Vasudha heads McKinsey & Company's Inclusion and Diversity Recruiting for the Asia Pacific region. She is passionate about D&I and has spent a decade in the HR, talent and diversity fields, being a strong advocate of the same across organizations and industries such as Consulting, Telecom, Mining, Oil & Gas. She has done research in the UK and Asia and is actively involved in topics on inclusion and parity such as parental leave policies in India, barriers of LGBTQ+ inclusion in workplaces, unconscious bias training and achieving gender parity in hiring and retention.
Vasudha is passionate about creating equal opportunities for diverse candidates who are entering the workforce and has actively mentored many women who return to the workforce post sabbatical pro-bono. She was recently recognized as being a “Top global Diversity and Inclusion leader” by the World HRD Congress, 2020.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
It's widely acknowledged that organizations pursue diversity and inclusion not just for ethical reasons, but also to realize enhanced business results and better financial performance. What's your take on the business case of diversity and inclusion?
It is imperative to understand that diversity and inclusion are more relevant as critical business items than as purely social and ethical ones. Whilst there is a strong moral and ethical ground for diversity, management investment in talent pools for companies and the positive, long-term influence of diversity and inclusion are well acknowledged through research, studies and time corporate leaders allocate toward fostering them.
If we look at studies McKinsey has led, particularly our Diversity Matters (2015) and Delivering through Diversity (2018) reports, we see that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, and companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. These numbers alone should venerate a business case for inclusion and diversity as a headline agenda for executive teams and should be seen as a call for action from organizations to act.
Organizations need to make diversity and inclusion a headline agenda at all leadership meetings and embed inclusion into the priorities for each business leader that can act as a catalyst for furthering inclusion and diversity in the organization
McKinsey research clearly shows that companies that are more diverse are more productive, more efficient and give better returns to shareholders. What measures are you taking to ensure this and are you leveraging the benefits already?
McKinsey has been an ambassador for harnessing the power of diversity, and it is truly at the heart of who we are and what we do. We have several initiatives in place to ensure we're maintaining our core values of being a non-hierarchical, inclusive, sustaining a caring meritocracy and fulfilling our mission of building a great firm that attracts, develops, excites, and retains exceptional people who hail from diverse backgrounds.
Our all-in diversity and inclusion strategy is backed by a dedicated global taskforce spread across regions. We have seven non-gender related global affinity networks to help firm members thrive at McKinsey and bring their best, most authentic selves to the workplace every day. These communities have more than doubled in size in the last five years. We also have a robust women’s network. We offer flexibility and support through formal programs, benefits, and mentoring relationships (including Take Time, PACE, best in class parental leave, etc.) to ensure our colleagues can succeed in their full lives. We extend much of our support and counsel to candidates (through flagship programs, such as Next Generation Women Leaders), clients and the community (through programs like the Alliance, a McKinsey-hosted professional development and networking event for top LGBTQ+ executives).
Do you think it's time to have diversity, equity, and inclusion dashboards which shows the hiring and retention rate for women, the number of women in leadership positions, employee engagement numbers, and inclusion sentiment? Do you think employees will feel more included and welcome with transparent metrics in place?
Yes, it is essential to measure progress related to inclusion and diversity. You can’t change things you can’t track and assess. Metrics help an organization to stay true to its aspirations to improve status-quo. There are some tangible metrics that can be measured by way of numbers and data on the recruiting and retention side and then there are the longer-term D&I efforts like shifting mindsets and changing culture, the impact of which may be seen over time. At McKinsey, we measure our progress in attraction, recruiting, advancement and retention by way of tangible metrics and data. And over time we have put mechanisms in place such as unconscious bias trainings for interviewers and people leaders to shift mindsets, and measure progress towards that.
D&I has never been that critical it is today. However, it continues to be challenging for companies to attract diverse talent and create a succession bench to leadership roles. Why is this gap? Why are we failing?
There are several reasons for the gender gap in the talent market. In some of the bigger countries in Asia like India and Japan, we still see the traditional male breadwinner model being dominant, and women being relegated to the familial sphere, engaged as primary caregivers. With the crumbling of this old gender order, and the increasing adoption of dual-career/dual-caregiver models, we need to ensure governments and thereby organizations make structural changes to embed policies that make workplaces conducive for women and men to thrive.
McKinsey's latest report on supporting Dual Career Couples (2019 ) outlines some key enablers on which organizations should focus. First, it is important to ensure that top level positions appear to be achievable and that there are enough role models to inspire talent, especially women. Second, it is imperative to provide flexibility and policies that enable life transitions and balancing home and work responsibilities. Finally, it is pivotal to have sponsorship and mentorship mechanisms in place for lesser represented groups.
I'd like to quote a personal sponsorship story here. I joined the firm after taking a sabbatical to pursue another master's degree. I have seen by way of experience, especially in Asian countries, that women who are returning to the workforce after a break find it difficult to set hands on the right opportunity, but McKinsey was different. My manager was my sponsor from the very outset, and he allowed me the flexibility of carving out my role and ensured that I was given the right mentorship to be ready for the next leadership opportunity that came up; and here I am. This trust, mentorship and sponsorship have been immensely reassuring for me as a woman returning to work and has truly enabled my growth at the firm.
What are some overlooked inclusion issues in any organization? What are some challenges in creating a culture of inclusion?
We see a lot of organizations formulating policies around flexibility and inclusion to support their diversity agendas. Most of these policies only exist on paper because the underlying organizational culture and implicit gendered biases act as barriers for employees to fully avail them. Flexible working hours, leaving the office early to pick up kids from school or even not turning up at office parties is frowned upon. Part-timers are still not viewed with the same lens as full-timers.
In some of the bigger countries in asia like india and japan, we still see the traditional male breadwinner model being dominant, and women being relegated to the familial sphere, engaged as primary caregivers
Parity and inclusion can be achieved if the culture of an organization is not predicated on implicit and often unconscious biases: a cultures in which all employees – regardless of their gender, background, class or race – feel free to utilize policies and programs directed towards balancing private and workplace responsibilities will be more diverse and inclusive.
It is also imperative to provide a platform for employees from lesser represented groups to have a shared collective voice by way of employee resource groups or affinity networks, allowing diverse talent to be seen, heard and valued within the workplace.
How do you see inclusive leadership and what are the top traits of an inclusive leader? How can companies ensure they have leaders who can create an impact in a diverse workforce?
An inclusive leader is someone who watches for unconscious bias in themselves and in their teams. S/he understands why inclusion is imperative. S/he acknowledges, encourages, and appreciates diversity of thought, enabling each colleague to be at her/his best. S/he embeds best practices in hiring, mentoring and performance management to ensure diverse talent is hired and advanced at equal rates. I believe organizations need to make diversity and inclusion a headline agenda at all leadership meetings and embed inclusion into the priorities for each business leader, that can act as a catalyst for furthering inclusion and diversity in the organization.
At mckinsey, we measure our progress in attraction, recruiting, advancement and retention by way of tangible metrics and data. And over time we have put mechanisms in place such as unconscious bias trainings
Where do you see diversity and inclusion five years down the line?
Five years on, I foresee an increased awareness and demand (from talent) for inclusion and diversity, in all forms, including gender, sexual orientation, age, color, race, and socio-economic backgrounds. Organizations will have to be creative in the way they engage and attract talent, placing increased emphasis on meritocracy and equal opportunities at the outset.
I hope that five years on, we will see that nearly every organization has embedded recruiting, advancement and retention best practices to open the aperture for diverse talent. Then, the world in which we live will see parity and equity in hiring, advancement, leadership teams, etc. as the new normal.