At Pearson, we celebrate diversity: Ritu Agast, Director HR
Diversity and Inclusion, has been a hot topic globally and also unsurprisingly made an appearance in the top 10 trends for India in the last year’s Deloitte report. About 79 percent of executives had rated diversity and inclusion as an important workplace issue. However, 48 percent of Indian companies said that they are unprepared for the challenge while only 15 percent claimed to be fully ready.
There are different ways in which organizations are dealing with the challenge of diversity. Be it gender diversity, generational gaps or different backgrounds and school of thoughts people come from, addressing the diversity challenge can be quite cumbersome. In an interaction with People Matters, Ritu Agast, Director HR, Pearson India shared what diversity and inclusion meant for Pearson India and talked about some initiatives practiced in Pearson for celebrating diversity.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
What does diversity and inclusion mean for Pearson India?
Diversity comes in various forms and shapes. Unlike most of the organizations, we look at diversity beyond the gender challenges. When we talk about diversity, we mean cognitive diversity. The different educational backgrounds that people come from and the varied experience they bring in. That is a big thing here at Pearson because we are an education center. So, cognitive diversity is something which we are keenly looking into. We also look at diversity from an age perspective.
How is Pearson India addressing the challenge of diversity, in your case let’s say cognitive diversity?
In order to make sure that the openness and acceptance for the diverse set of people are implemented in the culture, we said we would have open offices. So, if you look at our offices today, there are no cabins at all. Even the Managing Director doesn't sit in the cabin. It is all an open office and if we need to have certain meetings with our personnel, then we book our meeting rooms. Otherwise, we stand around the desk. We have conversations like that. So, this is the strategic move on our part. It is also from a cultural point of view, where we want to tell people that it is not about hierarchy. It is about projects that you are working on. It is a kind of culture that we have set up in Pearson, globally in all locations and regions.
We also have some initiatives for gender diversity in particular. For instance, we have a chapter called “WILL - Women in Learning & Leadership” where we talk about the need to have a diverse workforce. And with initiatives like these, we communicate this to every employee. Secondly, we take care that there are women in the leadership team and project teams. The organization is not only concerned about having enough women in the workforce but what levels are they working at as well.
At Pearson, we appreciate diverse views. We celebrate diversity. We say if you are different and are doing things in a different manner, be it from gender perspective or thought perspective or from any other perspective, there is going to be a celebration.
Do you also run any initiative for the LGBT community?
We talk about it on the world forum and in India we don’t talk about it very openly yet. From LGBT perspective, Pearson Global is looking into it, although in India, I think LGBT battle is a higher order issue when it comes to gender-related challenges. And we haven’t moved into a slightly higher order yet.
How does diversity and inclusion fit in the entire employee lifecycle?
To begin with, when talent acquisition team gets a request for any position, the team goes back and studies the department the requirement is for. For instance, when I am hiring for the sales team, I go back and study the team and check if there are mostly men or women. Interestingly, at Pearson, a lot of our sales personnel are women because we deal with schools where there are a lot of teachers who are women. So, we have a great advantage which we are trying to leverage here. So, sometimes, there are situations when I mostly have women in the team and then I have to look at diversity from men’s perspective. For us, looking at the team composition while hiring is the starting point.
We also look at the team composition from an educational diversity perspective. For instance, if we have some Mathematics graduates in the team but need more people from social sciences background for diversity, then we look at it from that lens.
Then once the person enters the organization, we try to give them buddies in the organization and we try to pair two diverse individuals. We believe if we will give the new joinee a buddy who is similar to him then we would be promoting conformity. But if we give them a buddy who is different, then we are communicating the culture of the organization.
Lastly, we run a strong diversity program under which we have an induction where we talk about all the diversity-related issues.
In the induction, we bring in people from different generations and backgrounds to tell their side of the story so that others can understand him/her better. And we have realized at Pearson that stories work out very well with adults. It is a form of learning that they really like. They don’t think it to be like sermons or lectures. They come and share stories and it works out well. So, we actually put the managerial cadre on a program called "story-telling," so that, they can share their experience in that form. It works out very well.
Have you measured the success of the storytelling method quantitatively?
We do run surveys but most of these are paper-pencil or 5 points surveys. I won't say that we are the best at measuring the efficacy of these stories. But yes, it is a constant improvement that we are trying to make in terms of how we can make our measurement much more objective. I won't say that we have done that entirely. But yes, we are trying our level best. But most of our programs, out of 5 usually score a 4.5. And that's our benchmark. If the program scores less than 4, we always go back and see what went wrong. So, our internal benchmark is 4 out of 5. So, if anything is below 4, then we review the entire program again.
How do you think organizations can deal with diversity and inclusion? What is the one tip that you would give to the senior leaders?
I think celebrating diversity is imperative and this is what we are continually promoting in Pearson as well.
As leaders, I think the problem that we are grappling with is that we do not celebrate diversity sufficiently. We still single out people who look different either by looks or by thoughts or by behavior. I think we have to be more empathetic, whether it's someone from different gender, educational background or generation; we have to listen to understand the needs of the other person. We have to try and understand their perspective and it’s not just organizations but I think as a society we need to develop that tool-kit.