Most of the leading corporations in the world today have invested significant time in creating various diversity initiatives. This is because a diverse workforce can yield many organizational benefits including greater customer satisfaction, better talent branding and successful decision making. These initiatives look at both effective reaching out by the company to the right talent pool and at the same time creating an inclusive work environment which aims at accepting differences and raising awareness on the “unconscious bias”.
Despite such efforts, the impact is still to be felt.
A year after Google announced its diversity initiatives; their revised data on workforce diversity was actually staggering. This was followed by a much needed declaration of a holistic diversity program, focusing on many key areas. Out of their total workforce, only 30% were women. This percentage drops to a 18% when tech related jobs are taken into picture, and these numbers get further skewed when it comes to top leadership. With similar figures across the board, the problem becomes more acute as major companies like Facebook, Apple, Twitter become global brands with much diverse workforce.
In India, the picture isn’t pretty either. Nearly 50% of Indian women quit their corporate jobs between junior and mid-levels of management. In a Quartz India report, Sashi Irde, executive director of Catalyst India pointed out how women are filling jobs at entry level but this percentage has had a sluggish growth when it comes to the number of women in leadership roles. According to Irde, even if women start as equals, a gender gap emerges over time and they end up lagging significantly behind their male counterparts. Such practices lead to a creation of a male dominated workforce. The Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia report concludes that India has the smallest percentage of women in the total workforce (among China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore) and the largest pipeline leak occurring earliest in women’s careers— between middle and senior-level positions (48% decrease). Indian women are giving up their careers much sooner than professional women in other Asian countries.
With the industry still facing such numbers we explore ways to create an inclusive culture that can strengthen the outcomes of diversity programs.
Initial efforts to setup a working framework
There has been consensus across the industry to improve workforce diversity. Many companies in the Indian IT sector are working to create and promote inclusive work places to achieve a much favorable balance in the gender ratio of their workforce. Vishal Sikka, CEO of Infosys, aims to have 25% women in senior leadership roles by 2020. The SEBI prompted a spurt in appointments in 2015-16 by mandating the appointment of at least 1 woman in the board of directors. Google, IBM and PwC have come up with strategies where specific areas are focused on creating the right talent pipelines. Twitter has also come up with explicit goals for 2016 to address gender diversity to reach favorable figures by launching a number of programs and partnerships.
But most of the diversity programs are still in their nascent stages of development. "We are proud of the progress we’ve made, and our commitment to diversity is unwavering," said Tim Cook, the Apple CEO on the launch of its Equal Employment Opportunity report in 2015. "But we know there is a lot more work to be done."
Route to inclusivity
The companies which have been able to successfully work out programs to reach out to right talent, often face other barriers to successfully tap into the potential of people coming with diverse skill sets. Research has shown that employees who are truly included within a work environment are more likely to share information and participate in decision making. It is not about hiring a diverse worforce but creating an environment which facilitates individuals feeling more in tune with the work culture to contribute in a meaningful way. This entails thinking about how inclusive a company is and whether it has a work environment that allows employees to rise through the ranks based on their abilities and skills.
To make the diversity initiatives effective, the need is to move beyond just the numbers and make sure that the internal ecosystem recognizes differences and builds upon their attributes in a cohesive manner. This also includes the heads of HR being more aware of their biases while recruitment and talent development. According to Candice Morgan, the newly appointed Head of Diversity at Pinterest, one of the components of creating such an ecosystem is by clearly defining the criteria for successful job candidates. The more one leaves for interpretation, the more people resort to their assumptions and biases to gravitate towards people that might be similar to them to fill in the blanks. It is necessary to have continued effort to build an inclusive work culture to reap the benefits of diverse talent pool.
Diversity programs, to become more inclusive also need institutional backing and not just investment supports to be a success in the long run. The goal is not diversity in itself but, rather for diversity to maximize human capital. The focus should be on embracing and leveraging differences for the best possible business outcomes. And the way is to find simple, workable solutions and to do them well and often. With the involvement of various verticals of the organization, the heads HR have a larger scope to bring in sustainable changes through their diversity policies.
Initiatives like Genpact Center for Women’s Leadership, a partnership between Genpact and Ashoka University with a vision to drive gender inclusive growth and create balanced distribution of income, resource and decision making powers across sectors are necessary to link the demand for a diverse workforce with the right talent pool. Companies like Wipro and Mindtree Ltd. have been successful in creating a culture of inclusivity and thus have set industry standards on what an inclusive culture do for a diverse workforces. These have only been possible with a larger buy in from within the corporation and a dedication to see diversity improve business performance.