What comes to your mind when you hear the term “diversity and inclusion”?
Is it the shadow of an imbalanced pay scale? Or did a rainbow make an appearance before you? Or was it a happy group of people of color celebrating a workplace victory?
Seven out of ten respondents gave me an answer that was aligned to one of the above segments of diversity. While it is heartening to see the focus and the slow but steady progress in gender, LGBTQ and cultural diversity, what isn’t as heartening is that the slow progress in becoming diverse and inclusive in the above context, has delayed the work on other lesser known areas of diversity. These areas of diversity, that are yet to gain the recognition and importance at workplaces include - cognitive diversity, religious diversity, caregivers, socio-economic diversity and generational diversity. In this story, we will find out about the least known of all - “Caregivers”.
According to NCBI, “the terms family caregiver and informal caregiver refer to an unpaid family member, friend, or neighbor who provides care to an individual who has an acute or chronic condition and needs assistance to manage a variety of tasks, from bathing, dressing, and taking medications to tube feeding and ventilator care.”
Given what the global population is going through at the moment, one cannot emphasize the need to recognize the role of a caregiver in every employee and the extended healthcare they might need to provide to themselves, family members or a friend. Being cognitive of the fact that the nature of the current pandemic requires distancing, there are but several unpredictable health conditions that distort what might be called the normal routine life of an employee, making them a "caregiver" for an ailing family member, relative or friend. Time and money are the two key contributions that such caregivers will often be required to provide for.
The current landscape for caregivers
Now that we are fairly familiar with what the role of a caregiver essentially entails, here are some facts:
- Surveys estimate the number of caregivers above the age of 18 at 44 million (nearly one in every five adults)
- While majority of the caregivers are women, at least 40% are men
- Not many of the above will identify themselves as a caregiver, reason - lack of knowledge and acknowledgement
- Individuals taking care of someone who is above the age of 50 years, are themselves on an average, 47 years old, and work part-time
- About 66% of elderly patients are taken care of by unpaid caregivers
- The last decade has seen a drastic increase in the number of elderly people with disabilities, two-thirds of them rely solely on family care
44 million, the number of caregivers above the age of 18, and they either are jobless or work part-time, or have a job and struggle to balance both personal and professional responsibilities.
So how can organizations ensure they not only make life less stressful, but also give these caregivers a chance to ensure they stay skilled and are able to provide for their family, both monetarily and also in terms of time to take care of them when needed?
Where we stand today
We spoke to some industry leaders to understand their take on addressing caregivers as a segment of diversity and how they are supporting the journey of a caregiver. The responses echoed flexible workplace arrangements and employee assistance programs, to provide both work opportunities as well as counselling to overcome such difficult phases. Here’s what they had to say:
- ThoughtWorks: "According to global statistics, 1 out of 9 people from the workforce could be a caregiver for an older individual, for a person with disability or for someone with a serious physical or mental illness. We recognize how sensitive and unpredictable such caregiving circumstances can be. Employees can choose from options like flexible hours and work from home. “Our Employee Assistance Program or EAP also provides for additional support in the form of counselling for the caregiver and their dependents. Given how these situations change on an on-going basis, we have enabled an organizational culture that ensures safe spaces for employees to discuss personal challenges. They can proactively work with the company on the kind of solution that would suit their specific need,” shared Tina Vinod, Head - Diversity and Inclusion at ThoughtWorks India.
- Sony Pictures Networks: “Caregiving today is a way of life for many. It isn't scheduled and has no predictive end. Supporting caregivers is a critical talent management issue. At SPN, we recognize this critical need of our people, and provide for flexible working benefits, enhanced healthcare to include elderly and comprehensive cover for critical illness. We believe that each individual's situation is different, and thus we follow a personalized approach to support this vital need,” shared Manu Wadhwa, CHRO, Sony Pictures Networks India.
- Fujifilm: “We recognize that it is an important aspect of a corporation to support its employees’ working styles and create a balance between their work and personal care. Therefore, we offer our employees the options of selecting their work shifts as per their convenience. As a company, we do our best to support our people throughout their entire life journey, whether it’s bringing a child into the world or caring for an aging parent or caregiving for an unfortunate event, a sick child, sick brother or sister,” said Mr. Haruto Iwata, Managing Director, Fujifilm India.
- Publicis Sapient: "As organizations evolved, they realized the need to cater to employees’ needs beyond health benefits. That’s when we saw the introduction of policies that responded to the needs of employees as parents. Over time, this has expanded to include all those who have a responsibility of taking care of an ailing or dependant loved one who could be their child, parent, relative or a friend. We offer a bouquet of policies and benefits including offering personal paid LOA to individuals for emergency and special reasons and unpaid LOA upto a maximum of 6 months; subjected to business needs, individual’s tenure, performance and contributions to the organizations,” said Kameshwari Rao, Chief Talent Officer, Publicis Sapient.
- Hinduja Global Solutions: “As part of making HGS truly inclusive as a workplace, our policies are gender neutral and aim to support our employees achieve a successful work-life balance. We have a flexi-work program that allows employees, irrespective of gender and age, to work from home or any remote location 2-3 days a week and also alter work timings. This program, along with other inclusive paid leave policies helps employees to better manage caregiving responsibilities for children, spouses, aging parents, siblings and even close friends. We recognize that caregiving is stressful, both physically and mentally. We have set up employee resource groups (ERGs) in all our delivery centers and conduct several wellness workshops. We also have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which provides counselling and lifestyle management advice from licensed therapists. This program is not only available for HGS employees but also their immediate family members,” shared Shilpa Sinha Harsh, SVP - Global Corporate Communications, CSR and D&I, Hinduja Global Solutions.
The road to becoming inclusive
Despite the concept of caregivers as a segment of diversity is fairly new, it is promising to see how some organizations are actively taking steps to provide accessibility to worklife, and at the same time providing avenues to take care of both family as well as self.
In addition to providing flexible work arrangements, organizations can also consider incorporating the below to become a workplace that is inclusive of caregivers:
- Contract-based projects: Both the caregiver and the employer can agree on timelines, ensuring it neither impacts delivery of work, nor does it stress the caregiver to meet unsuitable timelines.
- Remote working projects: Caregivers are one segment of the workforce who can make the most of the benefits of a gig economy. By agreeing on feasible, deliverable work, organizations can leverage caregivers as gig talent and extend suitable opportunities to them.
- Skilling workshops: Several caregivers resign from their jobs, given the demanding circumstances, and often there is no predictable timeline for their return. In such situations, organizations can run skilling workshops/programs to bring them up to speed with the latest trends, updates, skills that the world of work demands, and at the end of such programs, recruit the batch in niche roles, designed to match both their skillset as well as primary responsibilities.
Only when we see challlenges as opportunities can we succeed. Only when we include each one, can we build diversity.