Article: 'Added Perspective': Avtar Group’s Saundarya Rajesh on importance of regional diversity in the workplace

Diversity

'Added Perspective': Avtar Group’s Saundarya Rajesh on importance of regional diversity in the workplace

By building a talent pool with different regional backgrounds you are also building different ideologies of thought, and respect between the organisation and employee, as well as adding to the team's wisdom, says Saundarya Rajesh, founder – president, Avtar Group.
'Added Perspective': Avtar Group’s Saundarya Rajesh on importance of regional diversity in the workplace

Regional diversity -- defined by the language an individual speaks, the culture they belong to, and religion and geographic location -- in the context of organisations, means that the business hires resources with distinctive characteristics resulting from traditions, values, practices, or beliefs with varied ideologies.

When you have an assorted mix of teams, each one brings an exclusive knowledge based on their lived experience to the table, generating thoughts covering a wide spectrum of choices, and resolutions, adding to the team’s wisdom.

Take for example, an industry such as hospitality or advertising. Here, it is important to understand the nuances of the region known only to those who are from the particular area. In sectors like these, region-specific knowledge and understanding add tremendous value in delivering customer delight.

Saundarya Rajesh, the founder–president of Avtar Group, India’s premier diversity, equity & inclusion solutions firm, says an ideal workplace must be filled with resources from diverse backgrounds bringing in unique skills needed for the role that they play at the organisation.

As per India’s largest diversity analytics exercise, Avtar & Seramount's Most Inclusive Companies Index, champion organisations engage with employees from at least 25 different states and union territories, on an average.

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Rajesh talks about benefits of regional diversity in the workplace, the factor as a key to combat the present talent shortage, challenges organisations face in managing regionally diverse workforce and how they can overcome them.

Here are the edited excerpts

How does regional diversity benefit the workplace?  What challenges does it throw up for organisations?

The benefits are obvious. Regional diversity brings in a range of ideas and thoughts for everyone to learn and thrive from. By building a talent pool with different regional backgrounds, you are also building different ideologies of thoughts, respect between the organisation and employee. This puts an organisation in an attractive position to pull talented and valuable candidates.

One of the biggest challenges posed is the inherent paradox. For an organisation to show consistent results in business performance, it has to have a unified culture and set of values. How do you bring in a diverse workforce that come with their own differences to converge to a unifying culture? The solution to this lies in the leadership – where the leaders take this challenge head-on by articulating the organisations’ values that guide each and every individual to rise to the fullest of their potential without compromising on their own individuality.

How can a regionally diverse workforce be effectively managed? 

Diversity at workplaces is growing at a faster rate. Organisations are having to deal with the growth sometimes beyond their inclusive ability. There are various forms of diversity today – gender, sexual orientation, people with disabilities, intersectional, religious, linguistic, and so on. In the context of regional diversity in India, one of the major challenges is that of sensitive and inclusive communication (where people from different regions speak different languages).

Another challenge is that of building an organisational culture that respects and values different beliefs and traditions. If awareness around this is not built, conflicts are bound to rise leading to poor employee engagement and high employee attrition.

In order to proactively manage the same, companies engage in awareness sessions on inclusive communication, including using a commonly understood language like English and celebrating different festivals from various regions.

At the 2021 Avtar & Seramount Most Inclusive Companies Index, we found that, on an average, more than 90% of all the companies conduct team building activities to engage with talent from different regions such as celebrating food, festivals, all of which leading up to the learning of unfamiliar cultures in India.

Can regional diversity serve as a key to combat present talent shortage?

Talent shortage is a diversity problem. Leaders will have to narrow their focus to address the scarcity by addressing themselves to underrepresented talent groups and build an inclusive culture at their workplaces.

An organisation’s reputation amongst the various stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers can be improved through a diverse workforce. Different employees being able to interact/help/engage with different customers in a personal way with shared lived experiences and understanding leads to customer/vendor/employee loyalty.

Can companies advanced on various aspects of diversity serve as role models to those just embarking upon their DEI journey?

Many organisations that are market leaders in their industry verticals are making bold commitments on their goals to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are seeing them move the needles as they move up the diversity, equity, & inclusion maturity curve (DEIMC © - a proprietary measurement model developed by Avtar) that assesses the ability of an organisation to leverage diversity, promote equity and nurture inclusion.

Through Avtar’s recently launched initiative, “Business is Good,” such role model organisations can commit to influence other companies within their ecosystem including subsidiaries, vendor organisations and partners.

Regional diversity lends itself naturally in large metros. However, in Tier II and III cities – it is the larger ecosystem that actually comes into play. How can the large organisations enable those in small cities to build inclusive workspaces? 

As an organisation whose goal is to create more employment for women and other underrepresented talent pools within the ecosystem, such market leaders are the vanguards who spur the creation of inclusive businesses. As role models for diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI), these organisations can mentor the smaller ones, share their best practices, and sponsor their DEI initiatives.

The economy has begun to look up with a forecast of a robust growth of 8 to 8.5%, as per the Economic Survey for the year 2022-2023. The pandemic-led momentum for MakeInIndia that propounded Atmanirbhar Bharat is also foreseen to create 6 million new jobs.

The MSMEs, a key sector, has the potential to boost women’s workforce participation. The sector contributes to 45% of the total manufacturing output, 40 % of exports, and 30 % of GDP.

Micro and small enterprises have a lot of attention in the latest budget and through skilling, the employability especially of women gets an impetus. Alongside the mammoth push for MSMEs, another encouraging initiative is the focus on Tier-II and Tier III to make them centers of sustainable living.

This is a big step and can push women’s workforce participation, as it would open up opportunities for them closer to home. When larger organisations which are more matured in their DEI Journey, influence the MSME sector in the capacity of suppliers, it can become a big boost to women’s employment in Tier II and III locations.

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Topics: Diversity, Employee Engagement, Strategic HR, #DEIB

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