Despite both policy changes and a growing mandate, D&I initiatives have done little to improve the marker on diversity within workforces in Indian Inc. Especially when it comes to creating a gender-balanced workforce. A recent benchmarking report on diversity within companies by JobsForHer portal pointed out that only 29 percent of its interviewed companies had formally introduced D&I initiatives. While India ranked 108th in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index 2018, the latest version of the report for 2020 noted it fall to 112th position. This puts it in the company of some of the worst-performing nations on the issue of the gender gap. Looking specifically at the sub-index of the report on economic opportunity and participation, India's position fell further down to the 149th position.
The formal job participation level among women has also fallen. According to the India Skills Report, the economic participation of women in the workforce has fallen from 32 percent in 2016 to 23 percent in 2020. This is in contrast to the fact that employability within both men and women, according to the report, stood at similar levels; 47 percent for women while 46 percent for men. Yet men form 77 percent of the workforce employed in a formal setting. Such data points indicate a major problem in how companies aim to create a gender-balanced workforce. Investments have been rising and CEOs are more serious about having impactful diversity programs. But this had done little to translate into on-ground efficiency and companies still face major challenges when it comes to executing a well-planned initiative.
According to the India Skills Report, the economic participation of women in the workforce has fallen from 32 percent in 2016 to 23 percent in 2020
A major cause of concern regarding diversity programs arises in their implementation stage. From taking a tokenistic approach to not having stakeholder support, implementation of diversity programs has the potential to be marred by a host of reasons. Failures in both galvanizing support and investments reflect itself in the form of a superficial effort to deal with a severe problem that impacts large portions of Indian businesses.
Factors such as resistance, if left unchecked, play an essential role in the failure of D&I initiatives. Resistance from employees, managers, senior leaders, both explicit and subtle, can hamper the eventual success of such initiatives. While it is relevant to note that many such initiatives strive to bring about more than just procedural changes within functions like recruitment, training, and other aspects of employee life-cycle, faulty implementation brings it down to the level of tick-in-the-box activity.
To create an impact is to aim for a mindset change and that requires all stakeholders to be on-board. Resistance within the organization, for example, could be caused by several different things: employees not believing that actual changes can be made, employees feel victimized, or managers being forced to hire someone only to meet the numbers.
There is also the chance that in-charge of implementing diversity programs overdo it, creating what has been called "diversity fatigue" leading diversity initiatives being yet another act that impedes work. To create better ways of bringing about change, the conversation on diversity has been inclusionary without it being forcefully fed across the length and breadth of the organization.
Addressing the gaps with diversity training
Corporate training plays an important role in how companies improve grasp over skills and bring about behavioral change within their employees. When it comes to diversity, training has been used to a similar extent. Although most diversity training is aimed at addressing biases and creating an inclusive work culture, an ill-thought-out training program can do more harm than good.
Questioning people to assess their biases does little as an HBR report notes that while people are easily taught to respond correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget the right answers. While it's easy for companies to boil down the essence of diversity training into a handy list of dos and don’ts, the study notes that the positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, with experts suggesting that it can activate bias or spark a backlash. Nonetheless, there remains a heavy dependence on such transactional activities, all of which fall under diversity training.
Resistance within the organization, for example, could be caused by several different things: employees not believing that actual changes can be made, employees feeling victimized, or managers being forced to hire someone only to meet the numbers
Figuring out what works
Fixing problems with diversity programs isn’t a one-off activity but rather a series of steps, with the first step beginning with agreeing there is a problem that needs to address. It’s important to not take rising investments as the only marker but rather involve key stakeholders more meaningfully. There are better ways to promote diversity by engaging managers and staff in a positive holistic way. Hiring, for example, can be improved by involving managers in the various college recruitment programs targeted to women and minorities directly. Using technology effectively to create channels of communication can also develop mindsets positively. Managers, in this example, would take their campus visits more seriously as they look to find the best minority candidates among the students.
Formal mentoring too has proven beneficial as it helps women and minorities with professional advancement as well. Reports show the benefits of a formal corporate program increase when mentors with proteges connect, break barriers and biases more holistically. Contact between groups, social accountability, and diversity managers are other ways researchers have found that better promotes diversity in the workplace.