Diversity and inclusion are considered ongoing efforts that require continuous attention and adaptation. By fostering an inclusive culture, organisations can benefit from the diverse perspectives and talents of their workforce, leading to increased innovation, employee engagement, and organisational success. In a conversation with People Matters, Priti Shetty, Chief People and Culture Officer, WeWork India shares the challenges of maintaining D&I and strategies to address the issues related to diversity and inclusion.
As a HR leader, what is your approach to recruiting and retaining diverse talent?
Hiring diverse talent is just the tip of the iceberg—cultivating a truly inclusive work culture takes intentional effort. It is crucial to implement and maintain strategies that support a diverse talent pool at every stage of the hiring process. Being an employee-first organisation, WeWork India has consistently worked towards modifying people practices to build an inclusive environment for employees and members. For example, we publish gender-neutral job descriptions to prevent excluding any strands of diversity, provide a 1.5x employee referral bonus payout for referrals from under-represented groups who get selected, and more. We invest in women’s leadership development to help us build a pipeline of diverse leaders. We regularly measure engagement from diverse groups of talent and take action to bridge any gaps.
In your view, what are some of the key challenges facing companies in terms of diversity and inclusion, and what strategies do you employ to address these challenges?
One of the key challenges for HR professionals in terms of diversity and inclusion is to stay aware of the external environment and how external and uncontrollable events (like the pandemic) or internal decisions and policies (controllable) can impact diversity at work. It is also important to constantly remind ourselves and all stakeholders of the difference between equality and equity.
Creating a diverse and inclusive workforce can be challenging due to a lack of awareness, preconceived notions, stereotypes, and unconscious bias. It is essential to address these issues through education, communication, and awareness. It is necessary to ensure that under-represented groups are included in the workforce and that their voice and participation is not compromised. Decisions around ways of working, flexibility, performance and compensation management should all be executed with a diversity and inclusion mindset - are the company’s decisions, policies and culture (our day-to-day behaviours and actions) going to help advance diverse groups of talent or hamper their participation, development and involvement in decision making? Hybrid and flexible workspaces and flexible working can play a huge role in providing diverse groups of talent a chance to stay actively engaged, participate, develop, network and grow.
To build an equitable environment, it is important to introduce initiatives and policies towards affirmative action. For instance, at WeWork India, we are the first in the sector to provide health insurance coverage to partners of LGBTQIA+ employees. By creating a safe, inclusive, and holistic workplace, employees will feel comfortable bringing their most authentic selves to work. Our flagship development initiative, the "Evolve" program, in partnership with TransforMe Learning, is exclusively designed for women leaders in WeWork India. This customised leadership training comprises four virtual workshops and coaching sessions, focusing on adaptive leadership, personal branding, influence, and mindset. The program has yielded tangible results, with increased engagement, improved retention rates, and notable career advancements. Out of a cohort of 25 women leaders, we are proud to share that 28% have experienced significant career enhancements through promotions and role expansions.
How do you ensure that your organisation provides equal opportunities for career development and advancement for employees of diverse backgrounds?
In line with our organisational and inclusion strategy, our company is committed to providing equal career development and compensation opportunities for all employees, regardless of their background.
In 2023, we have given scholarships to 9 women (60% of the total granted scholarships) as part of the WeWork India Further Education program, to enable women to study while they pursue their careers at WeWork India. Our goal is to establish a safe environment where women can freely share workplace experiences, foster professional networks, and access mentorship programs to advance their career growth. Our flagship women’s development program Evolve was a big step in this direction and a testament to our commitment to investing in diverse talent.
We have maintained a strong and consistent gender diversity ratio of above 40% for the past three years. We are currently at 45% at the company level and we've seen an increase in gender diversity at the leadership level, going from 33% to 37% effective April 1, 2023. In the last promotion cycle, 43% of the total promotions were women.
How do you approach employee engagement and creating a positive organisational culture for people of diverse geographies?
Wellbeing is an extremely crucial component of our employee value proposition at WeWork India and we strive to foster an environment where diverse employees find meaning and a common sense of social identity. Small touches like our holiday lists take into account regional holidays and festivals. We have an annual ritual of a Diwali party where people from all over the country come together to celebrate our annual awards and celebrate the spirit of collaboration and winning together. Our executive leadership team spends a lot of time travelling across geographies to listen to teams and understand how our strategy and product are landing across different markets - we aim to be inclusive in the way decisions are made to ensure all employees feel heard and valued and also to accommodate the diverse needs of our customers (members) in different territories.
In your experience, what are some common mistakes companies make in managing their diverse talents, and how can they be avoided?
Limited understanding of cultural differences and the unique challenges that each individual may face could lead to some common avoidable mistakes that companies can make in managing diverse talent, such as:
Taking a one-size-fits-all approach: Based on varying factors like employee demographics, interests, collaboration level, functions, etc., each work environment is unique in its own way. It is important for companies to recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work when it comes to managing a diverse workforce. Instead, companies must focus on developing differentiated strategies that meet the unique demands of their workforce.
Focusing on diversity, and overlooking inclusion: Focusing solely on diversity and overlooking inclusion is a common mistake that companies make. Diversity alone does not suffice if team members do not feel valued and included. It is crucial to assess how a candidate's values align with the company's values and create an inclusive culture that celebrates individual differences. This requires fostering an environment of open communication, including difficult conversations, to address unconscious biases and create relationships that lead to growth.
Assuming D&I as an HR function: The biggest mistake companies make is to assume that Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) solely fall under the responsibility of the HR department. This limited perspective can lead to the failure of D&I initiatives, as they won't be integrated into all aspects of the organisation. Instead, the ideal approach is for D&I to be embedded into all aspects of business, including sales, marketing and communication, IT, suppliers, and facilities. To foster inclusivity in our workplace design, we have implemented gender-neutral bathrooms across most of our buildings in India. Additionally, we have also taken a step further to support new mothers by providing dedicated nursing rooms in approximately 75% of our buildings nationwide. These well-equipped spaces are specifically designed to meet the needs of breastfeeding mothers.
To support women entrepreneurs WeWork Labs, our global acceleration and incubation arm launched an accelerator program last year targeted at women-led and women-focused businesses. Apart from providing pre-seed investments in 10-15 startups per cohort, the program will engage with 5,000 startups, mentor 1000 entrepreneurs and invest in over 100 startups over the next 5 years.
How do you balance the need for diversity and inclusion with the demands of maintaining a high-performing team?
The question itself implies that high performance and D&I don’t coexist and inclusion and diversity does not come at the cost of performance - in fact, it helps you advance your organisation’s business, reach diverse customers and markets and build a strong brand.
Creating a diverse and inclusive work environment is necessary for driving high performance. We strongly believe that in order to connect and understand the needs of your customers, develop new products and capture new markets, it is critical to represent the diversity in your customer groups within your organisation. Diversity and inclusion are both a business imperative. We track diversity metrics on hiring, retention, and promotion, and we have established an Employee Resource Group to further strengthen our inclusion efforts and involve our members (customers) in our inclusion journey through micro-communities.