What makes an organisation women-friendly and truly gender inclusive? This is a key question being pondered upon in boardrooms and among human resource managers across the globe today. With gender inclusivity finally becoming a central discourse in the corporate world, a number of organisations are making conscious efforts to become more amenable to women employees.

However, in India, the concept of gender parity at workplace is not thoroughly understood. Most corporate houses tend to believe that having more women at the workplace, allowing them a few months of maternity leave and a little more flexibility in performing their duties is sufficient.

This has a much deeper connotation than just a few piecemeal initiatives. A truly gender sensitive organisation not only has more women on board, but also has a culture that takes into account their special needs, and an environment that allows them to grow and thrive as professionals without emulating a man's way of working. Women employees bring a substantial amount of emotional intelligence to the organisation at all levels.

They are also more precision-focused, process oriented and emotionally balanced. Being good problem solvers, they have a greater ability to interpret issues quickly and solve them conveniently. They also bring better human equations to the work environment.

While we are still a long way from achieving perfectly gender inclusive workplaces, the churning of ideas and shift in consciousness has begun. Years down the lane, corporate India will be a much different space for women with the taking over of an entire generation of women leaders who will be more ambitious, well-educated and confident. To be prepared for that day, workplaces need the following:

A cultural shift: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when more women started joining the corporate workforce, many organisations realised they didn't even have separate rest rooms for ladies. Concepts such as office-provided pick and drop facilities are recent introductions to India's work culture, engineered after women executives became a significant force in the corporate set up. Much like how our society has been patriarchal for centuries, our workplaces would also plead guilty to the fact that their policies and work cultures have been crafted with a male employee base in mind.

Often for a woman to be professionally successful, she has to make sure she meets the working norms of men, be it 24/7 availability for work or stretching late beyond office hours. To make offices more womenfriendly, we need a greater shift in the organisational culture. The agenda of women empowerment needs to be inculcated into the structural and functional design of companies. Sustained change requires innovative thinking, and more so for promoting women-friendly policies.

Flexibility of working: Many believe that flexible work policies allow employees to shirk work. Convenient timings are especially a boon for women who have to share a greater burden of domestic responsibilities. Such arrangements allow them an atmosphere of freedom and respect. Organisations with operations in IT, on-call services and software support that can be managed remotely can benefit immensely by enhancing flexibility for their workforce.

Supporting motherhood: We can’t achieve gender parity at workplace until we keep discriminating against motherhood. In many places, paid maternity leaves are not extended to women. In others they are forced to quit or return to work in less than six months. It is important to underline that maternity leave is an unquestionable right of every woman professional. Making efforts to retain them and supporting their gender specific requirements is important to reap the benefits of diversity. Recent studies have shown that organisations that have more women in top management positions reap better financial results.

(The writer is vice-president, human resources, Sun Life Asia Service Centres)