Diversity and inclusion have taken greater prominence for companies in India in recent years, with more firms wanting to build an equitable workplace.
Experts at the recent SHRM India Annual Conference discussed how the scenario has evolved and shared tips on using a bottoms-up approach for organizations to become more diverse. They stressed the need to build a culture where people from different backgrounds receive equal opportunities and feel included.
"Organizations should be asking themselves, 'how can we by default be inclusive? Not by process or policy,'" said Satish Rajarathnam, senior vice president and global head of strategic resourcing at Mphasis, an information technology firm.
"Diversity is a fact. Every individual is different," said Tooba Modassir, senior vice president and head of learning, performance and talent management, diversity and inclusion at Citi South Asia. "Are you creating platforms that create equity and equitable opportunities?" asked Modassir.
Panelists agreed that while many organizations have long intended to be more diverse, in the past two years many have started working towards achieving that goal.
"There used to be a lot of debate on why diversity," said Modassir. But research has settled those queries, she said. "Now, it's asking what are the actions that need to be taken?"
Recent research from SHRM found that one out of four people said they dread going to work and don't feel respected and valued with respect to diversity and inclusion, said Archana Jerath, director of operations for SHRM in India, Asia Pacific, Middle East and North Africa. Organizations have lost $223 billion due to workplace turnover due to culture-related challenges in the last five years, said Jerath. "There are huge costs involved,"
Many Flavors of Diversity
In India, where the 1.4 billion-strong population speaks more than 450 languages, diversity not only means having more women workers, but also workers from different cultural, language and socio-economic backgrounds, different sexual orientations and different physical abilities.
Which one of these diverse backgrounds should organizations prioritize? asked Abhijit Bhaduri, founder of consulting firm Abhijit Bhaduri & Associates. "This is a false dilemma," responded Hari T.N, CHRO of online grocer BigBasket.
Rather than having a single priority, Hari said each organization should seek to become more open to different points of view.
"If you aim for gender diversity, then you would end up ticking a few checkboxes, but you would not achieve the fundamental objective of creating real diversity of thought," he said.
Having said that, companies in India are still falling short on the most common diversity metric of gender. At BigBasket, Hari said they have no women at the senior leadership or CXO level. At Mphasis, though 38% of all employees are women, only 2% of the CXOs are women, said Rajarathnam.
"We still have a long way to go to be in a place where it's an equal world," said Mamta Sharma, vice president and HR head at Fiserv Global Services, a technology solutions provider where women make up 31% of the total workforce but only 15% of the CXO suite.
Building a Critical Mass
Diversity makes business sense because it opens up access to new talent pools, said experts. BigBasket, for instance, has hired 1,000 differently abled workers.
"I was personally very shocked to see that this kind of talent exists," said Hari. "Their performance is just as good, their retention, their values…is just better than everybody else," he said.
But simply having a policy of diversity isn't enough. "Merely being inclusive is not going to encourage either women or differently abled people to come and join," said Hari. Instead, they would want to see others in the organization like them.
"It's important for a company to create a critical mass of that category (of workers) for others to believe that you're sincere about it," said Hari.
Bottoms-Up Approach to Inclusion
It's also not enough that companies hire employees from diverse backgrounds; these workers must also feel welcome and included, said Anurag Bansal, chief sales officer at technology training firm TalentSprint. Bansal cited a case study to explain how an organization can ensure that diverse workers fit in. TalentSprint works on a program with Google in which it selects 200 women engineers in India who have weak economic backgrounds. These women are trained for two years in technology as well as in soft skills, such as communications and how to behave in a corporate setup, so they are prepared to join the workforce.
"They are fully equipped to be part of the organization, and they don't feel that they are a separate group or they have been taken into the organization as a special initiative," said Bansal. "That is the bottoms-up approach" to inclusion, he said.
Removing Bias, Giving a Voice
To be more inclusive, organizations need to listen more to their employees and build a culture where each employee has a voice, said experts.
"Invite them into decision making and involve them in multiple projects, in multiple initiatives," said Venka Reddy, global HR business partner at Infosys, an IT services firm.
To drive this agenda, experts stressed the need for organizations to appoint a chief diversity and inclusion officer.
"You need to set a culture," said Pratyusha Sharma, assistant vice president of HR, talent development and transformation at Cognizant, an IT firm. There's also a need to educate employees across all levels, addressing any biases they may have towards others who are not like them.
Organizations should get the perspectives of diverse employees to understand what biases they typically face in order to address them. "You may think you understand what the challenges are, but you don't really know," said Bhaduri.