In a patriarchal society like Pakistan, its an even harder conversation to break; men don’t want to be labeled sexist and women don’t want to be labeled prejudiced. The underlying understanding, however, may even be the same at times. Although it is part of a much larger topic of ‘diversity and inclusion’ which is very close to my heart and people are generally more receptive to that over anything women...
If I’d a dollar for every time someone told me I am wherever I am, is because I am a female, I would be a billionaire (And I would move to Themyscira, for those of you who don't follow Marvel comics, google it). Me? who spends most of her time with privileged, academically trained social niche but still feels this way; this ought to be discussed. So, at the risk of my social likability, I will try to share some logic, debug some misconceptions and jot down some suggestions.
Diversity by definition is ‘being different’. It means people from different backgrounds, sexual orientations, cultures, age groups, religions, gender identification, race etc. When they come together, there is usually a majority and several minorities. In a truly diverse place there will be equal representation of all groups. But as long as there is a majority; most of the policy, environment, norms, culture would have been designed and shaped as per their needs. The largest population diversity that's a minority at our workplaces is women. (There are even smaller representation from other minority groups i.e. religious, geographic, differently abled etc. but for this piece, the focus is on gender, specifically female, diversity)
Now! Why is it important?
Diverse workforce is better representative of the population it intends to serve. It enables the workforce to deliver to the needs of the population. Therefore, putting organizations in a better position, economically. A study by American Management Association states “more accurately the senior team of a company represents the demographics of its market, the more likely it is that the company will design products, market services, and create ad campaigns that score a hit….. diversity interacted with business strategy in determining company performance as measured in three different ways: productivity, return on equity, and market performance”
Diverse and inclusive organizations are most likely to attract the best talent, making it their competitive advantage. Positive correlation between diversity and share value has also been established through research.
Therefore, leaders, think tanks and policy makers introduce special interventions like quotas, trainings, institutional focuses, special accommodations etc. to promote and facilitate participation of minority groups in, controlled, environments. Case in point would be increasing gender, specifically female, diversity in workplaces. Well everyone responds differently to that; below are some real-life permutations:
1. Some men in majority feel threatened; they fear discrimination (ironically).
2. Some women in the minority are not ready for that change either, they are accustomed to the status quo.
3. Others, both men and women, take the harder road and pave the way for many more to come. I will call these men and women agents of change. They choose to take the tougher road with their own ways, capacities and intentions.
4. The society largely is not an early adopter to social changes making it tougher on agents of change. (I, literally, just defined agents of change in the last bullet so this bullet could sound better)
5. Policy makers and leaders have to work even harder to get successful results from these interventions while brining a balance to the understanding and tolerance levels between the majority and minority group(s).
What role can we play towards making this journey easier? These are some of things I, try to, follow:
1. Respect. Always!
2. Be an agent of change.
3. Listen. I think this is most important! Don't sit in a conversation with a conclusion and closed mind. Be open to listening. Just listen! Even if you don’t agree. We live in a society where the social structures and roles are so ingrained in us that anything challenging that status quo; we not only resist it, we deny it. And listening each other’s point of view is the first step towards a more inclusive environment.
4. Know that you could be wrong.
5. Support each other.
6. Share opportunities, be more inclusive.
7. Avoid making discriminatory jokes, comments or questions.
8. Respect. (I know, its already in the list, its just that important)
We are just touching the tip of the iceberg; this journey is much more then just female inclusion in the economic activity of the country. Imagine double the current population pushing the economic wheel forward, what wonders would that do. But we are far away but moving there. I just hope that we take more steps forward then backwards.
“Diversity Boosts Performance,” HR Focus, May 1999, p. 5.
 Joan Crockett, “Winning Competitive Advantage through a Diverse Workforce,” HR Focus, May 1999, pp. 9–10; Kevin Campbell and Antonio Minguez-Vera, “Gender Diversity in the Boardroom and Firm Financial Performance,” Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 83, No. 3, 2008, pp. 435–451