In today’s rapidly evolving environment, diversity and inclusion have become essential pillars of successful and forward-thinking organisations. While the conversation around these has gained considerable traction in recent years, with the needle moving forward, there are still significant barriers that prevent under-represented groups from fully participating and thriving in the workplace. Under-represented groups include members of the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, and women. In order to foster an inclusive and empowering environment, it is imperative that organisations proactively address these barriers and create opportunities for everyone to succeed.
The lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within organisations has detrimental effects on both individuals and the company as a whole. Discrimination, unsupportive work environments, and increased stress levels create barriers for individuals from underrepresented groups. Consequently, companies experience high attrition rates, a declining reputation, and reduced productivity. To truly embrace inclusivity, a company must address the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, and women.
For the LGBTQIA+ community, despite the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India, discrimination against queer individuals persists in various aspects of life. Transgender individuals, in particular, face even greater alienation and exclusion.
As per the National Statistics Office report on disability released in 2019, about 2.2% of India’s population lives with some kind of physical or mental disability. According to a report by market intelligence firm Unearthinsight, India has almost 3 crore people with disabilities, of whom around 1.3 crore are employable, but only 34 lakh of them have been employed across the organised sector, the unorganised sector, government-led schemes, or are self-employed. People with disabilities encompass a wide spectrum, and it is our responsibility to make structural changes to promote inclusivity.
The percentage of the female population in India is about 48%, while women employees only constitute 26% of India Inc.'s workforce across sectors. Despite the significant contributions of women across various fields, their representation in the workforce remains disproportionately low. Societal biases limit women to certain roles, impeding their professional growth.
Measures to fix the gap
Creating Inclusive Hiring Practises: This includes re-evaluating job descriptions to ensure they are inclusive and avoiding biased language. Additionally, organisations should strive to establish diverse hiring panels to reduce unconscious bias in the selection process.
Providing Equal Access to Opportunities: This involves implementing mentorship and sponsorship programmes that pair employees from underrepresented backgrounds with senior leaders who can provide guidance and support.
Promoting inclusive leadership: Ensuring that underrepresented groups have a seat at the decision-making table. Inclusive leaders should actively seek out diverse perspectives, create opportunities for collaboration, and champion the voices of underrepresented employees.
Enhancing accessibility in health
For the LGBTQAI+ community, societal alienation leads to limited access to healthcare, putting individuals at a higher risk of mental health struggles and other prevalent issues. Additionally, gender reassignment surgeries are often financially burdensome, further exacerbating the challenges faced by this community.
Families with a member with disabilities face increased expenses, and limited access to insurance further compounds their financial burdens.
Women, throughout their lives, face a triple burden related to childcare, reproductive health, and lifestyle diseases. Out-of-pocket expenses for these healthcare needs place additional financial strain on women and their families.
Corporations must work towards reducing these disparities by prioritising comprehensive coverage that encompasses under-represented individuals' specific needs.
Cultivating a culture of inclusion
Insurance: There is a need for a comprehensive evaluation of employee benefits plans, moving beyond the sum assured. It is essential to include specific needs such as maternity, gender reassignment surgeries and prosthetics. While insurance coverage may address LGBTQAI+ needs, we must also consider the extent of coverage, ensuring that outpatient expenses such as therapy, medication, and tests are not excluded.
Workplace Policy: Listening to employee needs and perspectives through focus group discussions and surveys is crucial for organisations to stay ahead in fostering an inclusive environment. Clear communication of inclusivity policies and ongoing education for employees demonstrate a commitment to change.
Workplace Design: Poorly designed workplaces have a negative impact on the overall health of employees, especially those from underrepresented groups. To improve workplace design:
- For Women: Build more restrooms and designated spaces for breastfeeding employees.
- For LGBTQAI+: Establish gender-neutral restrooms and allow for a gender-neutral dress code.
- For People with Disabilities: Provide ergonomic equipment, adjustments, and assistive technology such as speech-to-text devices and screen readers to accommodate their needs.
According to research conducted by Great Place To Work, having a diverse and inclusive workplace has numerous advantages, including higher revenue growth, enhanced innovation capabilities, improved recruitment of diverse talent, and a significantly higher employee retention rate of 5.4 times. Additionally, their findings indicate that when employees have trust in fair treatment irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age, they experience several positive outcomes:
- Increased anticipation for going to work, with individuals being 9.8 times more likely to look forward to their workdays.
- Enhanced pride in their work, with employees being 6.3 times more likely to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
- Greater inclination to stay with their company for an extended period, as they are 5.4 times more likely to desire a long-term commitment to their organisation.
Every forward-thinking company should prioritise accountability, transparency, and a culture of inclusion.