On Women’s Day this year, once again many diversity conscious companies launched various initiatives centred on women and feminine issues. There was a sudden surge in programs to improve diversity, initiatives to improve work-life balance and special events for women employees.
Overall, statistics for gender ratios are nudging upwards in India with a lot of large companies making dedicated efforts to enhance diversity. But are the companies paying a cost to achieve this? Are we compromising on the merit of candidates to fulfil the diversity targets? Are such programs affecting the morale of some other employees?
I am not anti-diversity, instead I work as a diversity facilitator and I sometimes wonder, are employers who claim to be equal opportunity employers, unintentionally discriminating against their ‘regular’ employees. At a networking event that I attended recently, I came across a group of managers discussing incidents of women team members taking advantage of the work-life balance policies instituted by their company. One peculiar case that bothered me was how despite working only two days a week, a team member was being awarded the highest rank in his team - for meeting the diversity numbers. Another case was, how a woman got promoted despite being short of capability, just because the manager wanted to meet his diversity quota. Obviously, such examples exist only on the fringes of the bell curve, but it is always such extreme cases that are cited as an example.
Diversity programs need to promote genuine equality. Increasing dissatisfaction amongst employees and cases of hiring candidates without a proper expertise, are the two major challenges diversity hiring initiatives must take care of. Listed below are a few measures to making diversity programs non-discriminatory for all:
- An initiative can either be an Enabler or an Equaliser. Enabler initiatives, as the name suggests, would enable the targeted women to increase their performance (ideally through capability building) so that they can compete better (e.g. senior executives conducting one-to-one mentoring sessions for top-talent women). On the other hand, equalizer initiatives are those which allow women candidates a subtle leeway in performance, to allow for the limitations they face (for example lowering the utilization target). Enabler initiatives require long investments and at the same time these offer long term benefits. Equalizers on the other hand, allow the organization to meet short term diversity objectives. Obviously both of these have their own advantages and disadvantages – trouble happens when one is substituted for another one.
- Set the bar- How much is enough? What will be the point beyond which an entitlement becomes untenable? Privileges and policies are meant to empower employees to deliver their best performances in their unique circumstances. It is important to clearly communicate the limits and responsibilities with such entitlements, in order to prevent any misuse and cause dissatisfaction among other team members.
- Identify balanced programs and initiatives to focus on diversity candidates without compromising on the expertise required for the role. Such programs fulfil both – the performance criteria and commitment towards diversity. A good example can be professional internship programs for women on career breaks – such as re-orientation programs are helpful in attracting the left out talent pool of women and evaluating them on the job before retaining them. Performance is crucial for any business and should not be compromised to accomplish diversity.
- Let the change come from within. Most diversity initiatives are led by an all women team, leading to an ironic situation of no diversity within diversity teams. In many cases, this isolates the diversity teams within the organization, also increasing the risk of men disowning any further role in promoting diversity.
Just like women, men too, bring a unique set of values and abilities to the table. Including men will bring about the same set of advantages that diversity teams promote in the first place. It also makes sense going further and engaging employees to hear their views and solutions on diversity. Change is always more acceptable when it comes from within.
Diversity is important but inclusion is far more crucial. Discriminatory policies and privileges sometimes result in overall employee dissatisfaction and decreased performance. Diversity without inclusivity will create exactly the same problems that we set out to solve in the first place.