Approach DEI from the lens of ‘Intersectionality’: Ruchi Bhalla, Pitney Bowes
Ruchi Bhalla is Country Head - Delivery Centers, India & Vice President Human Resources (Asia Pacific) at Pitney Bowes.
Ruchi comes with over 20 years of experience as a talent leader, with over a decade at Pitney Bowes. Prior to Pitney Bowes, she worked with Fiserv and RMSI.
In her present role, Ruchi is responsible for driving the strategic agenda to scale India Delivery Centers as well as developing and implementing the HR agenda for India & APAC region. Under Ruchi's leadership, Pitney Bowes has been named one of India's Top 25 Best Workplaces 2020 by the Great Place to Work Institute and one of the Top 5 Companies in Diversity (SMEs) 2021 by Jobsforher. She has also been named one of the Top 5 Diversity Champions (SMEs, Startups) 2021 by Jobsforher.
In this exclusive interview, Ruchi talks about helping employees rebuild the lost social capital, pivoting hiring systems to engage hidden talent, conscious representation to eliminate tokenism and the power of diversity with the right skills mix.
Here are excerpts of the interview.
What are your top three DEI priorities for 2022?
The last two years have dramatically changed the way in which we work and live. As companies look at returning to office and adopt a hybrid work model, the way we approach DIE will also need to evolve.
For Pitney Bowes India, we have reformed the way we used to conduct DIE initiatives in silos and now approach DIE from the lens of ‘Intersectionality’. Intersectionality recognises that individuals experience challenges based on multiple and intersecting identities, including age, gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
Our top priorities for DIE from the lens of Intersectionality, are focussed on providing employees the support they need in rebuilding the social capital that has been lost over the last two years.
Much of the progress made to create a diverse and inclusive work culture across the industry was undone due to the pandemic. Many women had to step back from work, due to the additional responsibilities of home and caregiving. In the new hybrid work model, organisations will need to work harder to ensure the voices of those who are not in the room are included too.
Building a workplace with a greater focus on personalised programs that feel relevant for everyone on the team, irrespective of where they sit, which technology they work on. The hybrid work model has widened the scope to adapt job roles for employees with unique challenges, such as those with disabilities.
Greater accountability from employees for the environment that they are cultivating. No amount of diversity and inclusion programs will be of any value if leaders and employees don’t take greater responsibility for how they conduct themselves in the virtual and physical workplace. Leaders need to be agile and empathetic, and they have to stay tuned into employees’ voices, which is exactly what we did during the pandemic, as we would during any other crisis or even regular working schedules.
A Harvard Business School report coined the term 'hidden workers' to reflect the missing talent pool in global hiring efforts. In your opinion, what is keeping underrepresented talent hidden despite the spotlight on DEI today?
The technology industry has been facing a talent crunch, yet large pools of talent continue to remain untapped. This phenomena of growing ‘hidden workers’ is a combination of the over reliance on technology to sift through resumes and find the perfect candidate, long-standing and dated hiring practices, and not enough checks and balances to spot oversights.
Engaging this latent talent pool will require organisations to pivot their systems designed to scout for the ‘perfect’ candidate to advance the candidacies of those with demonstrated capabilities to close skill gaps. Developing a focused tactical approach to tackle the challenge of hidden workers could also be the key. Efforts to check-biases during the application process, such as encouraging ‘Blind Application’, as is the practice at Pitney Bowes India can be undertaken. Training for hiring managers and interviewers to build greater awareness about checking biases when selecting candidates could also help.
How can organisations steer clear of tokenism in their hiring and cultural transformation efforts?
Creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive work culture is hard work, and it’s tough to do this without slipping into tokenism of some kind. One of the ways in which organisations can avoid tokenism is by making DIE a part of the organisation’s culture and policies and not a checklist.
As organisations, we’re often so focused on percentages of people representing different groups, that it overshadows the impact that these employee groups are having on the business.
Rewarding diverse employees and providing them a seat at the table ensures fair and equitable treatment and sets the tone of the culture. It also creates role models, to see someone ‘like you’ in a leadership position.
Particular to gender diversity, how do you see the role of men in enabling and accelerating gender equity?
Diversity and Inclusion is the responsibility of both genders and men and women can and must partake equally in the conversation. In Corporate India, men are more often in leadership and influential positions and can play a key role in influencing policies and being change agents.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach but a combination of programs to eliminate unconscious biases, raise awareness, and build an understanding of how inequalities in gender can impact the workplace will be helpful. Dedicated workshops, for example, on bystander training, could help build awareness and bring more men into the conversation.
How do you see the role of managers in solidifying inclusion? How essential is manager sensitisation to enabling sustainable inclusion?
All organisations want and look for the best talent.
Diversity with the right mix of skills can have a powerful impact on the performance, profitability, and culture of the organisation.
Inclusive leaders and managers with a passion for diversity understand that it is a lot more than just the percentage of women or people of a certain race or background in a company.
Building a strong cultural ethos that values diversity is the first step towards creating an inclusive workplace, and this starts top-down. Organisations must cultivate a structured environment that allows for inclusion. Managers need to be cognizant and stave off prejudices by identifying them within themselves as well as their teammates and making a conscious effort to minimise their interference in daily conduct. Creating a culture of merit, where only talent matters and having role models to look up to, so that people have the courage to innovate, be inspired, and achieve their goals, enables sustainable inclusion.
Pitney Bowes launched the DIBE Program (Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging and Equity) to sensitise people managers, drive conversations around everyday allyship, and adopt a proactive approach towards an inclusive culture.
What is your advice for organisations striving to bring about authentic and sustainable DEI shifts?
For DIE programs to be authentic, organisations must acknowledge everyone’s unique reality. We are all defined by our experiences and where we come from. DIE programs need to be personalised and iterative. When we are talking about diversity in a hybrid model, we’re talking about two sets of people – one who are in the room and the other who are behind the screen. Organisations have to make sure that they weave in all perspectives, all voices, whether across the table or across the phone, and ensure that everyone is equally represented, which means that inclusion is paramount.
Everyday allyship to hear all perspectives will be the key.
Having mechanisms that do not fuel biases to prefer one over the other for a non-merit reason is extremely important. It's important to remember that when lives and homes were invaded whilst working from home, we noticed, and we recognized and we embraced the whole human. Accommodating personal life happened organically.
Keeping in mind the priorities and responsibilities that employees carry outside the office, while empowering them on the professional front will be key creating sustainable workplaces that work for ALL.