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McKinsey & Company, in the ‘Women in the Workplace 2019’ have recommended five steps that companies can take to fix the broken rung – and ultimately their pipeline.

The two points of emphasis here, before we look at recommendations, are as follows. One, since women do not get the opportunity to become first line manager, their future growth is directly compromised. It will always be well-nigh impossible to jump the rung and become a middle line manager without passing through the first stage. Two, denying first stage promotion would mean that the company will never have women in pipeline for future positions. This is opposite to men where several men are always in the pipeline for future positions. The opportunity and anticipation keep morale high among contestants. Women have virtually nothing to look forward to.

Fixing or repairing broken rung is urgent and important in order to enrich the pipeline and keep morale among women high.

Here are the five recommendations. These are taken as such, but the commentary is my own.

  1. Set a goal for getting more women into first level management – In the US and Europe, about one third companies are now setting targets for the representation of women at first-level management. Number of companies who set target for senior level management is higher; 41%. Situation in Pakistan is that no company appears to set any target for inclusion of women in management cadre. Some companies hire women liberally in certain functions, whereas bar them completely from other functions. The inclusion of women in management is not on the agenda as yet. The setting of targets is therefore not being considered. However, if targets for diversity are set, it will change situation more effectively.
  2. Require diverse slates for hiring and promotions – It is customary to use similar criteria for hiring and promotions for men and women. It would be better if diverse criteria are used. This point is a little delicate. It does not ask to discriminate, or to choose women when they do not qualify. It asks to develop diverse, not different, criteria to attract diversity. More simply put, a traditional criterion may culminate in traditional hiring or promotion while diversity shall attract diversity. Another explanation is to compare women against women, and men against men; not men against women. When two women are put to the same criteria, the better one would qualify, but it would still be a woman.
  3. Put evaluators through unconscious bias training – Gender Bias runs in our social fabric. It is all the important in our part of the world that the evaluators are passed through some kind of training which may help to reduce ingrained bias. It is not expected to bring drastic change, but it will help in the following ways. One, it will create awareness, which is the first step toward change. Two, it will help to understand the nature of bias. Three, it will provide tools to reduce bias. Together, these factors shall be a positive force to work against bias. In fact, it should be used to combat not just gender bias, but other biases as well.
  4. Establish clear evaluation criteria – Many organizations carry evaluation criteria for hiring and promotions. The interviews are arranged in series and conducted by different people to bring diversity of views and transparency. Though this looks nice, but it has pitfalls. One, the line managers dominate the decision. Two, the chain of command is from the same order and thinking and it is likely to be a repetition of the same in successive interviews, without breaking new grounds. Three, the pressure may be there top down or bottom up resulting in biased decisions.  For promotions, assessment committees and assessment centers are organized which are comprised of related and unrelated evaluators. In my personal experience, I have seen much cajoling, canvassing and nudging in the process. Establishing clear evaluation criteria is likely to help minimizing the bias.
  5. Put more women in line for the step up to manager – this is the straightest prescription. If the organization prepares more women candidates to take up managerial positions, it will result in greater number of women going up the career ladder. It is to make correction from the start. It means that the organization shall focus on the development of women with particular emphasis. It is reasonable to assume that such organizational thinking and effort shall automatically be a remedy to work against gender bias.

Our discussion on Gender Bias continues. We shall see the situation in Pakistan in more detail next.

To be Continued……

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