In 2018, we witnessed quite a few significant initiatives in corporate India to develop more inclusive workplaces. Organizations went on a drive to make their offices safer and more comfortable for all employees irrespective of individual identities. Some of these developments were perhaps prompted by the wave of gender equity movement sweeping across the globe; some were conceivably in response to a major legislation decriminalizing consensual relationships of same-sex persons. Some observers labeled these primarily as attempts to comply with new regulatory demands. Others perceived these as an additional part of ongoing employer brand-building exercise. However, many viewed these developments as progressive features of a maturing corporate India – ready and open about embracing diversity in the workforce.
The question we are asking is – when we make diversity and inclusion at workplace part of our human resource strategy – going beyond the compulsions of compliance or the obligations of employer branding – are we actually making a more intelligent decision? By being a more inclusive organization - can we become a high-performance organization as well? Let us take a quick look at what we already know.
In an extensively cited article on the concept of an inclusive workplace, published in 2000 , Michal E. Mor Barak defined it as one where: individual and intergroup differences are not only accepted but appreciated and utilized; a conscious effort to cooperate and contribute to the surrounding community is present; needs of disadvantaged groups are addressed; collaboration across organizational boundaries are common. If we evaluate the issue of diversity management or inclusion in workplaces through Barak’s conceptualization, we are likely to come across a significant number of limitations. Most commonly, we know about organizations including some global giants, where inclusion was reduced to only certain statistics. We come across statements like: “X percentage of our workforce consists of people from a particular community” or “We have Y members of the board who are women” or “In the last year, we reserved Z percent positions for candidates with alternative sexual orientation/differently abled physical conditions”.
Evaluating organizations' performance
The problematic issue with evaluating an organization’s performance in diversity management or inclusion only through such statistics is – it completely misses the point! Essentially, having people from different social groups (identified for such purpose) on board is only the starting point for inclusion – it’s a necessary condition, but not sufficient. Meghna Sabharwal, in her research article published in 2014 contended that organizational inclusion actually went beyond diversity management. Interestingly, she cited multiple studies which established contrasting arguments. While some found a positive connection between workforce diversity and organizational outcomes like increased productivity (primarily through higher satisfaction, motivation, and commitment of employees linked to their role), there were also studies which established that heterogeneous groups could be associated with delayed decision-making, increased conflicts, and lowered productivity.
When we are content with absolute numbers, ratios, percentages and similar basic statistics relating to significant groups without closely assessing the real extent of participation and involvement in decision-making in organizations – we fail to develop a truly inclusive organization. We have to look beyond citations of number/ratio/percentage of: women; religious/ethnic minority groups; LGBTQ community; differently abled persons, etc. Even though it’s great to have the “right numbers” as a start, inclusiveness has to move beyond a single action-point (creating a diverse workforce). It has to be integrated with the work culture and processes of an organization. Only then can we reap the benefits of diverse perspectives, opinions, and arguments emerging out of the diverse configuration of the workforce. Going beyond those obvious indicators mentioned earlier, we should seek out and include people who are distinctive by their socio-economic backgrounds, cultural affiliations, educational qualification, work experience, problem-solving methods, value systems…it’s a long list!
The essence of inclusiveness
The essence of inclusiveness lies in acknowledging everyone’s value in the organization, making people feel respected and valued, offer them a sense of belongingness, participation, and ownership. Till that happens through a carefully curated work culture and maintained through efficient systems and processes, inclusiveness would remain only rhetoric which would probably die a natural death – without offering any tangible results. It won’t survive the tough test of viability and long-term effectiveness.
True inclusiveness is not easy to achieve. It’s a definitely a time-consuming, challenging, complex process which is sometimes frustrating. Without a strong, decisive and sustained backing from highest leadership and comprehensive buy-in from the employees, it’s not feasible to achieve the goals. Is it still worth trying then? Surveys and studies established beyond any reasonable doubt that inclusiveness led to more creative, innovative, responsive workforce. Inclusive organizations relate to the challenges and uncertainties of environment faster and better than their peers.
They are more adaptable to change process. In a country like India with innumerable features and dimensions of diversity intensely present in our socio-economic-cultural construct, shouldn’t we then try to make our organizations truly inclusive?