The COVID-19 pandemic changed many things for us. While it brought to the fore many challenges, it was also a big eye-opener in terms of where the gaps were. While remote working and upskilling were key factors in this changing world of work, diversity and inclusion too came into the spotlight. Of the many things, this pandemic highlighted social inequality. And it became crucial for organizations to set it all right, as it was not just about it making business sense, but also about bringing change at the larger level.
In this exclusive interaction, Parineeta Cecil Lakra, Country People and Culture Manager, IKEA India brings upon the focus on how the role of women went through a significant transformation as a result of the pandemic, how women leaders manifested themselves in this time of crisis, and how the pandemic has offered an opportunity to get social inequalities, diversity, and inclusion right.
Parineeta has a strong experience in Human Resources of over 15 years, the majority of which has been in the retail industry. From leading HR in units to set up functions from scratch in new companies, this has been part of her overall experience. She has been a part of IKEA India’s startup journey since 2014, contributing to & delivering to the people strategy, setting up of the people and culture function, developing and growing teams, and furthering the people agenda for IKEA India year on year.
Her motivation and passion is the same as when she joined IKEA India years ago – to grow, develop and contribute to a brand that has the same value system as her, has a strong culture, and which is a socially conscious, responsible, and sustainable brand that not only cares about business and customers but keeps its people at the heart of everything.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
How has the global crisis impacted the role of women in the workforce, according to you? How do you see the role of women’s leadership in responding to the pandemic and gearing up for a more equitable recovery?
The global crisis has been quite demanding for women in the workforce across industries. Retail was no different. Balancing the responsibilities towards home, towards work, towards family, and toward self has been a challenge.
Women and not just women leaders have played an equal, if not stronger, role with resilience and determination during these times. Despite all the ever so demanding commitments, we have seen women across the organization literally leap in to lead and contribute to business restart and recovery. Whether it has been coming back to operations in our retail units or distribution centers or construction sites, we have seen them come back strongly, despite the circumstances.
Do you think the pandemic has offered an opportunity to get social inequalities, diversity, and inclusion right, now that the pandemic has elevated disparities and gaps? What questions should businesses ask and act on for a better future of work?
Of the many things, this pandemic highlighted social inequality. At a fundamental level, the underrepresentation of women in the industry has posed itself as a challenge most companies wish to overcome. Over the years, addressing gender equality has started to become a priority. The need to have more women in the workforce in India for a more equal society continues to be amplified. However, what businesses need to see is to not make it a mere number exercise and truly commit to building gender-balanced workplaces, with equal representation and inclusion.
At IKEA, for instance, it is non-negotiable for us to have a 50/50 gender balance across all levels. Today, more than 60 percent of our senior leaders and close to 48% of our co-workers across all units are women. To be a truly gender-inclusive workplace, we need to have the same playing field – with this thought since 2014, we have worked with a multi-dimensional approach to have an equal platform for our coworkers from recruitment, to equal development opportunities to equal benefits – like unique 6 months’ parental policy in IKEA India for both men and women, to internal development and culminating in commitment to have Equal Pay. This year IKEA received the UN Women WEP award both at India and Asia Pacific level for promoting gender equality in the workplace.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities for women as we adapt ourselves to a new world of work? What’s your advice for women to move forward strong and even stronger in the post-pandemic world?
The demands from towards home, towards work, towards family, and toward self will continue to be a challenge. As an organization and as women coworkers, we are aware of this and have support set up – whether it's flexible hours, focus on physical, emotional, and mental well-being, time off, and balanced working hours. We, also as a society, need to stop glorifying long unbalanced working hours and imbalanced participation of gender at home.
Gender equality is beyond the workspace and important in everyday life at home. This month, globally, we launched the FiftyFifty campaign highlighting the importance of equality in life at home, especially during the pandemic. Reports show that spending so much time inside our homes has put stress on relationships. More time at home means more responsibilities, and it's often women who take on the extra work. An equal every day is a better every day.
Organizations continue to report that they are highly committed to gender diversity but the proportion of women in their organizations barely budges. Despite the fact that the business case for gender diversity is clear, the overall women's progress at work remains stalled. As a woman leader, do you think it's time for corporations to take bold steps to balance the scale?
Yes absolutely, in this topic of creating gender-balanced workplaces, there is no tipping in. We need to be all in for equality for the long term. At IKEA, we see gender equality as equal to basic human rights – we do not see it as optional; we see it as mandatory. In India, this has been one of the key commitments we have been working with – to build and grow a gender-balanced organization. There is no function where we have not found amazing inspiring women to be part of our journey, from forklift operators to real estate, to logistics.
We are very humbled at what we have achieved and sit with a huge sense of responsibility to continue towards our ambition of 50-50 gender balance and to keep it there.
What’s your take on leadership especially at a time like this and how can organizations make ethical and diversity-centered decisions?
Research shows that companies with gender diversity in leadership positions have better financial performance and heightened customer satisfaction. Gender equality is good for business and has a positive impact on talent recruitment and retention, as well as brand trust and customer loyalty. Attracting and retaining the right competence and talent is essential for us to reach our business growth ambitions. Breaking stereotypes requires a mindset change, commitment, and investment, especially from the leaders. Breaking the glass ceiling does take time and effort. It can bring a lot of generational shifts, but if you have leaders or promoters recognizing the need for it and committing to it, you will realize that there is a growing community, who are collaborating in a fantastic way to move this topic – as it is not just good for their business but for society at large.