designing gender sensitization training for employees: getting it right

designing gender sensitization training for employees: getting it right

Indra Nooyi, the former PepsiCo CEO, has consistently ranked on the Forbes list of the world’s 100 most powerful women for many years. Nooyi’s outstanding accomplishments and success at work would lead one to assume that she was treated with equality at the workplace. However, at Tina Brown’s Women in the World Summit in 2016, Nooyi mentioned that one of the toughest challenges she had to overcome was not being treated equally by her male colleagues and having to “claw her way up” in the organization. She constantly struggled to prove herself in the face of discriminatory references from male colleagues such as “Sweety” and “Babe”. Nooyi’s experience is illustrative of why women represent fewer than 50% of leaders in every industry analyzed, and female employees are paid less, on average, than their male counterparts.

At an individual level, gender discrimination results in higher levels of poverty, lower retirement savings, poor self-esteem, and lack of confidence and motivation for women. At the organizational level, gender discrimination leads to lower productivity, poor company morale, increased conflict, and even legal complications in certain extreme cases. As companies work towards addressing the factors that contribute to gender discrimination and bias at the workplace, one solution is increasingly gaining prominence - gender sensitization training.  The importance of such training is demonstrated by the results of a Unilever Study. The study found that employees struggle to acknowledge gender insensitivity, discrimination and inappropriate behavior at the workplace, and often feel pressured to either get over or not report inappropriate behavior.

The need for gender sensitization training

Gender discrimination is often the result of conscious and unconscious bias acquired through generations of conditioning. A recent Harvard Business Review study confirms the connection between gender discrimination at work and gender bias. Gender sensitization training is critical to addressing bias and thus creating a positive and inclusive workplace atmosphere. Uber India, for instance, has been conducting gender sensitization training programs for its driver partners across the country to address the safety concerns of their growing female customer base. The Godrej Group’s gender sensitization workshop program is another good example. The program is open to all employees and covers wide-ranging gender related issues, including employees’ rights and protection from sexual harassment at work. Typically, sensitization programs use a variety of techniques - including group discussions, closed survey techniques, interviews, focus groups, mediations, and scientific evaluation metrics - to compare policies with behavior and identify problem areas that need redressal.

Gender sensitization training helps sensitize employees on gender-related issues by:

  • Informing and guiding employees on appropriate ways of addressing and interacting with female colleagues, clients and partners.
  • Facilitating discussions between male and female employees, with the goal of highlighting positive as well as discriminatory workplace practices and policies that need attention.
  • Empowering women by facilitating access to mentoring and professional guidance on harassment and workplace bias.

The benefits of gender sensitization training include a positive and gender-intelligent organizational culture, growth and progress of women leaders, and lower levels of gender conflict and harassment. Additional benefits include the ability to attract more female candidates, leading to a balanced male-female ratio, and higher morale and retention.

Training for gender equality: Creating programs that work

Since gender dynamics vary from organization to organization, it is important to take a customized approach in designing your sensitization programs, so as to drive successful outcomes. Here are four key aspects to consider while designing gender sensitization programs:

Identifying specific problem areas:  To design a training program that specifically addresses your organization’s challenges, you must first home in on the objectives. Is the training meant to improve general work practices and interaction between genders or address certain overarching behavioral patterns at the workplace? Are you seeking to address specific issues raised by employees or aiming to improve a high attrition rate among female employees? Once you identify the problem areas, share them with the training team to help them create relevant program modules.

  • Hiring external consultants Specialized and experienced consultants can objectively gauge your organization’s gender dynamics and cultural ethos, determine relevant training needs, and set realistic training goals. Consider working with an unbiased third party to bring in a neutral perspective to the training, and increase the accuracy of the moderating and reporting exercise.
  • Distinguishing between intention and behavior One major goal of gender sensitization programs is to identify and address unconscious biases and prejudices that creep into the workplace. Sensitization programs can be successful only when they bring subliminal biases out in the open for discussion and remediation. The technology firm Pitney Bowes did just this by leveraging micro-messaging sessions for male employees and leaders focused on tone, gestures, inflection, messaging etc., that could unconsciously contribute to gender bias.
  • Maintaining a holistic perspective Gender sensitization programs are beneficial only when they address perspectives, concerns and issues that both genders face - as issues impact men and women differently. Addressing roles, responsibilities, behavioral patterns and attitudes of both male and female employees can have a significant impact on the success of your training programs.

How can you evaluate the success of gender sensitization programs? Derive the evaluation metrics   from your training program objectives. These can include:

  • Culture – encompassing factors such as enabling fairness and trust, or creating a welcoming and supportive environment across genders
  • Growth - percentage of women taking on more challenging, leadership-oriented roles
  • Retention - percentage of women or men leaving the organization due to unaddressed gender discrimination issues at the workplace
  • Recruitment - percentage of women hired

While creating a robust gender sensitization training program is a good first step to creating an egalitarian organizational culture, do not stop there. Implement supplemental initiatives such as encouraging different departments and functions to share their knowledge and best practices to boost training outcomes and infuse inclusivity at the core.

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