As the Head of People, Chirag oversees all people-related functions at the company. He's had an extensive career at Thoughtworks spanning more than a decade. In his current role, Chirag and his team are responsible for establishing best practices that help the company build exceptional teams, spot and nurture talent, and craft an evolving organisational culture. He has worked with prominent organisations such as Wipro and CoreObjects.
In conversation with People Matters, Chirag shares the incredible DEI policies and practices led by Thoughworks and his insights on the critical role of leadership in championing the DEI agenda and sustaining a meaningful change. Here are some excerpts.
What are your DEI goals for the year? What are some policies and practices in place at Thoughtworks to achieve this?
The inclusive policies at Thoughtworks are initiated to ensure that the organisation can provide advancement opportunities to minorities, particularly those belonging to the LGBTQIA+, disability and non-gendered groups. Gender Inclusion and Women in Tech is also a key area of focus under the DEI umbrella.
Our commitment to diversity in the workplace also inspired us to create Udeti, a collection of stories about technologists who happen to be women. Each story is one of grit, a passion for technology, and trust in the company that wants to further the growth of its people. Yet another diversity initiative, Interning with Pride, enables recently graduated technologists from the LGBTQIA+ community to grow their technology skills. Thoughtworks India also has a regional LGBTQIA+ affinity group, The Mitra Collective, comprising members from the LGBTQ+ community and allies. It aims to drive safe and inclusive conversations and practices and community engagement, which include several educational and community-based events, including sharing LGBTQIA+ issues, stories, and celebrations. The company has also made strides to support women’s experiences at Thoughtworks, especially those belonging to the LBGTQIA+ community. To support these communities, we regularly engage in social change interviews and global interviewer training and workshops to ensure that the hiring processes within Thoughtworks are respectful of people’s choices and orientations.
Thoughtworks has included gender-neutral washrooms, a provision for preferred names and pronouns in the human resource management system (HRMS), employee assistance programs with trained counsellors/professionals to support the LGBTQIA+ employees, gender affirmation, and transition in the workplace policy alongside LGBTQIA+ focused hiring initiatives. The company also regularly conducts awareness, sensitisation programs and training methods to explain the differences between biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
Given the rising emphasis on closing the gender gap for women in technology, how are you leading this at Thoughtworks? What are some ongoing challenges to closing this skill gap that is getting solved?
Thoughtworks India is providing women with the opportunity to forge successful careers as technologists. We have decided to have 40% women and underrepresented gender minorities in tech roles by 2022.
To support this cause, Thoughtworks has established an Equal Opportunity Policy, outlining all commitments to provide equal opportunities to women, regardless of age, ethnic orientation, gender, religion, disability, background or identity. The company has also launched Vapasi, a very successful initiative designed to enable experienced women – developers, quality analysts and more such talent – who are currently on a career break and looking to re-enter the world of programming. The company has also launched a global women’s leadership program called WiLD (Women in Leadership Development) that brings together emerging women leaders from across the globe for an intense leadership development journey. Many women who have been through the journey hold key leadership roles in Thoughtworks. In addition, Thoughtworks implemented the N.O.W or Network of Women Initiative, which is designed to support women in tech and looks to grow a community of women and create a forum through which they can learn and be inspired by each other. The company has also introduced inclusive initiatives such as Cod(H)er - a monthly meetup to promote sharing of technical knowledge and increase collaboration among women techies, and Women@Thoughtworks - an affinity group for women focusing on empowerment, capability building, spreading awareness, improving work-life balance, facing challenges better and having a safe forum for sensitive topic discussions.
The company has also employed measures like including women in the pay review group to help keep conscious and unconscious gender biases at bay. We also run gender pay parity checks on our salary data at the time of appraisals and come up with matrices that compare the salaries of men and women playing similar roles at similar levels. If we find a disparity, we proactively make the necessary changes.
How do we empower our leaders to own the DEI agenda and be accountable for its outcomes? What is the role of leaders at every level of the organisation in championing a psychologically safe workplace?
Leaders within an organisation are increasingly aware of how their inclusive leadership can positively impact their employees and outcomes. Across levels, leaders need to be trained and provided tools and support to identify and mitigate bias, respect differences, build empathetic relationships, foster allyship and bring out the best in others. In addition, the achievements of the most inclusive teams must be displayed to showcase positive change across business functions. Companies can also establish a separate DEI outcome rating process to ensure that leaders are held accountable and follow specific processes and protocols.
Leaders must also facilitate a psychologically safe workplace for which they need to be receptive to the team's needs and understand their viewpoints on daily activities. They must also take active measures to nip any negative behaviours that might be prevalent in the organisation and ensure that the organisation is receptive towards inclusivity and equality. They must also be open to receiving employee feedback regarding their organisational practices and activities.
How would you advise leaders to avoid tokenism in their hiring and cultural transformation efforts? How can they sustain meaningful change for the long term?
Tokenism has been a long-standing problem within the talent acquisition industry, especially regarding employees belonging to underserved groups. Often, this leads to a confidence strain in the minds of those coming from these communities, leading many of these employees to believe that they are not good enough for the job they are applying for. To ensure that organisations can move away from this problematic practice, starting right at the hiring process is essential – making it more inclusive rather than just focusing on hiring from a minority group. In addition, relevant interviewer training workshops can help interviewers understand how they can become more receptive to alternative experiences and be more respectful of people’s diverse backgrounds instead of just practising tokenism.
Instead of using diversity as a tickbox, it is vital to allow diverse people to make decisions or be a part of major decisions. Also, it is essential to first consider them as individuals of their own instead of a part of a specific community. Finally, while diversity hiring can be done, ensuring that the organisation and employees practice these policies and provide a sense of belonging is critical.
Additionally, opening channels for internal communication through which employees can voice their opinions freely is a step forward in this direction. Sensitivity training is also crucial for senior members of an organisation, especially since employees often emulate the practices of their leaders. Finally, a major goal of companies should be to showcase the impact created rather than just highlighting a hiring or diversity percentage.
To make a significant long-term difference, leaders must treat diversity like any other business process: gather data, establish metrics to set baselines, measure progress, and keep trying strategies until they meet their goals. Sustaining meaningful change in the long term is also essential to ensure that cultural transformation efforts are not just carried out in the present but can stand as long-term solutions.