Article: Seema Unni on why fostering inclusivity is a business imperative


Seema Unni on why fostering inclusivity is a business imperative

Fidelity Investments India HR head shares insights on fostering inclusivity, promoting diversity, and building a positive work environment.
Seema Unni on why fostering inclusivity is a business imperative

To make employees feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their best work, Seema Unni - Head of HR, and Regional Leader, Fidelity Investments India, suggests focusing on people. According to her, leaders can create a safe environment, sensitising employees, and sponsoring affinity groups to drive both individual and organisational success. It's crucial to recognise that diversity encompasses more than just visible differences, and includes a myriad of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.

Seema also says that leaders are needed to be self-aware of the diversity trends, and familiarity with the significant diversity and inclusion industry trends. She also highlighted the importance of active listening which allows leaders to understand the viewpoints, concerns, and needs of others without passing judgment. Here are the other pointers that Seema shares with People Matters on inclusivity and diversity:

What do you believe are the key responsibilities of a leader in fostering a positive and inclusive work environment within an organisation?

At Fidelity Investments India, fostering a positive and inclusive work environment is not just a goal, but a fundamental principle that defines who we are and drives our organisation forward. When considering the key responsibilities of a leader in achieving this, several critical aspects come to mind:

  • Deep understanding and appreciating the significance of inclusion to the organisation and customers we serve: It is important to recognise that fostering inclusivity is not just a moral obligation but a business imperative. Much research has been published on the positive impact a diverse and inclusive workforce can have on hardcore business outcomes such as innovation and productivity, leading to overall organisational success.
  • Leading by example: Once the foundational understanding is established needed to work on diversity and inclusion (D&I), leaders must embody the values and behaviours that promote inclusivity. By consistently role-modeling respect, empathy, and openness, leaders can set standards for others in the organisation to take inspiration from. They should also make efforts to have a deep understanding of the domain. This is an ever-changing area, and having a robust understanding will make a lot of difference.
  • Transcending visible dimensions of diversity: Many organisations have come a long way in their D&I journeys. They have gone beyond the traditional and visible dimensions into invisible dimensions of diversity as well. These include embracing diversity of thought and being intentional about ensuring that all voices are heard and valued. Leaders should encourage a work culture that is open to ideas and perspectives from all levels and sections of the organisation.

Focus on employees:

Employees are the most important ingredient in realising an organisation’s D&I vision. To involve employees in the journey, leaders should:

  • Sensitising employees: Leaders should consider taking proactive measures to sensitise employees on the importance of fostering an inclusive environment. This includes providing training, creating platforms for open dialogue, and celebrating diversity within the workforce. The aspects of sensitisation should be in sync with leaders’ role-modeling behaviors, as any difference between what is spoken and what is exhibited as behavior by leaders will lead to a break in trust.
  • Creating a safe environment: It is the responsibility of every leader to establish a safe and supportive work environment where employees feel comfortable in expressing themselves, without fear of judgment or reprisal. This encourages authenticity and fosters trust across the organisation. It transcends beyond physical safety into psychological safety as well.
  • Sponsoring affinity groups: Leaders should support the formation and institutionalisation of affinity groups. These groups provide platforms for networking, support, and advocacy, thereby enhancing a culture of inclusion within the organisation. Openly sponsoring and advocating these groups from the frontlines is critical. This would motivate employees and foster the right behaviors


How do you ensure that your leadership approach promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how do you actively address any potential barriers or challenges that may arise?

As a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion (D&I), I understand the importance of fostering an environment where every individual feels valued and respected. My experience across various roles at Fidelity, including being a D&I leader for global sites, has helped me get an expansive view of the rich diversity of personalities, cultures, and skills of our talented workforce and, therefore, how important it is to tap into the value we can derive from their perspectives.

To foster a sense of belonging for all, the emphasis lies on promoting inclusive behaviours and implementing transparent and fair policies that champion equal opportunities for all employees. This involves fostering a culture of respect, empathy, and open-mindedness where every voice is heard and valued. However, challenges do persist. Instances of unconscious bias and systemic inequities must be recognised and addressed, requiring a multifaceted approach. Monitoring progress, facilitating open discussions, and promoting support across levels in an organisation are some of the strategies that must be employed. These can be further enhanced through regular education and training initiatives aimed at raising awareness of unconscious bias and how to address it. Promoting open dialogue and creating safe spaces for discussions around diversity and inclusion are essential.

Building a culture of inclusion requires concerted efforts and a commitment to continuous improvement. It involves promoting awareness of core D&I values and desired behaviors across all levels of the organisation, driven by leadership role-modeling. This will help build a workplace where all employees are empowered to bring their authentic and best selves to work and contribute to their fullest potential.

What specific actions do you take to recognise and celebrate the diverse talents, perspectives, and contributions of your team members?

Our reward mechanisms transcend traditional rewards and recognition programs and are more systemic. While we do have special organisation-wide awards to honor and recognise inclusion champions and teams who have made special efforts to promote our culture of inclusion within or across teams, I would like to highlight that the true recognition is in showcasing these efforts more broadly through powerful leader and employee stories. These reiterate and reinforce the ethos of the organisation, which is to create a positive and inclusive work environment.

What strategies do you employ to encourage open communication, collaboration, and respect among team members, regardless of their background or identity?

At Fidelity Investments India, we follow a multi-pronged approach that is a hybrid of systemic as well as programmatic solutions.

Some of the facets are as follows. These are illustrative and not comprehensive by any means:

  • Integration of D&I into the organisation’s talent management strategy: We are intentional about embedding D&I in everything we do, and it is an integral part of our talent management strategy and not a standalone initiative. For instance, when talent management actions are being discussed, aspects of D&I are woven into the conversation, decisions, and actions. These happen by default and not as an afterthought.
  • Fostering collaboration among diverse teams: In today’s world of team networks and matrixed structures, we actively promote and foster an environment that is conducive for associates from different teams to come together. This encourages teamwork and cooperation and fosters a culture of support and innovation.
  • Actively encouraging and sponsoring affinity groups: In our organisation, leaders actively sponsor and promote affinity groups. These are employee-initiated and -led, where employees from different backgrounds come together to support a cause. This ensures employees have a safe space to learn, unlearn, and relearn, and helps them feel included and valued within the organization.
  • Learning programs: We have targeted cohort-based as well as broader learning programs that are aimed at promoting awareness among our employees on the need to inculcate a mindset of inclusion in everything that they do. We also place a strong emphasis on both traditional and reverse mentoring programs for employees and leaders to benefit from cross-generational perspectives.
  • Power of conversations: We lay a lot of emphasis on conversations on the topic of inclusion. We enable, equip, and empower our senior leaders and managers to have these conversations, to increase their understanding and appreciation of the core aspects and sometimes tough topics of inclusion. To quote the words of American author Brené Brown, “To not have the conversations because they make you uncomfortable is the definition of privilege. Your comfort is not at the center of this discussion.”

These are just some of our initiatives focused on building a more equitable workplace where employees from all backgrounds are not only appreciated and valued but also thrive in their careers.

What advice would you give to other leaders who are striving to create a more inclusive and positive work environment within their teams or organizations?

Creating a more inclusive and positive work environment within teams or organisations requires leaders to embody certain principles that foster a culture of belonging and collaboration. Firstly, deepening one’s self-awareness is crucial. Sometimes, being unaware of biases is a bias in itself. Inclusive leaders recognise their own biases and actively work to address them.

Secondly, leaders need to be closely aware of significant diversity and inclusion industry trends and how these are being approached. This understanding can be complemented through conversations with your employees and staying tuned to various listening posts available in the organisation, to capture the pulse of employees. Social awareness involves actively engaging with and understanding the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives of all stakeholders.

Thirdly, prioritising active listening allows leaders to understand the viewpoints, concerns, and needs of others without passing judgment. Inclusive leaders facilitate connections among team members, fostering a sense of community and belonging. They also strive to make a positive impact on their teams, organisations, and communities by leading with courageous vulnerability and sharing their experiences authentically. Finally, investing time, resources, and energy in initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion demonstrates a leader’s commitment to championing a more inclusive and positive work environment.

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Topics: #Culture, Employee Relations, Business, #HRCommunity

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