What is your response to the compelling call of the stronger-than-ever business case for diversity and inclusion in your organization? Typically, most companies right off the bat begin with diversity hiring agendas, imposing inclusion policies, or running DEI awareness campaigns, despite this, the progress in some companies gets stalled. It calls for a need to explore the crucial tenets of the diversity and inclusion plan, which can not only build the company's standing as a pioneer in DEI initiatives but also demonstrate its ability to make a positive social impact.
According to Sandeep Bidani, a management consultant, leadership coach, and inclusion catalyst with positive momentum, a global management consulting firm, "Developing a DEI strategy starts with understanding the stage the organization is at." "The key is to be cognizant of the four stages of making a DEI implementation strategy, and these four phases include awareness, acceptance, operationalization, and normalization," he stated. While some of the largest multinational corporations may be at an operationalization stage, others may be in the phase of sensitizing their managers about diversity and inclusion. Any strategy must thus begin by assessing the current level of the company's knowledge and acceptance of the idea among its personnel or determining if the concept has reached the operational stage and needs to be scaled up.
Create a Self-Sustainable Ecosystem
The policies and campaigns fall flat without a robust ecosystem to support them. Instead of rushing into an agenda for employing persons with disabilities or LGBTQ individuals, Bidani said that the first step should be to create an environment where they are welcomed and comfortable. "You can either run the annual features of carrying flags and having committed conversations in an organization or have a sustained approach to building an ecosystem starting from infrastructure and operational perspectives," he said. "That starts with building awareness of technology changing how PwD works and normalizing that people can be different", added Bidani. Simple actions like instilling inclusion practice as an intrinsic value into employee onboarding, designating the restrooms as gender-neutral, adopting the right technology to aid the cause, or evolving the medical policy by including a provision to cover the cost of gender transition surgery can lead to a significant change.
Once the roots are set, the tree will continue to grow even with little care. Similarly, once a foundation of interest and curiosity about inclusion and equity is laid by making simple changes in the ecosystem, the building blocks of regular workshops and unique conversations will concretize the structure and will continue to elevate it even with little effort.
Be Ahead of Time
Richa Bansal, CEO & founder of Saarathee, an organization that helps operationalize inclusion for companies through its outsourcing, sensitizing, and hiring model, said, "We follow the show and tell approach to create an ecosystem for partner organizations by inviting and involving them with PwD (persons with disabilities) in their premise where they work in different roles." She added that as an inclusion partner, they invite partnering organizations to participate in roundtable conversations with them and ask questions, break stereotypes, and build confidence. For organizations, engaging their leaders in such unique conversations is undoubtedly an excellent place to start as the cultural shift percolates from leaders trying to make a difference in the DEI space.
Though meeting current demands deserves focus, nevertheless, it is imperative for organizations to have a long-term perspective. Bidani shared that, as an ex-CHRO, while building diverse talent pools, he proactively mapped diverse talent pools in the market, encouraged companies' senior leadership and HR leaders to connect with them over a cup of coffee and establish a connect even if they didn't have an immediate role ready for them. The key is to keep seeding. He suggested that the idea is to look outside the competitive landscape in a structured manner where we could find a competent workforce even if they are not looking for a job change. To some, the idea of reaching out to a diverse workforce without any expectations or agenda might sound a little ahead of time, but it sends a powerful message that you are progressive in action and are future ready to include them in your workforce.
Break Stereotypes and Be Bold to Take Risks
Roop Automotives Limited is worth a mention for being way ahead and bold in action for breaking stereotypes of the manufacturing sector. "Roop Automotives started their women inclusion journey from rural parts of Haryana by hiring and deploying women on shop floors and took it to the next level by hiring transgender people (LGBTQ) and PwD in the next phase", said Bansal working as inclusion partner with Roop Automotives. "Roop has close to 160 women and 17 transgender people (LGBTQ), many of whom are working on the shop floor of their manufacturing unit, while most manufacturing firms are still grappling with the idea of diversity," confirmed Gaurav Jain, HR Director, Roop Automotives.
Saarathee is another name in this space, breaking stereotypes by grooming and growing PwD, irrespective of their educational background and skill set. "We work as an outsourced channel partner with Amazon, Coding Ninjas, ITC Foods, and Daikin Air conditioners where we have hired people with different disabilities and delivered industry-standard results and outcomes, but this is just the tip of the iceberg," confirmed Richa Bansal, Founder & CEO (Saarathee) "We are in the process of developing an Ed Tech platform which will help people with different disabilities to make themselves job-ready for today's corporate needs and help them find jobs as per their skills," added Bansal.
Be bold to take the pilot step. Taking chances will pave the way for a better next move, or, at the very least, it will teach you something significant.
Treat Every End as the Beginning
"Diversity and inclusion strategies cannot be a flavor of the season; there can be different focus areas surely within diversity," said Bidani. Organizational leaders should consistently assess their ability to provide employees with a consistent experience in terms of structural changes and managerial behavior. According to Bansal, assuming that PwD or transgender people will not aspire to professional advancement and that simply having a job will be enough for them is unfair.
In most cases, employers accept hiring a targeted diverse workforce as the end of their diversity and inclusion goals, whereas it is just the beginning. According to Bidani, "when standardization is pushed, equity is neglected." The key is that hiring opens the doors for deeper inclusion practices like giving employees hyper-personalized experiences by carving out career growth plans specific to their goals and career aspirations; identifying skill gaps and running upskilling programs; taking employee feedback; empowering them to have a voice by having unique conversations with them, and persistently making efforts to be sensitive about their individual needs and include them in decision making.
The key takeaway can be explained by the analogy given by Sandeep Bidani: "The appropriate step is to mix the egg in the cake before baking and not put it on top of the cake after it is baked." The egg and the cake analogy suggest that inclusion cannot be driven as an afterthought. Therefore, the efforts must begin at the seeding stage of making an inclusive organization rather than incorporating inclusion practices into an already established system.