P S Deepa, Deloitte


Author is an Executive Director in Deloitte India and works primarily in the Consulting business and in the strategic priority of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for South Asia. She has over 21 years of experience and is a specialist in strategy and transformation spanning strategy, operations and human resources. She is passionate about inclusion and has been part of the core DEI team for the last one and a half years. Her specific areas of interest are gender balance, mental health, leadership development and culture change

Gender equality at work is supported by a strong business case with strengthened organisational performance, enhanced ability to attract and retain talent, and enriched organisational reputation.

The root cause

Increasing the participation of women at workplaces has been most Indian organisations’ endeavour across industries. In the Indian workforce, women representation gradually increased from 30.27 percent in 1990 to 31.8 percent in 2005, but gradually declined to 20.79 percent in 2019. 1 The COVID-19 pandemic has been a watershed moment for working women in India, as well as across the globe, given its significant impact on lives, livelihoods, and quality of life. Data since the start of
the pandemic is awaited to confirm anecdotal inputs that there has been a reduction in employment rates, especially for women in the workforce in India. The pandemic has resulted in heightened gender inequalities of varying proportions especially faced by women every day, while straddling across home duties and work responsibilities.

A recent Deloitte Global report, “Women @ Work: A global outlook,” released in May 2021, looks at the underlying factors that affect women at work and includes non-inclusive behaviour, unconscious biases, and deep-rooted organisational hierarchies. This has reinforced organisations’ need to reflect and undertake proactive measures and well-conceptualised initiatives that are expected to have a lasting impact on attracting, promoting, and retaining women at work.

As organisations in India have sought to respond to their employees’ needs and other stakeholders during the pandemic, there is a growing realisation that values, culture, experiences, leadership commitment, and mindset changes play a pivotal role in distinguishing between ‘the great’ and ‘the
iconic’ organisations. Several organisations in India have embarked on a slew of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. These initiatives range from focusing on culture and experiences, to KPIs for increased gender representation in recruitment, promotions, and grooming for leadership roles, based on leadership commitment and vision.

The lever of culture of inclusion

The Deloitte report and our recent work with other organisations since the onset of COVID-19 highlighted several initiatives being undertaken to bring about a transformational shift in establishing gender equality at work. Fostering equity and inclusion as a value and belief play a
pivotal role in promoting gender equality that drives culture and behaviour, 2 which when experienced in everyday interactions, create happy workplaces. Research undertaken by Bersin by Deloitte shows that organisations with more diverse and inclusive cultures are six times more likely to be innovative and agile, three times more likely to be high-performing, and two times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets. They will be better positioned to thrive in a diverse new world. This calls for organisational investment in learning and leadership assessment, continuous

1. Source: International Labour Organization, ILOSTAT database. Data on the World Development Indicators on female participation rate in the labor force in India retrieved on June 25, 2021
2 .Adapted from Make Gender Equality a Value, Not a Priority by Michelle King, published in the MIT Sloan Management Review on June 19, 2020 

development, stretch assignments, and ongoing coaching of leaders, which when sustained over the longer term, culminate in gender equality as a culture

Leadership commitment

Leadership commitment to gender equality is essential to create an inclusive environment based on the tenets of trust and respect experienced by every employee in everyday interactions. Senior leaders must be effective sponsors, thereby augmenting their roles beyond being a mentor and coach to boost gender equality. Leaders are looked at by employees across the organisation as harbingers and champions of gender equality, thereby establishing aspirational standards of acceptable behaviour that become a way of life at work. Leaders must be held accountable for promoting gender equality while having a zero-tolerance approach to non-inclusive behaviour.

The emergence of the Inclusive leader

As highlighted by the Deloitte report and other recent studies, the pandemic has triggered organisational efforts to be recognised as gender equality leaders. These leaders should be ‘role model’ and champions organisations acknowledged for their proactive and sustained efforts in undertaking the following:

Outline a gender equality vision and strategy for the organisation linked to the business strategy and spearhead execution.
Identify practical gender equality goals that include SMART objectives and KPIs reflected in performance scorecards of senior leaders, thereby holding leaders accountable for progress on the gender equality agenda.
Groom leaders who are empathetic and receptive to breakthrough ideas and new ways of working.
Promote active and inclusive leadership.
Strive for a work-life balance and holistic wellness of employees.
Provide equitable opportunities for skill development and reskilling of talent.
Work actively with senior leaders in the organisation that includes C-suite leaders in a collaborative manner to reduce unconscious biases at work linked to gender and other diversity dimensions.
Partner with stakeholders to build a work environment with a sense of safety and belongingness, and where trust and respect are embedded in its DNA.


These efforts will go a long way in validating Deloitte’s recent research 3 showing that women who work in organisations are recognised as gender equality leaders. They experience lower levels of non-inclusive behaviour, enhanced productivity, and greater job satisfaction, and are more productive, and have a positive attitude.

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