A WINning Journey

Beginning in mid-2016 and continuing for close to two years, I had the opportunity to lead the India chapter of JDA’s Women’s Interest Network (WIN). It was an experience that has made a deep impact on my life!

We got off to a slow start, I believe primarily because of misperceptions about the group’s purpose and what women could gain from their participation.  Some worried about how it would impact their acceptance in their work groups. They wondered if WIN was a way to provide quotas for women to get ahead. Some felt they couldn’t make time for anything beyond their current work. Others questioned whether a group like this was really needed at JDA.

To get them engaged, we utilized multiple formats of outreach – road shows, events with external speakers and group connects talking about “Why WIN?” Soon, the team started winning over the women – WIN’s core demographic!

From these small beginnings, I challenged the WIN team in 2017 to create an events calendar to engage women of different experience levels and interests with a variety of events so that there was something for everyone.

In tandem, I was nominated to JDA’s Winning Leadership program, a fantastic initiative for women leaders within JDA that helps build leadership skills and creates awareness about gender nuances of leadership! I enthusiastically brought these learnings to women in India through various monthly programs.

As the India WIN program evolved and participation gained momentum, we realized that we also needed regular conversations – not just about events, but about different topics that relate to women. I started a private Yammer group for the women as a safe space to have these conversations. We posted interesting articles and urged women to join in the conversation. We also used the space to share updates on upcoming programs to generate interest and attendance. With consistent efforts – through pictures, polls, prizes, articles, interesting TED talks etc. – we created a vibrant community!

Through all these programs and activities, I met many women and had delightful conversations that furthered my understanding of what a program like WIN can mean within a growing organization. I discovered that WIN may not be needed at all grade levels and that it doesn’t make sense to offer the same programs to all women. So, we pursued various approaches.

The Role of Managers in Diversity & Inclusion

One of the target demographics for our WIN efforts was the manager segment.

As with employee engagement, managers (both men and women) hold the key to enabling gender diversity in an organization. From how they write a job description to providing review comments in appraisals and everything in between, managers can make small tweaks that change the results for an organization.

It was eye-opening for me to learn about unconscious bias (for example, the Heidi vs. Howard experiment ), stereotyping (classic double bind where women are perceived as either competent or likeable but never both) and so on.

In early 2018, I shifted focus to start including the managers in our programming and sought ways to interact, influence and learn from this segment. I used the opportunity of the International Women’s Day (IWD) to create this first interaction.

We conducted a workshop where groups of managers brainstormed about the 2018 IWD theme – #PressForProgress – around gender parity mindset, challenging stereotypes, forging positive visibility for women and influencing others.

I wondered, would managers be interested in this topic? Did they know the issues and did they have ideas to solve them? My skepticism was unfounded! They not only knew about unconscious bias and situations where they need to be aware of gender nuances, but also had so much passion to change things around them! Each group brought forward two action items about their topic apart from anecdotes/situations they had witnessed/changed, stories from mythology etc. The WIN team later consolidated the many action items into 10 Commandments for Managers.

I feel very proud of the culture in JDA – of managers and associates who engage deeply to create change!

Closing thoughts

In closing, I learned so much during this journey and will forever be a WIN ambassador! At JDA, we are on the right path towards creating an equal world. The World Economic Forum states that at today’s rate of progress, it will take 217 years for us to achieve gender parity. It is a long way to go and  I trust you all will #PressForProgress so that we get there faster!

Resources for learning more:

  2 Comments   Comment

  1. Quite inspired and proud to see the leadership and enthusiasm you have brought into the WIN journey!
    Great going and more wins to come along the way…

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  2. soujanya Damera

    Akhila the core team you have built for WIN is quiet efficient. If not for them I could have not made my progress. This year we have introduced so many new programs with main focus on technology and innovation. We conducted two hackathons and many hands on technology sessions. I really appreciate your efforts and leadership on building these teams.You have been a brand ambasodar women and have inspired and motivated them. Kudos to your leadership.

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