Leaders Who Inspire: Accelerating the Path to Gender Coherence

by Sonal Agrawal, AltoPartners Founding Partner

Sonal Agrawal contributed to the inaugural edition of the LinkedIn “Leaders Who Inspire” yearbook, and joins 16 other elected business leaders from around Asia-Pacific and China and delves in her insights on the areas of Business & Technology, People and Leadership.

Sonal Agrawal focuses on “Accelerating the path to gender coherence” and strongly positions Accord India, and AltoPartners, as leaders in diversity placements and leadership.

Accelerating the Path to Gender Coherence

With women comprising less than 30% of the organized workforce in India, gender parity is firmly on the agenda for employers, the government and women themselves. At a macro level, many qualified women opt to leave or reduce participation in an organized workforce due to the disproportionate workload at home. In the long term , increasing the overall pipeline of women in the workforce will require significant societal shifts – including a balanced sharing of parenting and family care responsibilities between men and women.

Employers drive much of the gender parity agenda through initiatives in hiring, development, retention, flexibility and pay parity. As part of the leadership talent acquisition ecosystem, search firms can play a significant role in helping clients with their diverse hiring needs. To begin with, search firms must gain a deeper awareness of their clients’ diversity agenda and the role that gender plays within their larger inclusion plan. Are there specific metrics around gender diversity goals? Who takes charge in the hiring process – HR, hiring managers or the CEO? Search partners can spread the word about the clients’ goals and achievements amongst women leaders.

The reality is that a hiring manager is focused on finding the best available person for the job as expediently as possible, with the diversity agenda often taking a backseat; unless diversity metrics are built into their KRA and rewards. The senior female candidate pool itself is limited and almost non-existent in some industries with a 50:50 intake at entry level still resulting in a 90:10 male-female skew at the leadership level. Within that pool, women often take longer to develop as candidates, as they may have additional factors to consider when evaluating a change. Working women have carefully calibrated external eco-systems comprising of child care assistance, commute time and their spouses’ careers. Equally so, is their company ecosystem, including personal equity, flexibility, role models and an efficient working environment.

Companies and recruiters would do well to address any concerns and manage expectations early in the process. Given that women are considered to be more diffident about representing themselves, the recruiter can help in articulating achievements, skills and charting out their aspirations. Conscious search firms, proactively or reactively populate their candidate slates with qualified women. At Accord, our databases are geared to tag female candidates; we invest in developing networks and we measure the metrics relentlessly. We also work with clients in a multitude of ways from developing gender-neutral job descriptions to helping manage the gender pay gap.

A very successful gender-based initiative at Accord has been to partner with some of the world ‘s leading companies in investment banking, beverages and technology to curate long-term programs that develop slates of passive and active female candidates. Apart from data on potential candidates, this can include ongoing engagement with target candidates, general career aspirations, employer branding as well as facilitating frequent messaging and interface with the company. Accord’s leadership invests time and effort; we lead discussions, we speak at forums, we debate, we write, we advocate, we facilitate – leading to better visibility and engagement with women leaders. And we walk the talk – our own diversity statistics speak for themselves. Equally, AltoPartners, our global partnership of leading boutique firms of which we are a founding member, is carefully curated with almost half of our member firms being female owned or managed.

In conclusion – all searches are complex and take time and effort, but there is additional complexity involved in developing female candidates. Much as they do to drive the agenda internally, employers will benefit from investing in educating – and incentivizing – their search partners towards achieving their diversity objectives.

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