Article: Demystifying inclusion in Indian startups

#Employee Engagement

Demystifying inclusion in Indian startups

How are Indian startups geared for inclusion and diversity?
Demystifying inclusion in Indian startups

With over 6,300 startups recognized by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) last year, there has never been a better time to startup in India. Startups are at the forefront of innovation and disruption, be it in terms of products/ services, business models, or workplace culture. It is a known fact that the startup culture is also reshaping the work culture and ethos in many ways.

But be it startups or age-old organizations, some workplace issues will remain critical for both. And one of them is inclusion. While Indian startups are disrupting the economy, are they also being disruptive as far as inclusion and engagement is concerned?

A study titled ‘Demystifying Inclusion- The Key to the Startup Experience In India’ by Aarti Shyamsunder, PhD (Psymantics Consulting), Chryslynn D’Costa (Serein Inc.)and Ishani Roy, PhD (Serein Inc.) aims to demystify the inclusion piece in Indian startups. 

The study focused on startups in India, and how they are building inclusive climates and organizational cultures to ensure employee engagement and retention. The study included 4 organizations that were founded in India within the last 10 years, from different industries: food service/retail, fintech, fitness, and edutech. The sample consisted of 199 respondents, of whom 73 were women, 78 were men (and the remaining had not indicated their gender).

Before getting to the key findings, let’s take a look at how the study measured inclusion.

Formula and Factors that affect employee inclusion

The study found that in recent times, the discourse on workplace diversity has evolved from focusing on the problems faced by underrepresented groups, to leveraging diversity through the idea of inclusion. 

It measures inclusion as being composed of uniqueness, belongingness, and authenticity. The study defines inclusion as the experience of an employee as being a valued member of the workgroup where they feel like they belong and can express their authentic, unique self at work.

The study also hypothesized a relationship between specific predictors such as psychological safety, autonomy, clear direction and climate for initiative, with employee inclusion.

Hence factors such as psychological safety meaning a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking autonomy or the extent to which a job allows freedom, independence, and discretion to schedule work and make; sense of clear direction or the extent to which the team has a clear and shared goal, and climate for initiative or organizational practices guiding and supporting a proactive, self-starting and persisting approach to work impacted the amount of experienced inclusion among employees in the study.

Key Findings 

Coming to the key finding from the startups in the sample, it dawned that both women and men working for startups in India are mostly seeking the same things from work – a culture that supports innovation, results-orientation and being a reputable organization that one would be proud to work for.

More so, startups in the study sample seem to be set up to provide all this. The employees in the study felt high (and equal across organizations, across genders) levels of psychological safety, a climate for initiative, autonomy and a sense of clear direction from their organizations.

In addition, the study found a strong and significant relationship between employee engagement and inclusion, over and above other factors such as psychological safety, climate for initiative, autonomy and a sense of clear direction. To put it straight, inclusion turned out to be more important in predicting employee engagement. While the above mentioned factors  may still play a role in employee retention, but it is inclusion that helps them feel fully engaged to contribute to their work.

How can organizations infuse inclusion

Based on the findings, the study shortlisted key strategies that organizations can adopt to infuse inclusion. As employees experience inclusion when  their uniqueness is valued, organizations should focus on rewards that recognize unique contributions and perspectives and interrupt discrimination and exclusionary behaviors that don’t allow others to be fully and authentically present at work.

Further, autonomy could get curtailed by strict accountability for results in a startup. How organizations can balance this is by having a core organizational “squad” which is an autonomous unit of say eight people. Squads have the authority to decide what to build, how to build it, and with whom to work to make the product interoperable. Thus a squad structure can achieve autonomy without sacrificing accountability.

In addition, organizations should use SMART goals and initiative focused feedback. A feedback mechanism that is frequent, objective and works as a coaching mechanism for employees to understand what specifically they did right and what could have been done differently. 

Similarly, having open lines of communication nurtures the climate for initiative. Transparent, regular and effective communication of progress in line with organizational goals and values, is key to transmitting and fostering an inclusive culture.

In conclusion, the study found that an enabling work environment that one seeks does exist in startups( based on the sample) and they are set up for diversity to thrive.  The challenge is to ensure that inclusion continues to grow as startups continue to scale.

Topics: Employee Engagement, Diversity

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