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India Inc scrambles to weed out biases at workplace

Organisations are increasingly investing time and effort in sensitising their leaders on the various unconscious biases.

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Updated: Oct 05, 2019, 01.00 PM IST
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(This story originally appeared in on Oct 05, 2019)
MUMBAI: When an IT professional confronted her manager as to why she was not put up for promotion, she was shocked to learn that it was due to a maternity leave she took seven years ago. It was a ‘motherhood penalty’ bias that her manager held against her even after she was back from maternity leave, thus impacting her career growth in the organisation.

Elaborating on the example, diversity and inclusion consulting firm Interweave Consulting’s chief consulting partner Shachi Irde told TOI, “On understanding that she continued to be penalised for something that happened seven years ago, she took charge and moved out of the company ASAP (as soon as possible).”

There are several such biased perceptions — women with children lack ambition, don’t want to advance to leadership positions, or have leadership capabilities inferior to men.

Dwelling on the various biases, KPMG in India partner and head of people performance & culture Unmesh Pawar said, “Colleagues often look at women going the family way as unambitious. One hears of sniggers to the tune of: ‘She will be happy to not have a promotion this year, childcare is her priority’. It is super important to drill the message into our larger workforce that ‘Maternity is not the opposite of Ambition’.”

Organisations are increasingly investing time and effort in sensitising their leaders on the various unconscious biases. At KPMG, around 3,000 partners, including the entire India leadership, attended a two-hour session that detailed nine different kinds of biases that exist in society, gender being just one of them.

Indian Hotels Company (IHCL), on the other hand, holds meetings — an off-site of top 40-50 leaders within the organisation — to generate dialogue on establishing a culture that promotes inclusiveness, diversity and performance while being people-centric. Four meetings have already been held and the insights are interesting.

For instance, why teams should avoid discussion on topics like soccer or matters that may not be of general interest to women participants. Or why teams should not have formal business discussions when they go out for dinners which women colleagues may not be able to attend due to family responsibilities.

IHCL executive VP & global head (HR), P V Ramana Murthy, said, “There is unconscious bias culturally in the society because we operate on a system that is male-dominated. As an organisation, we have put in place initiatives to weed out unconscious bias, especially in leaders. The last thing one would expect a leader to be is gender-insensitive. These cultural meetings serve as a good platform to make leaders understand what needs to be changed, what needs to be strengthened, and what needs to be modified or dropped.”

Hiring bias, said Irde, is a very tricky one as managers find a hundred different ways to reject a woman candidate when processes are not objective. But Murthy believes there is a shift in conversation and the way we generally talk about gender. “During recruitments, a lady candidate would now never be asked whether she is married,” said Murthy.

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