Article: Inclusion: The New Competitive Edge


Inclusion: The New Competitive Edge

Increasing competition and talent shortage has pushed organizations to embrace diversity and inclusion in their talent strategy. Industry case studies stand testimony to diversity being a key lever for excellence

Diversity management is a top priority for organizations today


Diversity brings with it, tremendous creativity in intellectual and perceptual abilities


Increasing competition and talent shortage has pushed organizations to embrace diversity and inclusion in their talent strategy. Industry case studies stand testimony to diversity being a key lever for excellence

Globalization and economic growth have brought a host of non-traditional employees to the workplace. Women, people with disabilities, retired employees, and cross-regional employees from far-flung places in India or abroad are not a novelty anymore, making diversity management a key lever in the talent engagement strategies of organizations today.

Diversity brings with it, tremendous creativity in intellectual and perceptual abilities. However, the benefits do not accrue automatically. It is not easy for people of differing backgrounds and perspectives to get along with one another. Simple misunderstandings of differences in behavior, attitudes, and backgrounds, can sometimes cripple a team. Progressive organizations therefore work proactively to ensure inclusion in organizational processes and people practices to be an employer of choice.

The business cases presented here are real, and are great examples of how some organizations have overcome deeply rooted prejudices and redefined the workplace. By modelling inclusive behaviors, these organizations have demonstrated that it is not just about social justice; but about business impact too.
Each of the following stories is inspiring. However, benefits did not come quickly or automatically. It needed good leadership, vision, and strong commitment. A message, business leaders worried by attrition rates, should note.


The KFC story

At some KFC outlets in Bangalore, it is not uncommon to find customers pointing to the items in the menu instead of naming them. The reason – the person taking the order is likely to be hearing-impaired. Besides bright smiles of achievement, these men and women at the counter wear badges that read ‘please point to items in the menu’. This is part of KFC’s initiative to tap the talent available among people with disabilities.

These employees face no discrimination in pay or access to growth and opportunities. “They read lips with remarkable precision and have proved to be excellent employees,” says Mahesh, Manager at the KFC, HAL Airport Road outlet in Bangalore. The store managers and other employees also communicate with them in sign language, creating a place where those with special needs work as equals. The other employees are merely 10, compared to the 30-strong team of specially-abled people. The team has outdone themselves in performance. Customers too seem happy to support the cause and this unit has witnessed a steady rise in revenues.

Project Tejaswini

Tata Steel’s Project Tejaswini offers an amazing mid-career change for several women – including those who work as cleaners at the company’s steel plant in Jamshedpur. This unique program empowers poorly skilled and illiterate women employees to operate cranes, rigging machines, welding machines, and other precision instruments.

The ‘Tejaswini’ women learn to drive heavy payload equipment with capacities of up to 8 tons – such as dumper-trucks, bulldozers, forklifts, ambulances, and security trucks – besides mastering the working of each mechanical system. Further, interpersonal grooming, team building, and positive thinking modules equip them for a role that puts them truly on an equal platform and sit in the ‘driver’s seat’ of their careers.

Shell India

Shell Retail’s India arm, established in 2004, currently operates 60 petrol pumps across India. With its focus on hiring diversity talent, women represent at least 20 percent of its workforce and every pump has a minimum of 2 workers from the disabled group. Retailers for petrol pumps are therefore chosen carefully to ensure they share the company’s ideals of a diverse and inclusive work culture. Shell has also included more women workers in its gas stations across Chennai, after the 2004 Tsunami.

For the last 3 years, at a Shell pump in Mysore, four mentally-challenged young adults are part of the workforce. To accommodate their inability to work long hours, the youth work as part time employees, coming in 4 hours a day. Despite challenges, the four are good workers and face no discrimination in pay or benefits.
The company also tracks diversity and inclusion initiatives on a quarterly basis and believes that its diversity-friendly policies are appreciated by customers and their goodwill drives sales and impacts the bottom line.

Anandhi’s story

Anandhi supplemented her parents’ income by working as a baby-sitter very early in life. She worked in the mornings and evenings, before and after school hours, while excelling at her school work. Noticing her intelligence and determination, Anandhi’s employer mentored and coached her in English and social skills. This helped during the campus interviews where TCS hired her.

“The day I got a job was a big day for my family. I was going to be the first to be doing a desk job at a large global firm with a five figure salary! It was a dream come true,” reminisces Anandhi, who recalls the days she used to visit the Mphasis office where her father was an electrician. She used to see him address others as ‘sir’. “I would wonder when someone would call me ‘Ma’am’,” she says.

Of course, there were challenges. “At first, it was difficult to interact with colleagues freely, but my team lead was supportive and trained me,” she says. There was no looking back after that. Anandhi won the ‘Fast Track Learner’ and ‘Star of the Month’ awards and within two years, was promoted as Senior Process Associate. Today, married and with a child, she refuses to be a part of corporate India’s leaky pipeline.

Vindhya e-Infomedia

Vindhya e-Infomedia is a BPO providing backend processing services to info-tech and microfinance companies with a staggering 90 percent of its workforce comprising people with disabilities. Launched with the clear aim of helping the society’s less privileged individuals find dignified work opportunities, its workforce includes hearing-impaired, physically and mentally-challenged employees and are found at all levels in the company, from floor representatives to the managerial level.

The company’s HR policies understand and meet the needs of its differently-abled employees. Regular trainings, workshops, and activities are planned to keep employees connected to each other and pay packages and benefits are at par with market rates. The result – a 4% attrition rate as compared to the industry’s 20-25 percent!
Ashok Giri, CEO, reveals that workforce productivity is better than the average BPO, because the employees tend to be more focussed and loyal to work to prove themselves.

Nirmala Menon is Founder & CEO Interweave Consulting Pvt Ltd

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Topics: Diversity, Strategic HR

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