BENGALURU – After working in various roles in the clinical research industry, Jahanara Rahuldev is currently the India head for Parexel Biotech‘s Project Leadership organization, a group of highly skilled Project Leaders. She is also a member of Parexel India’s Leadership team and the General Manager, Business Administration for Bangalore, Delhi, and Mumbai and the Diversity & Inclusion Lead for Parexel India. She balances all these responsibilities along with that of being a wife and mother of two teenagers.

Gender Diversity

The most important thing to bring about gender diversity at the workplace, she believes, is to honestly believe in the value of diversity and the need for inclusion. “Authentic commitment to the cause is vital. Along with that, one must have leadership traits that engage and influence people to support the cause, good communication skills, and strong team-building skills,” asserts Rahuldev.

She feels that gender diversity is a sensitive and nuanced issue, with varying perceptions and societal beliefs. This requires a leader in this vertical to have clarity of purpose and the ability to effectively navigate conflicts, she adds.

In a bid to commit itself to gender diversity, a company must be ready to take a good, hard look at itself. “It needs to scrutinize all its policies and practices and identify ones that may cause discrimination, albeit unknowingly,” says Rahuldev. She thinks that such company would not hesitate in allocating dedicated resources to assess the culture of the organization and the behaviors of its leadership in order to bring consistency and persistence of inclusive values.

Unconscious Bias 

Women bear the brunt of incorrect perceptions or unconscious bias, she points out. Explaining this, she talks about perceptions like women may not be able to do as much as men, they may not be as good in roles requiring manual effort or frequent travels and women of a certain age would be more focused on their marriage or children than their career.

“Another challenge is how the characteristics or behaviors of women are perceived,” she says. A confident and forceful man is called ‘assertive’ while a woman displaying the same traits is labeled ‘aggressive.’ A man who takes time to consider all angles before voicing an opinion is said to be ‘thoughtful,’ whereas a woman doing the same is perceived as ‘quiet.’

Such beliefs sometimes cause women to be overlooked or passed over when there are opportunities for advancement and growth, thereby undermining their true potential, shares Rahuldev.

Plan of Action 

Parexel leads by example, with its Chief Diversity Officer and the D&I team showing no tolerance for any discriminatory behavior. Additionally, there are several regional D&I committees comprising members from various business lines in multiple parts of the globe. The company also keeps updating their programs and policies, keeping up with the times and changing societal norms.

All employees undergo a comprehensive D&I training program that addresses race, ethnicity, cultural and unconscious bias. Rather than being a ‘check-the-box’ activity, it is  viewed as chance to have a serious dialogue on the topic. The D&I team ensure all employees work towards and understand the importance of talent recruitment, gender partnership and equality, LGBTQ+ community and allies, and supplier diversity.

The company has gone a step ahead of the rest and devised an inclusive patient strategy as well. “We now have a significant workstream focused on clinical trial diversity. Clinical trial participants should reflect the patient populations who will ultimately use these medications,” explains Rahuldev. They are also collaborating with industry groups such as the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP) and the Society for Clinical Research Sites (SCRS) to advance diversity in clinical trial recruitment, she adds.

Besides, Parexel has programs targeted to identify high potential women at mid-management and leadership levels and provide them the support required to grow in their careers, she informs. “These programs hone leadership skills and give women the tools, resources and support system they need to progress with their careers, both within the company and as a whole. They also help in making it easier for pregnant women and returning mothers to continue working successfully,” she informs.

Male Allies

Rahuldev believes that men should leverage their authority to be advocates of gender equality, becoming allies of the cause. “Unfortunately, most men don’t realize that they have a role to play in creating equitable workplaces. Organizations must encourage  men to become involved and facilitate open dialogue about gender roles and cultural perceptions of gender differences,” she says.

To build an inclusive workplace, honest and respectful communication is of essence, she feels. In this direction, Parexel hosted a panel featuring male and female executives and colleagues discussing the important role men play in setting the stage for gender equity on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

“Change can happen if we recognize the need for it. Conversations and dialogue are the foundation of creating and increasing awareness. I intend to continue our efforts in this regard: to continuously identify and eliminate barriers, to create more transparency and, most importantly, to maintain consistency of actions,” says Rahuldev.

Future Proofing 

Pointing out that diverse organizations financially outperform those that aren’t has been proven by research, she says that the bottom line in itself should be a big motivation for organizations to evaluate how diverse they are.

“Yet, the progress is slow. I believe organizations are taking the proper first steps. The challenge will be in making it a part of their culture and not letting it remain as a ‘nice-to-have’ initiative,” she says. As an example, she speaks about how hiring diverse talent isn’t enough, inculcating a culture that helps the diverse workforce remain and thrive in the organisation is equally important.

This can be achieved, she believes, when organizations are fair and transparent in their D&I efforts. They should focus on creating level playing fields for all, by ensuring culture shifts in how they hire, pay, and promote employees, she adds. She counts commitment, transparency, and consistency will be vital traits in creating and maintaining diverse organizations.

Rahuldev envisions a future where a gender-diverse equitable organization is the norm. She wishes for people to identify unconscious bias and employ tools to overcome it. An ideal workplace for her would be one where everyone is aware of and believes in the true benefits of having a gender-diverse organization.

Pandemic Impact

Calling 2020 a challenging year that changed people’s lives overnight, she talks about how sad and humbling it was to see the difficulties people went through because of the disease, loss of loved ones, and loss of livelihood. “It was incredible to me that this was happening worldwide — what an equalizer this pandemic has been in so many ways!,” she says.

Lucky to be a part of an organization that has always been flexible and allowed people to work from home, Rahuldev and her team had the infrastructure and technology required to work uninterrupted. She never thought she would ever feel gratitude for being in such a situation.

“I’ve learned not to take things for granted, as the most straightforward thing could be taken away in a moment. I’ve known to be grateful, to not compare with those who are better situated but to look at those who aren’t and help in any manner possible,” she says.