I was fortunate to be part of an amazing delegation of startups and influencers that traveled from Delhi to Stockholm last week. There were so many great learnings from the trip ranging from models for sustainable living and how to drive social impact at scale, however the one thing that left the deepest impression on me is how far Sweden (especially Stockholm) has progressed with gender diversity and creating a true level playing field. From the moment we landed, women were at the forefront of every major event, discussion and organization. India has come a long way on this front compared to where we were couple of decades ago, however there is still a lot that remains to be done, and I believe we have an exceptional model from a sister democracy that could be emulated successfully. The emotional angle aside, there is sufficient evidence that a diverse workforce results in higher productivity and profits. So I am hopeful that the male founders reading this article will also take steps to make your respective companies more diverse and inclusive.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, be the change that you want see in the world. On that note my resolution is to do everything possible at ShoppinPal to create a perfect woman’s workplace and hopefully we can eventually inspire other startups and maybe even larger companies to follow suit. Here’s my list of takeaways and “Must Do’s”:
Gender diversity is not accidental, which means it needs to be a thoughtful and persistent effort. Today 9 out of 10 applications that we get for engineering roles are from male applicants. But if I really want that to change, I believe every aspect of the company -- from the branding, job postings and the language we use in all our communication needs to be welcoming to a working woman.
That said, branding and language will not suddenly bring in female employees if the culture / environment are not truly supportive of a woman’s needs. For example, I asked an Air India employee in Stockholm (mother to a 2-year old who was instrumental in making our trip happen) about how she managed to pull this off with a toddler. She said it was because of the trust and flexibility that her manager consistently placed in her that motivated her to go the extra mile, including how her maternity leave was handled. We (and I am sure many other Indian startups) offer a similar level of flexibility but we have to go deeper and introspect if each employee in the organization who is a leader will, without fail, represent those values and be supportive towards female employees on his/her team.
One of the highlights of our visit was witnessing the grand finale of the 2nd largest women’s hackathon on the planet organized by the wonderful Stockholm Techfest team led by Tyler, who is a fantastic “startup change agent”. The hackathon model is a great way to bring together top notch women (especially startups scouting for top tech talent). I hope to do something similar here in Pune, although at a much smaller scale!
Before ramping up female staff, its critical to sensitize your workforce on sexual harassment, acceptable protocols and etiquette. The POSH law anyway requires companies of all sizes (startups included) to ensure their employees have undergone the necessary training. Thanks to companies like Lawcubator this can be accomplished via a simple SaaS tool, i.e no need for fancy HR!