Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly India's 45 per cent prioritized talent pool is female and the company’s conscious and unique efforts to increase gender diversity at work have yielded results that go far beyond the norm.
Anant Garg, India Human Resources Director, Eli Lilly & Company talks about the challenges and rewards of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), while also managing workload in maternity cases and developing women leaders.
How big a challenge is it finding and retaining a diverse workforce? How does the management overcome it?
It is challenging but possible. There are few roles where the challenge is more severe e.g. field sales roles where traditionally very few women have entered and grown into leadership roles, or at mid-senior levels in general due to drop out rates over the career journey. The attraction and retention issues can be different for different groups, and that needs to be well understood and addressed by the companies. The average gender diversity in our industry is in the range of 10-15 percent and only 5-10 percent in the sales force. But Lilly has been able to achieve more than 25 percent in both groups, and we are growing 2-3 percent every year.
How does it happen? The leaders need to truly believe that a diverse workforce does make a positive impact on their business and brand and is not just a “nice” thing to do.
It requires a sustained execution of a comprehensive strategy across the talent value chain. Sometimes companies get caught up in just doing some workshops or minor policy changes that create good news items but make very little difference in actually increasing the diversity of the workforce. And finally, it requires a lot of communication and change management, depending on where the organization’s current culture is with respect to D&I. People need to know why we are doing it, what it means and doesn’t mean for them and why it’s important for them to embrace it.
For every 100 men promoted to manager, just 79 women are promoted to managerial roles. Why is gender diversity not a priority for leaders? When can we see the number improving?
There are mostly for 2 reasons. One big barrier usually is that they don’t see the benefits. It’s not always possible to measure a direct impact of D&I on your financials so amongst other pressures there is a tendency for it to get de-prioritized. And secondly, even if you accept it is important, it does take hard work and sometimes short-term tradeoffs. At a higher level, a male candidate may have more flexibility of relocating, travelling or just being longer hours at work. Sometimes, there may be unconscious biases at play in how leaders assess and develop women, which are difficult to recognize and overcome. But I feel it’s changing. There is much more awareness, and several good companies are now beginning to drive this very seriously.
Sometimes just for the sake of promoting female employees for diversity, companies might be unfair to their male counterparts. How do you ensure fairness in hiring and promotion?
Inclusion for some shouldn’t be seen as exclusion by others. The key here is to remember that the goal is to provide equal opportunity and not a favour to someone. Every leader wants the best person on the team and ultimately, we are all measured on our business results. You don’t want to be a leader with a very diverse but underperforming team. We just need to ensure that how we define “best” is not influenced by our traditional view or a biased judgment about someone’s demographic characteristics but is truly about the merit and the value the person can bring to the role in the long term.
So, the focus should be to create a diverse pool for consideration and then base the decision on merit. If you think of it, this issue of fairness can come up irrespective of gender. When someone gets promoted, someone else could think the process was not fair. It requires transparent communication, the employees need to know the system can be trusted and eventually those who get promoted, need to demonstrate that they deserved it, as they often do.
How do you manage the workload of an employee going on maternity leave? How has hiring pattern changed after maternity bill?
Managing the workload of an employee going on maternity leave requires good planning. It is important to understand the employees’ plans and make arrangements accordingly. Often it is a question of well-planned delegation and a temporary arrangement.
Some of the best female talents actually drive their own succession/work planning with their supervisor before they go on leave. If you are in a good organizational culture, team members are more than happy to pitch in. It’s actually a great opportunity for supervisors to provide more exposure to another team member by providing short term developmental assignments. Yes, it does stretch the system and the team, but it usually works out.
The hiring pattern for us hasn’t changed at all due to the bill. Maternity leave at Lilly was always higher than law even before the current 6-month policy was announced.
More than half of the women quitting their job never return to work. Is it the lack of opportunities and growth prospects that women find challenging when returning to the workforce?
Many women succumb to the pressures of managing work and personal life. It takes a huge physical and mental effort which often creates a pressure to quit, more than the lack of opportunities or growth prospects.
The organization needs to develop policies and a culture of flexibility and empathy, to provide support to women during that period. Most successful women usually find ways to build support systems, sensitize their families and make things work. Some training and counselling can tremendously help here as well.
Another good practice for females going on maternity leave is to maintain some connection with the organization through the leave. It could be a general catch up with the supervisor or team members on how things are going or perhaps joining a team lunch. It helps create a continuity, else by the time you return the world has significantly changed in your organization and team and that could lead to further stress.