The NASSCOM Diversity and Inclusion Summit 2011 that began its journey in 2003 with a focus on ‘gender inclusivity’, has today grown to include other key aspects, such as, people from different backgrounds, abilities, cultures and generations.
While the focus of diversity and inclusion has primarily been restricted to inclusion of women in the workforce, the same has undergone a change in the light of increasing talent complexities. Today, diversity and inclusion in organizations also aims at optimizing the complete talent pool that includes people from multiple generations, PwDs (People with Disability) and smaller groups of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender).
Recognizing the changing trend, a critical agenda at the 2011 Summit was to acknowledge the contribution of the disabled population in India, which measures close to 70 million. Given this large number waiting to be exploited, and companies presently facing a talent crunch, there is an urgent need for companies to focus on including the disabled into the mainstream. To make these possible, companies must encourage the use of technology to provide solutions for enabling the disabled who may not otherwise fit into traditional jobs. The two day conference addressed various aspects that are essential for creating the environment that will allow traditional organizations include a diverse workforce – those who are diverse in terms of gender, ability and sexual inclination. The need of the hour for organizations, is to embrace the changes that will enable them to leverage from the diverse talent pool. The key components identified will become critical points of consideration for progressive organizations that seek sustained growth going forward.
Building ‘disability confident’ organizations
The reality is that there is a huge pool of talent who are disabled and therefore untapped, though they are capable of contributing to business if provided the required support system. Currently, while there is a 3% reservation for persons with disabilities in government institutions, only 1% of the workforce employed in public sector are PwDs. The story of diversity in organizations has shifted beyond gender inclusion, and organizations that have prepared themselves to leverage the true potential of PwDs will be able to leverage the potential of this new talent pool. However, organizations need to keep in mind three critical aspects when employing PwDs. Firstly, enable all PwDs who join the organization to grow and chart their own career path; secondly, take into consideration the various aspects of the UN guidelines for employing PwDs as it would make life easier for those employed, along with sensitizing the teams employing PwDs; and thirdly, rotate people from role to role in order to emerge greater diversity and inclusivity in the organization. The business contribution of PwDs has even led to the emergence of organizations like Vindya Infotech where 100% of the workforce are PwDs.
The accessibility environment for PwDs that allows a disabled person to participate in all the aspects of life freely with equal ease and dignity is equally important. This requires attention to basic infrastructure and design requirements that will enable accessibility to PwDs. Further, the enablers for inclusion include, promoting employment of PwDs through appropriate policies and measures; helping the organization to retain existing employees who might acquire disability; and enabling more PwDs to enter premises and use services.
Navigating a path of inclusivity for LGBTs in the workplace
Creating an inclusive environment also extends to LGBTs, which is a growing trend in global organizations and it has seen its way into the Indian business scenario as a result of the increasing number of multinationals operating in the country. The Goldman Sachs journey in implementing this crucial network had its own share of challenges with respect to legal and reputational matters. It is critical to ensure ally strategy, peer mentoring and internal events to raise awareness and encouragement for creating an inclusive environment for LGBTs. For example, the five calls-to-action activities at Goldman Sachs include LGBT resource group, equivalent opportunity policy, diversity training, ally strategy and audit to include same sex partners.
The third aspect in the diversity agenda is the presence of multiple generations in the workplace, which require organizations to create a flexible environment that caters to the needs of each generation. A generational survey conducted across employees of CGI as shared by Puja Kohli, Head Talent Management and OD, CGI, showed how the three generations of seniors, middle managers and junior managers depicted their perception of CGI in their own different ways. The generational diversity in Indian workplaces is split into the following four generations - Free-Gens, Gen X, E-Gens and Gen Y. Further, the research done by a team of three people from Cerebrus covering about 1000 folks from different industries and demographics, showed that Gen Y is motivated by peer pressure, series of trade offs and ambition, while Gen X prefers attributes like commitment to work, loyalty, formal mode of learning and a risk aversion attitude. Such difference in attitudes and attributes in diverse generations has an increasing impact on learning, engagement and performance in the workplace, and organizations that take note of the same will stand to optimize and leverage the strength of each cadre.
Women leadership development
At last, the most talked about part of the diverse group - women - are increasingly becoming significant to business, but unfortunately while the number of women at the entry level has been on the rise, the same recedes drastically as one moves up the hierarchy. This is primarily due to the absence of an environment that is conducive to the needs of women employees beyond a certain life stage, thus forcing them to ramp off the corporate journey.
However, increasing challenges in talent acquisition and retention have forced organizations to focus on developing women leadership, which is presently untapped in most cases. The changing business dynamics require organizations to leverage on the critical behavior that women demonstrate and are critical to address current business challenges. The three business critical behaviors in women leadership include, frame shifting, that is, women’s ability to shift communication style, leadership methods, and strategy to fit different contexts, and move skilfully back and forth between different business environments; invite the unexpected, that is, women’s ability to position self to discover leadership behavior crucial for solving business problems, and seek information and proactively voice out unique challenges and perspectives in a way that builds bonds with counterparts; and influence across boundaries, that is, exercise leadership across multiple functions to accomplish objectives, serve as a corporate “ambassador”, and find solutions when local resources are limited. Specifically, in a dynamic business scenario, these unique behaviors that women showcase are becoming essential for organizations to acquire and leverage.
The new mandate – A flexible workplace
Diversity in workforce demands a fair share of flexibility within the workplace to allow the diverse workgroups to co-exist. As Saundarya Rajesh, Founder – President, AVTAR Career Creators & FLEXI Careers India opines, “employees’ commitment and level of engagement significantly improves if they perceive that the organization genuinely cares about them, and flexibility is one tool that communicates care. Therefore, along with creating a conducive environment for PwDs, LGBTs, people from multiple generations and women talent, it is equally, if not more important, to ensure that the environment allows these diverse groups to work together effectively towards the business outcome.
Drawing attention to new age talent and their changing demands from the workplace, Usha Uthup best described the new generation as one, which only requires a song like ‘Why this kolaveri di’ to shrink the world into one. Through a musical presentation where she opined that ‘music has shrunk the world’, Usha Uthup described the essence of diversity that organizations must imbibe as they attempt to derive and define that one string that will bring inclusiveness in the increasingly diverse workforce joining today.