Monday, September 28, 2015

A broader perspective

Sweta Mohapatra
Sweta Mohapatra, the founder of DiversityVision, is all about looking at the world through an Equality Lens. Talking about her aspirations for a world built on the fount of equality, Sweta explains her vision and mission behind her initiative, and examines how gender equality can culminate in a world of peace.  

Let's start with you telling us a little about yourself!
I was born and brought up in Delhi. My father worked as a doctor in the Government service and mom is a housewife. A creative person who believes in making the most of her time on this planet by creating value for herself and others, my ambitious and adventurous spirit has kept me busy exploring, learning, moving and progressing. I have always been moved by the power of the human spirit and the potential that resides in each person. I love reading, writing, teaching and the outdoors!

What made you start Diversity Vision?
In my experience as a human resource leader, I was fortunate to get exposed to concept and practices around Diversity and inclusion in a few multinationals I worked with. Out of sheer interest and passion, I worked, read and researched more in the area of women leadership and Gender Diversity. Soon I started researching formally around these areas as a PhD scholar to build my expertise in this area. What really moved me was such little empirical research in India, a lot of lip service and very little deeper work to advance women, and the many stories I heard of very talented, qualified women struggling to make it to the top.  With the conviction that this sphere needs advocacy, integrated consulting and change management, I was driven to start off the social enterprise, DiversityVision. I believe that through expert knowledge, industry practices, and neutrality that DiversityVision would bring to the table for its clients, I could drive this agenda from outside more powerfully than I can ever do from the inside.

What are some of the identifiable gaps you've chanced upon in the field of gender equality in the workplace? Why are these differences still subsisting?
The biggest gap in this space is the understanding and appreciation of business case for having gender diverse workforce. And a fallout of that are the various gaps, like unconscious biases during the recruitment, performance management, promotions and rewards for women employees.Upcoming concerns are being tackled through standalone awareness, policies and training but what is needed is senior management commitment to have gender balanced leadership and drive that systematically like a change agenda with short, medium and long term goals.

How does your work aim to plug these gaps?
At DiversityVision, we understand and truly appreciate that Gender Diversity needs to be driven as an organizational change agenda and standalone trainings and legislative focus alone may not move the needle on gender diversity issues and concerns. Especially, not at the pace firms today wish to. We believe in a two pronged approach which looks at both sides of the gender diversity coin through our work streams. Our first work stream focuses on all interventions that would transform organizations to be a more supportive and enabling place to grow and nurture both genders equally. And our second work stream focuses on targeted leadership and personal development offerings for women to succeed at a workplace. I want to specially mention our host of executive and life coaching solutions for individual women like Coaching for emerging women leaders, coaching for life transitions, Maternity Coaching and Return to Work Coaching.

What are some of the challenges you've faced / continue to face in the field?
One of the top challenge is senior management commitment to drive Gender Diversity like a change agenda, is weak or invisible. There is a tendency to not talk about gender openly, and tuck it under broader Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, or there is a deep hesitation to have any differentiated benefits or trainings for women with the apprehension of noise from male colleagues. Secondly, the few firms who wish to work in this space largely want to work on developing women, but not on transforming their organization culture or creating more inclusive male leaders. This approach may be not as effective to retain talent even if you groom them as great leaders. Fortunately there are some top leaders who understand the importance and want to create a roadmap for an integrated Gender Diversity journey. However, they have to battle out getting internal buy in from key stakeholders within their firms or get sufficient budgets approved to work with expert partners to drive this agenda.

While these efforts are exceptionally important, there is also the fact that legislation or policy changes need to be implemented for there to be tangible impact. Do you agree with this?
I absolutely second that thought. It is heartening to see some base lining around the prevention of sexual harassment practices due to Vishakha Guidelines, and now the need to have on woman on the board of directors through the legislation passed in 2013. The currently proposed change in maternity leave to eight months, would be a pleasant modification, as well. However, what will differentiate the wheat from the chaff would be the spirit with which these are followed. Like we popularly say – Processes are as good as people who follow them!

Do you have any anecdotes / success stories that you would like to share?
I clearly recall an event where I was the speaker, and the audience was full of senior leaders. One of the gentlemen flatly asked “Why should we be promoting women into leadership? I don’t think they are good leaders. They are diffident, not ready to stretch and can’t manage emotions!” Hats off to this person for he spoke his mind out, and I could see smiles and nods from many more in the room, men and women equally.  This revealed to me where the needle currently is! So what needs to change is at a much deeper level. Where we are is where we are and it’s a fall out of complexly interwoven individual and societal factors but if we need to start the Journey – it would possibly be one at a time. One man who changes his mind set to become a strong advocate of women colleagues, One Woman who strives to reach the top despite all hurdles coming her way!