This International Women's Day, I interviewed Tarinee Pandey, chief people officer at Puma Investments and she shared her thoughts on how we can #BreakTheBias.
We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.
1. Which bias would you like to break about women at work in 2022?
That’s a really big question with so many potential answers! I think it’s unfortunate that even in today’s society there are still so many ways in which women are perceived to be ‘less capable’ or even ‘less committed’ than their male counterparts. Broadly I suppose this falls under ‘potential bias’.
Much of this is institutionalised and unconscious so can be much harder to tackle directly and ‘fix’. We have as a society moved forward but unfortunately, there continues to be unintentional biases that typically female traits are ‘softer’, ‘more emotional’ and by implication that these characteristics don’t translate as well into the workplace, particularly in leadership roles The reality is the complete opposite: in my experience, women bring a real depth, creativity and intelligence to many, many, situations precisely because they are able to view the world through a different lens. Never mind the technical skills they bring to the table; many women are also able to empathise and look at problems from a different and more unique frame of reference. Women bring depth and strength to leadership that can help drive a business forward and deliver real value and absolutely needs to continue to encourage more women to recognise the value that they add and take on leadership roles.
2. Within your market / industry, what progress have you seen businesses take to progress gender equality?
Making financial services more accessible to women has been a conscious (and welcome) focus in recent years. We and others have made real inroads to progressing gender equality through a variety of initiatives. For example, at Puma Investments, we have for some time now carried out ‘blind recruitment’ in an attempt to reduce any bias (unconscious or otherwise) from our recruitment processes. In combination with analysis on pay and promotions and other HR processes and policies, we have also carried out thorough due diligence on how our staff experience inclusivity. All our staff also attend many focussed diversity and inclusivity training sessions as well. I don’t think that there is one silver bullet action that progresses equality, a multi-dimensional approach seems to be more effective. We are also aware of similar trends in the wider marketplace which help to move the dial in the right direction. In addition, many employers have also introduced mentoring programmes, internships and apprenticeships that encourage greater diversity and inclusivity amongst the workforce. Lastly, guidance from the FCA on diversity and inclusion has also been very useful as it serves to give the credibility that some of these issues need from the regulators as well. As a result, these topics and initiatives become requirements rather than nice to haves!
3. What is one action companies can take to further balance their talent attraction strategies?
As well as some of the initiatives already mentioned, I would suggest one of the most important strategies is to try and look at the ‘whole person’ and focus on humanising your team/staff base. In my view, there is far too much emphasis amongst employers who focus solely on the technical qualifications required in roles and place far less emphasis on softer behavioural characteristics or foundational skills – communication, empathetic leadership, emotional maturity, ability to deal with and manage conflict etc. Having too many people with only the right technical skills/qualifications doesn’t always breed a diverse way of thinking or support the levels of creativity and critical thinking that organisations need today. Employers need different people to think in different ways, and that starts with attracting a broader range of talent than you get with a mono recruitment focus.
4. What is your top advice for making job descriptions more inclusive?
Make them much broader and thematic with a focus on the role and foundational skills required rather than a tick box exercise focused on narrow and less relevant areas of experience gained. There is a large body of research that highlights how men over-exaggerate or overestimate their abilities whereas women tend to downplay them and will self-select out of a recruitment process if they don’t have a very high level of attainment in relation to a job spec. We, therefore, need to frame what’s asked for from job descriptions in a different way and maybe find ways of digging a bit deeper to ascertain what the individual can offer the organisation so that we don’t allow this self-selection process to hinder attracting more women into the workforce.
5. Do you think that more companies adopting a hybrid working pattern has helped to shift pre-conceived conceptions about flexible working for women and why?
Absolutely! But this isn’t just about hybrid working, it is about humanising the workplace and making it more supportive to the needs of its people. When you have real insight into people’s lives and the barriers and challenges they face, you can adapt your working patterns so as to make a real difference in their lives. The old/archaic way of viewing employers as having the balance of power is no longer relevant (nor should it ever have been in my view!). People are quite rightly looking at the employee value proposition in a more analytical way and it needs to support all facets of their life. Statistically, women are often the care givers in their families and if you don’t appreciate, value and provide the flexibility to support this, it can result in women understandably feeling isolated and less motivated at work.
6. How can organisations support their employees in raising awareness against bias?
There are many, many ways organisations can do this. The very minimum has to be that the leadership team support and have a clear mandate to do this. The next step in my view is to understand the experiences of your staff base and how different biases impact them. You have to understand where you are and focus on getting your own house in order to start with. This requires a lot of due diligence on how the many levels of bias are affecting your own staff. This can often mean having the difficult conversations in a safe forum and then making sure you are open to the uncomfortable truths that may come forth. In my view, it is very rare that people are intentionally biased or prejudiced. Often it’s not the big stuff that really impacts people, it’s the persistent micro-aggressions that wear them down. People understanding the part they play in these behaviours is critical to the change that then needs to happen. Financial services has traditionally been seen as quite aggressive and therefore male. There has also been a real legacy of individuals from certain types of backgrounds, genders, ethnicity etc being ‘locked out’, and whilst that might not necessarily be the case now, there are still ways in which members of these groups or anyone else for that matter is excluded, or felt oppressed or threatened at work by businesses not being proactively inclusive. Culturally we need to try and actively listen more so that we understand the challenges people face so that we can better help to eradicate them. It can be something as simple as stopping certain people from dominating meetings or agendas, providing an environment for more voices to be heard not the loudest ones! We’ve come a long way, but there is a lot more we can still do.
7. What advice would you give aspiring women in the industry you work in?
Don’t feel you need to change to fit in. Don’t masculinise yourself. All of you is really valuable and useful so come as you are. There is a strong likelihood that you will add the most value to any situation you are in coming as your authentic self. You waste less energy that way too!
8. International Women’s Day is also about celebrating women and their achievements. Who inspires you?
I am very inspired by Brene Brown. She has been one of the key pioneers in studying vulnerability, authenticity and leadership and I have personally taken a lot from her work as well as used this in my role for many years. She has spent much of her life teaching people about having difficult conversations and humanising work. I believe that she’s been absolutely critical to the way in which organisations have developed in recent years, and her ability to frame concepts in a way that’s understandable and transferable is awe-inspiring.
9. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Institutionalised, societal gender bias. Sometimes, the most significant barrier can be that institutionalised gender bias impacts the very people that should be breaking away from it – you can often internalise this and question your own worth and ability to contribute. I love that saying: “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”. You belong wherever you want to and it’s key that each of us believes that! And if the doors aren’t always opened for you, then break a hole in the wall (maybe with the folding chair that you brought…).
10. Are there any companies you admire for the ways in which they celebrate women's achievements?
I’m sure there probably are, but it’s a really difficult question to answer when there is so much performative allyship and posturing that goes on. The information put out these days is almost impossible to verify. All too often it feels like organisations put out bold statements, when in fact you talk to the people in the organisation and there is still so much bias and change needed.