This year International Women’s Day (IWD) and the festival of colour Holi coincidentally fall on the same day. Holi brings people together, regardless of their gender, caste, or religion, to celebrate and embrace diversity. Similarly, corporate India should also thrive in diversity in the workplace.
These two events falling on the same day is a symbolic coincidence, says Sujatha Shivsankar, Associate Partner, CoE Leader – Culture, Inclusion & Diversity, People Experience & Talent, KPMG in India.
According to Sujatha, KPMG wishes for a world where women can just as freely participate in Holi festivities as men, where the responsibility of childcare is shared equally by both parents, and where ‘compromise’ is not such a frequently used word for a woman trying to balance career and family.
On the other hand, Sreya Ghosh Oberoi, Senior Director, Diversity & Inclusion – India, Capgemini, wants to end the feeling of guilt whenever she makes time to spend with herself.
“As a woman playing multiple roles—I feel that I have lost the relationship I share with myself. Often, when you work 9 – 5 and are with your family for the rest of the day who also require an equal amount of care and effort, if not more, it is easy to forget this important relationship. So, this International Women’s Day, with the theme #EmbraceEquity, I want to embrace my relationship with myself.”
Colour that symbolises an effort to strengthen DEI
As the beauty of Holi lies in all colours similarly DEI is about embracing all perspectives, believes Sujatha. “However, the colour that most closely captures the essence of IWD is red. The strength and power, the ‘shakti’ that women exude can only best be represented by red. Red also signifies the passionate commitment with which women’s rights activists across generations have tirelessly worked to create a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination,” she explains.
Efforts to intensify D&I for a colourful and vibrant office
To achieve a colourful, inclusive and vibrant office culture, Sujatha, says that the whole firm needs to rally toward the common goal, not only the D&I team. “Hybrid work model for flexibility and adaptability are some of the tools that help us get a diverse workforce,” adds Sujatha.
To ensure a positive, fair, and equitable experience for all while working in hybrid model, Capgemini has introduced Team Rituals for all its people managers. “As part of this culture change, managers have regular non-work-related touchpoints, connect to discuss personal constraints, and establish clear moments to connect and disconnect with their team,” says Sreya., adding that these practices, along with our effort to hire people from across geographies in the boundaryless world we live in, enable us to have a more vibrant and satisfied workforce.” Sreya.
Room for improvement
One major change to make is to step away from hiring solely to fulfil mandated numbers, suggests Pradeep Bangalore, Senior Director – Human Resources at Kudelski Group.
“This invariably leads to greater diversity and representation across hierarchical levels. Without this approach, underrepresented sections of the workforce often face a glass ceiling as they attempt to climb the corporate ladder, because senior people-managers and C-suite teams are not equipped with the diversity and sensibilities to help their people grow. It’s also important that we start looking beyond qualifications on paper. People from diverse backgrounds and walks of life also bring diverse thought processes to the table. People’s life experiences can make them more empathetic, heighten their intuitive power, enhance their decision-making capacity, enable them to see a problem from various angles, help them think strategically, and so much more. These are valuable skills and they count for much more than degrees!,” says Pradeep.
While most of the companies have progressed in their diversity efforts, however, the true potential for improvement lies in understanding the meaning of and working towards ‘inclusion’ and ‘equity’.
“Even in a room full of diverse people, due to our unconscious biases, we seek out the company of those who are like us. Therefore, as people managers, we should consciously act toward the inclusion of those who may be different from us. This is what has helped Capgemini in India, ultimately leading to innovation and achieving business goals,” informs Sreya.
According to Sreya, we all understand ‘equality’, but we still are not very familiar and comfortable with ‘equity’, which inherently means positive discrimination.
“With equity, we should understand that everyone is unique and has their own strengths and constraints. In such a world, it is not enough to have equal opportunities. We need to create an environment that drives everyone to success and, by truly embracing equity, we can one day hope to create an equal world,” says Sreya.
Stigmatised and taboo topics that hamper DEI initiatives
There’s no singular taboo topic any longer, according to Pradeep, the global conversation has opened up and diversified. “Organisations as a whole need to introspect more. We can’t choose one aspect of diversity and cling to that. It’s not mental health or race or sexuality or caste – it’s all of that and more. Humans are complex, and it’s time we start viewing DE&I as an amalgamation of everything that will help humans belong rather than a hot concept where we choose our favourite ‘cause’ and chase it,” he says.
To decline open and direct discrimination and create awareness about people from all walks of life and the unconscious biases that hamper inclusion efforts, Capgemini India has taken multiple steps. From framing guidelines for new people managers to help them build inclusive teams, training such as ‘Culture Brain and Bias’, ‘Recruitment Through Inclusion Lens’, and ‘Inclusive Leadership Training for everyone’, is offered by Capgemini.
One challenge that Sreya still sees in smaller pockets that has the potential to derail diversity efforts is microaggression under the garb of jokes and comments.
“They are equally harmful and, to fight this, we have launched an engaging drive called ‘Inclusion Premiere League’. This includes small activities that people managers can conduct with their teams – it can be as simple as understanding how you should address someone’s partner. This has helped us spread awareness and in developing a respectful and harmonious workplace,” explains Sreya.
Covid and its impact on diversity
Experts believe that the importance of belonging is one of the major learnings from the pandemic. A lot of organisations stepped up to go above and beyond for their people. On the flipside, businesses were struggling across the globe and layoffs impacted millions of employees. A sense of security at the workplace thus became more important than ever before. And with this came everything from simple benefits like medical insurance to more complex culture strands like inclusivity.
In this context, Pradeep says that we’re moving towards understanding people better than before, understanding individual circumstances and sensibilities, recognising the importance of flexibility, whether it’s for working parents or for young employees taking care of their aging family.
“Remote and hybrid working have also opened our eyes to the realities of belongingness – how important connections and interpersonal relationships are at the workplace. So, yes, we are rethinking diversity, because it is no longer just workforce percentages or a number of seats to be filled in the boards of organisations – it is welcoming, valuing and retaining all kinds of employees, because diversity is and always will be inextricably linked with inclusion. A truly diverse workforce is still in the making, but we’ve woken up to a lot of stark realities post-pandemic. While the reason for this awakening was by no means good in itself, we can make use of the trials that humanity has faced in the last 2-3 years, and grow from there – together,” says Pradeep.