Head of Diversity and Inclusion at ThoughtWorks India, Tina Vinod discusses the journey of diversity at the company, levelling the playing field in the boardroom and the role of technology in achieving diversity, in an exclusive interaction with People Matters.
Having been with the organization for over 17 years, Tina is currently the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at ThoughtWorks India alongside being a part of the Corporate Social Responsibility Core Group, and Anti-Sexual and Anti-Harassment Committee. She also represents India in ThoughtWorks’ Global Social Impact Group.
Read on to find out what Tina has to say about building the capability of Inclusion, the business impact of Diversity and the future of women leadership.
In the early years of your career, who was the one leader you looked up to as your role model? What inspired you about him/her?
I have been working with ThoughtWorks from pretty early on in my career and had the chance to work with the founder of the company, Roy Singham. He has been instrumental in shaping my views on Diversity, Inclusion and Social Impact. He believed that every individual and organization’s true calling is to drive positive social change, and a large part of my value system stems from that ideology. This thinking has influenced me professionally and personally.
With ThoughtWorks recently winning the NASSCOM corporate award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion under the gender inclusion category, and launching an e-book called Udeti, how has the diversity journey been so far for the organization?
Equity is obsolete without inclusivity. It is reduced to just lip service if not translated into an organization’s everyday functioning. And, in this context, ThoughtWorks’ journey right from the start to where we are today, has been extremely enriching and empowering.
The key pillars of this journey have been creating a toxic free and safe space, teamwork and collaboration, strong role models, the willingness to learn as a community, and bringing our whole selves to work.
Udeti, the Ebook is a milestone in our journey. It chronicles a few inspiring career paths, challenges and victories of women who are passionate about tech.
What according to you is the roadblock in achieving gender equality in tech?
The percentage of women who get to pursue a professional course of education and continue in tech careers is influenced by multiple external factors. Only a much needed systemic change can bring about true equity. Most often, women who are their children’s primary care-givers take a break from work. This break quickly becomes an intimidating abyss to cross.
Representation is key to attain gender equality, across the board, in tech.
Organizations play a very critical role at this point, in the manner that they choose to empower women technologists. Some approaches include affirmative action like setting a target of 40-50% of entry level hires being women. However, this stand-alone effort will not suffice because the subsequent challenge is retention - and in building the kind of workplaces that provide women with the necessary support to go through their specific career and personal journeys. The follow through should be in the form of multiple investments and policies like flexi-work, upskilling and training, leadership development programs, affinity groups and similar.
Organizations have to account for their employees’ deep rooted cultural and social attitudes, beliefs and biases and continue to grow a diverse and inclusive culture. This can happen through consistent awareness programs and linking the progressive culture to business objectives.
What initiatives are you taking to level the playing field in the boardroom?
Growing the next level of women leaders is an important objective for ThoughtWorks. We periodically design and run customized leadership development programs for women across the company. We run a global initiative called WILD - Women in Leadership Development in which ThoughtWorkers from around the globe participate.
Another push is a mentoring program that actively works with women who are identified to shadow existing leaders and build the requisite skills and network. Women form almost half of ThoughtWorks’ Office Tech Principals group - members of whom are involved in all tech related decisions and initiatives of the organization.
We also ensure that our women technologists have a well-knit community of role models to tap. We encourage more women to speak at conferences and present their papers. We regularly discuss the significance of women building their own networks inside and outside ThoughtWorks - through initiatives like the Network of Women, where women from many across industries come together to share their learnings.
Incidentally, it was quite recently that our CTO, Rebecca Parsons visited ThoughtWorks’ Bengaluru office, and along with quite a few women senior technologists talked about how we could improve the percentage of women in tech and women in leadership at ThoughtWorks.
How can organizations accelerate achievement of diversity goals?
Most organizations look at diversity as the right thing to do, and not at how it actually supports business strategy, objectives and growth. This is one of the main reasons for many pro-diversity initiatives to fail.
Some of the questions to ask one self are - How do we create a culture of belonging? And, how does that impact retention? How will diversity and inclusion help build diverse products? How will diverse perspectives enable innovation within teams?
Diversity cannot be a data initiative. It should not be owned by the organization’s leadership alone.
At ThoughtWorks, we run an in-house program on unconscious bias, and what’s interesting is the program is run by our leadership team. Through storytelling and activity based workshops, ThoughtWorkers understand the value that diversity brings to business. They recognize how being inclusive ensures a sense of belonging for one and all. Leadership approachability, transparency, shared accountability and ownership - all contribute to guaranteeing that every employee has a voice, and feels connected to the organization and the community.
It’s gratifying for us to run initiatives, that a lot of time are not just the brainchild of the Diversity and Inclusion team at ThoughtWorks but are ideas shared with us by the leadership team or have been developed by our employees on the ground.
What is the next milestone you are working towards in your DNI journey?
We have a long road ahead of us. Apart from our continued work in the space of gender equity, we are also putting a lot of focus on mental health and wellness. We have already kicked off this particular journey in 2020 and are proactively exploring programs, initiatives and tie-ups.
The reality is that, diversity is a given - be it the gender spectrum, personal perspectives, regional and religious difference. Additionally, one has to be conscious of ‘intersectionality’ and the interrelated nature of all our social identities.
Unless organizations recognize this reality and work towards building a culture of inclusion, belonging and respect, we will fail to be sustainable and successful in the holistic sense.