Ankita Mehra Speaks On Biases In Workplace, Promoting Inclusivity And Retaining Talent

Ankita Mehra
Over the past few decades, the face of leadership in the corporate world has drastically changed. Many women have broken glass ceilings and climbed to the top. Be it Anjali Sud, the CEO of Vimeo, Leena Nair of Chanel or Falguni Nayar, the Founder and CEO of Nykaa, these women are a reminder that women are very well suited for leadership roles.

Undoubtedly, women are the catalysts that bring about change. However, given the patriarchal attitude that is deeply etched within the society, including in the workspace, it becomes difficult for diversity to be promoted. However, studies have found that having women in the workforce is beneficial, especially economically and in terms of sustainability.

Ankita Mehra, a community manager and Diversity & Inclusion leader with Careernet, has constantly through her social media and through her work at the companies made an attempt to have on board people from varied backgrounds mainly focusing on women and queer persons.

Mehra notes that biases against women continue to exist in the workforce despite the “keen” call for equality in the workplace.

“Unfortunately, women face discrimination at the recruitment stage, well before they are employed, making it an issue that needs to be addressed first. Other critical areas that call for immediate attention are docked salaries, reduced career avenues and a lack of resources to re-acclimatise when women return to work post-maternity,” she states.

“The unrealistic expectations employers have of women marks the beginning of the filtration process. Women have had to deal with pointed questions regarding their plans about marriage, planning a baby, etc. quite openly during interviews,” she noted.

The alumna of Savitribai Phule Pune University also observes that the unconscious bias that the organisations still carry overwhelms a woman’s competence, experience and capability in the decision-making process.

Ankita observes that leadership posts are still largely out of women’s reach and that women employees still don’t feel included. Although the women have proved that they are equally capable of being good leaders, the leadership positions are out of women’s reach largely.

“Stigmas like women being meant to give birth, raise children and take care of a household are a systemic issue. There are also very limited return-ship programmes. Women need to justify and explain a career break in interviews, and there is discrimination in the delegation of authority awarded to women who have recently had a child. With avenues to perform and prove capabilities being flawed, the route to leadership for women is unfair, to begin with,” she observed.

She further explains how the issue of underrepresentation and lack of inclusivity at leadership levels affects the pace of bringing about a change further.

“The queer community faces this concern. Even if heterosexual people in leadership positions are advocating on behalf of the community, you cannot make the right kind of change unless we have more people from the community at the decision-making level. The same goes for female leaders,” she noted.

Suggested Reading: Why Are Majority Of Urban Indian Women Not Part Of The Workforce?

Challenges Of The Queer Community

Speaking further about the challenges queer community faces, she noted, “For the queer community, another challenge at the workplace comes in the shape of a unique set of discrimination. No matter how competent and skilled candidates are, they are judged based on their appearance and disposition.”

Before she advanced in her career as a community manager, Ankita was a financial advisor. When quizzed about what prompted the change, she says that her sexuality has been a defining aspect of her personality, especially after she appeared on a popular television show.

She says, “I realised conversations around subjects like inclusivity and sensitivity had to be initiated and normalised in our society. So, I decided to become that voice for my community so we could be heard.”

Ankita, who is part of the queer community says, “The expectations of the LGBTQIA+ community have changed. They are no longer willing to adjust and expect their workplaces to accommodate them. This development has been driven by the change in the mindsets of employers. Right now, my mission is to help people understand inclusion in its truest sense, and at the same time, help them understand the measures required to ensure an inclusive environment in any workplace.”

Suggested Reading: Why Inclusion Of LGBTQIA+ Community In India’s Economy Is Important?

Ankita Mehra On Her Journey

However, no one becomes a leader overnight, they have a journey they embarked on which has shaped them to be who they are. Ankita expresses that she is grateful that she took one risk which eventually let her grow into a great leader and advocate for inclusivity.

Coming from a tier two city and being a below-average student had already caused Ankita to be doubtful about her esteem. She says long before her sexuality became a point of discussion, she’d been braving severe self-esteem issues.

“Overcoming these challenges triggered the zeal in me to live and grow the way I am. I am passionate about spreading the message that just because you do not fit into binaries does not mean that you are any less than other people. I learned that it is imperative to know that change doesn’t happen unless one makes uncomfortable conversations,” she says.

One incident she distinctly recalls that shaped her to be the leader she is today is a memory she shares with her father. Mehra, while talking about it, says, “An incident that changed me as a leader, or rather moulded me into one, happened the day I got overwhelming support from my family. My father, who turned out to be a huge ally of gay women, told me ‘You need to fight for people like you’. That was the day I realised that my family was my biggest support system. I started thinking like a leader, and I never looked back.”

How To Retain Talent

Ankita, who has been working with organisations to ensure inclusivity of people from varied backgrounds in corporate, elucidating on how we can ensure to encourage more women and retain them in the workforce, said, “More awareness sessions need to be held in the office. We need to start talking about numbers and statistics to get an honest idea of this gender gap within organisations. The sensitisation should be continuous and consistent to have a meaningful impact and make a real difference.”

“Another strategy for women who want to build their careers is to be vocal about their experiences and build allies in your organisation who can support and empower your growth. Your story also has the power to empower an ally and enable change,” she points out and adds, “As we talk about inclusion, we must also bring into the writ of this narrative that organisations should invest in sensitising staff to such issues.”

Suggested Reading: Power And Leadership: What Stops Women From Leveraging Their Skills?