe in itself. There are the first-time moms returning after maternity, the more experienced “older moms", the nervous “board exams time" moms, and of course the brave single moms. While each of them has her own trepidations and needs, there are some common ones. Day-care centres, with extended hours and flexibility in their “pick up rules" are a bonanza. Work-from-home options are a godsend, but do guide them remotely. Time-offs for the inevitable paediatrician visit or the mandatory PTA meeting will be necessary, though be sure she will catch up on her deliverables. All these will go a long way in getting these “survivors" to rate you as a top-notch gender-friendly great place to work for women, and more importantly, stay in the workforce.

The low-in-confidence returnees: These are women who have taken a break from work for a variety of reasons and are back in the field for a second innings. To up their competence, they will need refresher programmes and time management skills. They will grapple with a sense of inadequacy when they find a male classmate is now way senior to them in the corporate hierarchy. Mentorship programmes and cohorts who have been there before offer great support. Give them time to settle in. And once you feel they are ready, don’t hesitate to give them stretch goals along with the confidence that they can quite literally hit the ball out of the park.

The first steps to silverhood: Menopause is a natural part of aging in women, but unlike maternity it’s seldom discussed. This segment needs its own curated programmes—wellness clinics, counselling advice and even special leave provisions to address health related issues, including surgical procedures. Be gentle with them and make sure the organizational culture doesn’t make them pariahs when they end up with very normal mood swings. Leverage their wisdom as sounding boards and mentors for the other segments but more importantly make them feel included in senior management circles.

The empty nesters: Age-agnostic, their jobs give them purpose. Either single or without family encumbrances, this segment is extremely ambitious and will not hesitate to quit if they feel they are not getting enough responsibility or due recognition, or are not making an impact at the workplace. Be sure to include them in cross-functional initiatives and organizational circles of influence, and watch them thrive.

It’s time we stopped thinking of working women as a homogenous entity. Segment, customize and succeed in creating a truly gender inclusive organization.

Hema Ravichandar is a strategic human resources consultant. She serves as an independent director and an advisory board member for several organizations.

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