While you may have taken the first steps towards embracing diversity, why it that you falter at inclusion? Where is the point where organizations fail in creating equal and inclusive workplaces despite embracing diversity?
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Suganthi Shivkumar, Managing Director for Qlik ASEAN, India and Korea, a leading US-headquartered data analytics platform, shares her views on the concept of equality and key things organizations and leaders must do in order to create diverse and inclusive workplaces.
What do you think about the overall concept of “Equality” at work?
Equality, be it at the workplace or at the home front, there is really no difference. In my view, it’s about roles, stereotypes, biases, acceptance of change and courage to change where there is a need to change. At the workplace, equality means no one should fear that they would be discriminated against based on race, gender, age or religion pay wise or career opportunity wise.
Why do you think we aren’t able to think about equality beyond “gender”? Do you think the overall concept of “gender equality” is the reason why women are treated differently and equally?
This whole diversity or inclusion debate is very conveniently leaning itself towards gender. I guess maybe because it’s the easiest to measure and report. And in some countries, diversity, ethnicity, spiritual beliefs and age are not even allowed to be considered, let alone measured. Hence the skew towards gender diversity.
What are some of the key things organizations and leaders must do in order to create diverse and inclusive workplaces?
Firstly, it is about creating awareness that diversity is multifaceted and not just about gender. Awareness is the beginning of any change or transformation. Then embracing diversity as you define it is the next step. But the real outcomes will only come when embracing diversity is combined with inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are often spoken of in the same breath. So while I can be embracing a diversity of sorts, but unless I include that, it’s just a board room topic.
Diversity today is a board room topic and to some extent, there is an intentional, deliberate move to recruit with diversity in mind but it is much beyond gender diversity. Where it breaks down is in the inclusion part on account of the conscious or unconscious bias around us.
Was there an incident when you experienced inequality at work?
There were quite a few but the one that stayed fresh in my mind was that one time when I was at a negotiation to close a deal in a major telco company. I was literally cornered by senior male executives just because I was a woman. Right from the way the meeting was set up- in a huge board room, I was put at one end of the table and they were flanking me on either side- to the tone of the conversation, which was in a way looking down at me. Subsequently, the head of procurement wrote me an apology but I came out of that meeting thinking would this have happened if instead of me, my male counterpart had gone for the meeting. That question kept nagging me and I was inclined to think probably not.
What helps me stay strong in such situations is that I tell myself that I must have the challenge and the courage to change the status quo. Because we can’t let the world do the same thing and expect different results. I will have two daughters who will be joining the workplace and I want them to have a much better and easier life. So while I challenge the status quo, I also accept with humility that as a leader, maybe I don’t have all the answers it takes.
“I need to constantly lead by example and a team that complements me and fills the gaps that I have is actually going to create a more empowering team all round.”
What views do you hold for the question, "Can women have it all?" How can women create a better work-life balance for themselves?
I believe life is what happens to us when we are busy making other plans. So harmonizing on my priorities and understanding that life is about simultaneous ‘ands’ and not ‘ors’ gives me a sense of balance.
If you think of having it all, it boils down to defaults changing over time. So it all depends on the choices we make and the priorities we chose to keep as priorities and then life falls into pieces. So this whole notion of work-life balance is letting life flow and ups and downs will pass; it will balance it out itself and the yin and yang will fall into place.
What are some of the most notable differences between a male and a female leader?
Definitely, the gender brings some innate differences you cultivate over your experiences, your work, and the wounds you wear. Their work styles are not identical; there are differences between leadership styles of the two, nurturing styles or even the use of language. A male leader is more likely to use I-‘I did this, I achieved this’ while a female leader tends to soften it and the attributes it to the team she leads. So it’s more ‘we’ in language for her and success is attributed to the community rather than self. The use of emotion and gut feel also tends to be more prevalent in female leaders.
On this Women’s Day, what message would you want to share with organizations and leaders on creating an equal workplace?
Try to be a situational leader-lead everyone by their competencies and their commitments. Be aware of personal biases and potentially exercise caution around them. Importantly, we need to self-manage and be aware of triggers that can lead to unconscious biases. Be consciously proactive to get coaching if need be to overcome them and take steps forward in the right direction. Be open to feedback, act on it. Just be authentic, develop your own authentic style and have the courage to change the status quo.
“You can’t do the same thing and expect different results- and diversity and inclusion are no different.”