The Throughput Problem

Nearly 30% women enter the organized workforce every year, however the senior management layer across the world continues to show a dismal single digit representation of women. Somewhere along the pipeline women seem to be dropping off, despite several attempts made by organizations to encourage diversity at all levels, including creating quotas.

Varied reasons have been attributed for this dropout rate; poor mentoring and networking, unwillingness amongst women to cope with the pressures of the top jobs, no role models, etc. One critical reason often quoted is the lack of support provided by organizations to women, in the five year child bearing phase of their lives.

Although this may have been true some years ago, evolved organizations today have created women friendly policies like extended maternity breaks, flexi-timings and work from home schemes which should have taken care of this issue. But these policies still have not moved the pyramid to a more rectangular pipeline.

I was reflecting on this and realized that while all of us have worked very hard to create equal opportunity policies, maybe we have not worked as hard to navigate them through the land mines of real life practices?

Presume there is a woman in your sales team who has gone on a three month maternity break in the year, planned well in advance, and you are now doing her year end appraisal. She achieved her target numbers in the nine months she was working. In this case will you give her 100% of her incentive or do you start calculating the incentive on a pro rata basis?

If you pro rata the incentive,  you make a mockery of the maternity policy and confirm the lack of support women feel during this period of their lives. But if you don’t, then what about the male colleague who worked the full year, achieved his annual numbers and is entitled to the same incentive? Are you being unfair to him? By being pro women, will you become anti men?

There are no easy answers to these questions but all of us have to do deal with these dilemmas every day. So how do we resolve the practical issues of creating diversity? HR heads, what is your advice?