Gender Diversity – How to include Men in the conversation?


Image courtesy – Pixabay.

Article by: Karthik Ekambaram, Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion Consulting, AVTAR Group.

“Increasing women’s participation in workplace is not a gender issue. But it’s a human issue. Or, rather it’s a business case.” 

That Gender Diversity is a business issue and that companies today strive for a balanced and inclusive workplace are well established facts in corporate. So why is that mounting evidences pointing towards economic advantages with gender equity still not making the requisite mark in the industry leaving the gender balance issue still sparse and scattered?

One reason could be that we (you, me and the industry on the whole) have been single-sided in our focus emphasizing on “women” and what more can be done to see more of them in boardrooms. Today, majority of the top positions in large organizations across sectors are held by men. Being in formal and informal positions of power automatically makes them more influential in processes and systems than women. So this makes it imperative for organizations to ignite change in attitudes and actions on the part of men to achieve gender balance at the workplace.

Therefore, the phrase “Male as Ally” is becoming a focal point in gender diversity initiatives forming and gaining ground in society making its place in corporate lexicons.

So what does it mean to be a Male Ally? Going by the metaphorical meaning, an ally is someone supporting another individual taking an active role and not just merely lounging on the chair. Male allies are men who associate, cooperate and support women in their career endeavors. Men who actively contribute to build an equitable workplace that promotes inclusion and advancement of women.

Being a male ally is all about bringing a systemic change in the prevailing mindsets and attitudes. Despite the enormous challenges involved in ushering in subtle changes in organizational policies and frameworks that were designed keeping in mind only a select sect of the society (read: men), many successful male allies now spearhead the change and work towards gender balanced workplace.

In fact, 88 per cent of the 2017 Working Mother and AVTAR Best Companies for Women in India (BCWI) created a male ally culture in their organizations. The ripple effects being that of more women raising to leadership, moving us closer to our vision of the gender balanced talent pipeline! Furthermore, retention of women also has proven to get better when the male ally culture is the norm – for the record, BCWI Companies that invested in consciously creating a male ally culture recorded 7% less of women’s attrition than others that didn’t.

Recognizing the unparalleled commitment of such male allies, AVTAR Group partnered with US-based Working Mother to bring India’s first Male Ally Legacy Award last year.

Companies across industries and sectors such as Accenture, ADP, Deloitte in India, MasterCard, Sodexo, PepsiCo, Pega India, Johnson & Johnson, Schneider Electric have been running initiatives that have brought about significant change in the Inclusion culture of these organizations.

We received as many as 100 nominations for the award and it was heartening to see the kind of work that these male allies were pursuing to remove the subtle biases and bring forth a constructive and practical change in the corporate landscape.

Presented here are some examples that are noteworthy and for many other male corporate managers to take cues from to initiate similar movements in their respective organizations.

Accenture: Men here play an active role as gender diversity leaders to consistently engage in fostering a culture of inclusion in their businesses by sponsoring and advocating for diversity – this is further driven by extensive training for male managers to become allies.

Deloitte India: The consultancy firm has a “Men as Champions” program under which men play an active role at every stage of the organizational process to ensure that practices are aligned with the organizations gender diversity policies. It is also working on an Inclusion framework that will promote male champions/allies in each function and service lines, who would support the overall development of women, which would result in an increased number of women professionals in project management, client facing, and senior leadership roles.

ADP: Top leaders at ADP are constantly involved with a single focus to equip, engage and empower women associates in their holistic career progression that include management development, succession planning, mentoring and career counselling to name just a few.

Mastercard: The company launched an exclusive leadership program for women to mentor them on building confidence, challenges over leadership, provided guidance on how to overcome those. Most of the mentors were our male colleagues who were trained about mentor-ship and what it entails. Out of the 133 women professionals who participated, 14% of them got promoted to leadership roles.

Sodexo India: The company’s country president as a male ally is part of a global network for growth and development of women employees in Sodexo. This membership has enabled a huge number of Indian women professionals get nominated to participate in Sodexo’s global leadership program for women.

Above are a few examples where companies are looking beyond just initiatives but designing an Inclusion framework with measurable outcomes to spur their gender diversity journeys. It is noteworthy to see that companies, most important male managers are looking at gender diversity as a business case and willing to lead by example and truly adopt an inclusive approach towards real and measurable results. For Diversity helps a company to reach out to newer customer base, improves and deepens talent pool, and foster innovation in workplaces.

This article was initially published in BW on 8th August 2018.