Are law firms and companies doing enough to remove hurdles faced by women lawyers in the workplace? Vandana Chatlani reports
Companies and law firms in India and beyond are beginning to view gender diversity, and diversity overall, as a corporate gain – a way to enrich perspectives, foster growth, celebrate difference and support inclusiveness.
The sentiment to create a fair and equal environment seems to be echoed across departments, from human resources (HR) to legal and even senior management. “We are committed to encouraging and building a culture that respects diversity in all forms,” says Tejashree Kumar, the deputy general manager of human resources at Jet Airways.
“We are proud that we have women as key influencers at every level in our hierarchy,” says Mohit Shukla, managing director and head of legal in India at Barclays. In 2015, the bank became a founding member of the UN HeForShe campaign for women, pledging to increase the representation of women in senior leadership by a percentage point a year, embed gender equality in the culture, processes and policies of Barclays, and reach 2.5 million women around the world with financial inclusion programmes.
Women’s empowerment is part of the Spirit to Serve programme run by Marriott Hotels. Sahiba Chait, vice president and senior counsel of the South Asia team, says Marriott partners with non-profit organizations “to develop skills and opportunities for women, support women-owned hotels, purchase from women-owned businesses and provide development and advancement opportunities for our workforce”.
Reliance Life Sciences says it, too, emphasizes the importance of gender equality. “To ensure a culture of respect towards women employees, awareness is created through various internal programmes and training,” says company president KV Subramaniam. “It is mandatory for every employee to attend the sessions, and follow the specified code of conduct.”
Cracks in the glass ceiling?
To better understand how women in the legal community are supported by employers, India Business Law Journal invited law firms and in-house counsel to share details of the gender dynamics at their places of work. We asked about provisions for equal pay, flexible work arrangements, late night transport, whether law firms and companies had adopted a sexual harassment policy and if that policy was gender neutral, and whether employers provided paternity leave along with crèche and breastfeeding facilities.
A total of 10 companies and 48 law firms submitted their responses. On paper, at least, the feedback was encouraging, with most firms clearly showing consideration for gender equality, ensuring the safety of employees returning home late, and finding ways to support new mothers who are keen to continue their careers.