Article: Bias is a seed sown for exclusion: Dr. Ritu Anand, Chief Leadership and Diversity Officer, TCS


Bias is a seed sown for exclusion: Dr. Ritu Anand, Chief Leadership and Diversity Officer, TCS

Dr. Ritu Anand, Chief Leadership and Diversity Officer, TCS, shares with People Matters, the journey of TCS in becoming one of the first few Tata companies to extend medical coverage to LGBTQ employees and their partners, the need for value-based leadership to drive inclusion and much more.
Bias is a seed sown for exclusion: Dr. Ritu Anand, Chief Leadership and Diversity Officer, TCS

Over three decades worth experience with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Dr. Ritu Anand, Chief Leadership and Diversity Officer at TCS, is an experienced global thought leader with a passion in building human capital and creating people value through culture, inclusion and leadership transformation.

TCS happens to be among the first few Tata companies to extend medical coverage to LGBTQ employees and their partners. In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Dr. Ritu shares what it took to translate the intent of inclusion into reality, the need to address existence of bias before trying to eliminate it, why leaders must invest personal capital and actively role model desired behaviors and much more.

Here are excerpts of the interview.

What has been the highlight of your diversity and inclusion journey so far?

My journey in the diversity arena started a decade back. Diversity was not a celebrated topic then as it is today. I launched Diversity And Women’s Network (DAWN) in 2009 to encourage and enable women at TCS to advance and realize their potential. This network focused on initiatives for retaining women, advancing women encompassing policies and enabling an environment to help them manage major milestones in life.  Our motto was ‘what gets measured, gets done’. What you see in TCS now, in terms of gender ratio, is a result of focused attention since then. 

With changing demographics and generations at workplace I wanted to expand this concept. This resonated with my CEO and we took a step further with a broader and more holistic outlook and branded it as LeaD (Leadership & Diversity). This was done to encompass all facets of diversity and go beyond the gender conversation, where the focus now is on diverse skills and inclusion at work. 

Over the years there have been many moments that will be etched in my mind forever, however it was a defining moment for me when TCS became the first employer to have one lakh women employees on its payroll. TCS has over 1,60,000 women employees in its workforce now, making us one of the largest employers of female talent in India. That is a matter of great pride for me.

The recent times have witnessed greater emphasis on creating value-based leadership. How critical is value-based leadership when we talk about diversity and inclusion?

In the last five years, the tech industry has witnessed a wave of digital disruption. Leadership styles must evolve and adapt according to the need of the hour. Let us define value-based leadership as leading based on the values of oneself and one’s followers. We will also define diversity and inclusion as part of an organization’s practice and strategies to move to an equitable workplace to provide a competitive business advantage. These efforts aim to eliminate diversity bias in hiring, retention, promotion, and leadership to achieve performance-based outcomes. 

For leaders to increase diversity-based inclusion, they must first be made aware that there is diversity bias.

They must also be educated on the impact diversity has on a company’s performance. Finally, leaders must be willing to take on the extra energy, effort, strategies, and practices associated with moving to a diverse and inclusive work environment that provides unbiased equity for all.

These steps are required for leaders to launch dedicated resource groups that celebrate achievements in diversity, to implement technology that reduces bias in the hiring process, and to provide trainings that spark unconscious bias awareness in leaders at all levels. 

TCS happens to be the among the first few Tata companies to extend medical coverage to LGBTQ employees and their partners. What went behind translating this intent into an actionable organizational policy in a large organizational setup?

‘Respect for Individual’ is one of our TCS values, so it was a matter of paying attention and getting it right. We invest heavily in people to create a diverse workforce, providing benefits that include rather than exclude, be it health cover to parents or partners.

To continue our effort towards tapping the needs of our diverse segment of employees, we have formed diversity councils in each geography. The council continues to create equitable opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community. Part of that equation means equitable access to healthcare. Regular engagement with our employees and clients helped us identify this gap that we successfully addressed by extending medical coverage to LGBTQ+ employees and their partners.

Through our research, informal discussions, and formal feedback channels with our employees and clients, we learned that many LGBTQ+ individuals experience certain health risks at higher rates including chronic conditions and mental illness. These challenges then lead to inequality in the workplace, which is why there was a need to act swiftly.

What are some of the challenges that remain a roadblock in diversity and inclusion? 

Reality is not absolute anymore. Our people are unique, their mindsets are unique, their choices are unique and hence, the way we approach our people should be unique - to be relevant to them and to sustain the positive impact on our business. 

The challenge is invisible. You cannot see it; you cannot detect it, except in the numbers. We have many organizations across countries where gender numbers at the top are not impressive, that’s when you know the ‘glass wall’. Bias isn’t always conscious. Once the manager accepts that exclusion exists, the change will happen automatically, consequently policy, process and mindset need to be changed. Neither of them is easy but can be done. 

There needs to be an awareness amid employees as well. Employees must understand that it is imperative for us to have diverse people in every sphere of our workplace, be it in a team meeting, a training program, celebration of long service or brainstorming session. Innovation comes with uniqueness – easier to cultivate when we have different types of people in the team. The culture of diversity is impossible to design without active participation from all.

What is the current state of awareness with respect to the different segments of diversity?

I must admit, the awareness is increasing. Now a lot more people are aware than in the past. With dedicated attention and focus, we have been able to create more acceptance among the larger pool. LeaD focuses on diversity segments like gender, generation, culture, PwD, LGBTQ+ and diversity of the mind. We have calendarized the initiatives in each segment, that is accessible to all employees globally. Engaging such a large workforce presents us with exciting opportunities and finds growth to be a way of life in TCS. 

The bias against minorities often stems from years of a fixed social construct, mindset and accepted societal norms, and the fight to provide them equal access and opportunities is widespread across geographies, each at different levels of acceptance, understanding and progress. How can organizations manage employees having an opinion contrary to the voices supporting diversity?

As I said earlier, the first step towards this will be accepting that there is a bias. I believe that bias is the crux or seed which is sown for exclusion, we all should be working against it. 

The numbers describe the situation as nothing else can. Analyzing data and drawing insights is one way of convincing. In the current scenario, organizations should attempt ensuring that these biases are removed slowly but surely, so that it will have a larger impact on the inclusion journey; be it driven by the culture, by the conditioning of the social norms, behavior or societal pressures. If companies and individuals can influence this even in a small fraction it will have a huge impact on the organization, in the society and in the nation.

I believe as leaders we must invest personal capital and actively role model the desired behaviors to build a more open and accepting culture. This must be done with courage, empathy and an open mindset.

What is your advice for leaders to build scalable D&I initiatives? What kind of metrics can be applied to measure the effectiveness of D&I initiatives? 

It is an accepted fact that diversity and inclusion injects a certain texture to an organization’s fabric which is instrumental to its success. Given the competitive landscape of our industry, we see D&I as a strategic mandate that will drive progress and innovation for our business, impacting our growth as an organization favorably. As an organization, it is our constant focus to help our workforce identify their uniqueness or specialty, in behavior, mind-set and leadership style. It is this ability to see, who we are with clarity and attention, which brings us together.

Leaders must understand that diversity is a celebration of distinctive qualities, which comes together to achieve one common goal. Teams may have different backgrounds, perspectives, ideas, and upbringing but share common experiences across the globe.

Diversity allows creativity, innovation, courage to experiment and the ability for us to learn from failure. Optimal inclusion practices hold the space for a large and varied workforce, which spans across nationalities, cultures, gender, abilities, attitudes and choices. 

Each organization and its units have success metrics. It is common practice to use the same metrics to measure the effectiveness of D&I. While diversity will show up in simple trends as in hiring, attrition, promotions, sales positions, travel etc., inclusivity in behavior and mindset will have to be drawn from analytics and insights. Very few organizations are at a stage of correlating advance stage metrics to create long term impact. Are the teams with higher diversity demonstrating higher performance, is higher gender ratio at leadership level resulting in better deliverables, is there a larger number of innovative platforms where gender ratio is higher etc. The success metric should be impactful to the enterprise where business leaders see value and visible outcome.

Conversation, understanding, advocacy, discussion, acceptance, policy changes, and finally implementation. The journey to translate diversity conversations into a living, breathing and thriving inclusive culture comes with its challenges. What according to you can accelerate this transition? 

Challenges are there and will continue to mushroom. Need of the hour is to not Say but to Do. There are too many conversations, too much advocacy and too many forums across the globe.

While ‘voice’ is needed to be heard, action on the ground will fetch more results. We need to find the spots where ‘exclusion’ exists, build stories around it, showcase inclusive managerial behavior and train managers to consciously ‘include’ diverse section.

Globalization has influenced industries where we see businesses adapting methodologies to ensure a correct balance between both the community and the individual. Today, we are emphasizing on the inevitability of an organization to imbibe inclusion in its culture. This must be viewed as a strategic mandate that drives progress and innovation for business, impacting growth of the organization favorably. An inclusive workplace encourages an open and empathetic culture that focuses on individual, respecting their views and opinions, genuinely engaging with them and involving them in decision making. 

This transition can be accelerated by implementing diversity practices in line with changing business scenarios, goals and metrics. Leveraging technology changes and advancements like Intelligent Automation, Artificial Intelligence and big data enabled metrics will influence the results positively.  

What in your opinion is the need of the hour - equity or equality? What are your top priorities for D&I in 2020?

The need of the hour is equity. Equality assumes everyone starts from the same place and needs the same help. Equity, on the other hand, acknowledges and recognizes inherent differences and biases, and gives everyone what they need to be successful. In an ideal world, we would provide the equity needed that would move us to a point of equality. This would require a world in which there is no bias. But because human nature is inherently biased, we will always have work to do to move to equality. Will we ever reach perfect equality? No. But we’d like to be as close as possible.

My vision is Diversity by Design, Inclusion as Culture. That said, our top priorities for D&I include increasing the pipeline of diverse talent at all levels, gathering insights from our diverse employees to improve everyone’s experiences, mandating managerial trainings on D&I, increase diversity in the hiring and supply chain among others.

Can you tell us in one word what diversity and inclusion means to you?


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Topics: Diversity, #EachForEqual

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