51% organizations had consciously chosen to bring more women into the organization to start their diversity and inclusion journey.
While women and HR seem to be driving the D&I initiative, there is a greater need for men from different functions to also be a part of the team driving change.
The business case for diversity is unequivocal. A diverse organization that mirrors its markets is likely to be more successful than its homogenous competitors. Heterogeneous groups get better results than homogenous groups because the discomfort arising from different points of view leads to more careful processing of information, concludes a study by the Kellogg School of Management. Due to globalization and empowerment of erstwhile marginalized segments (like women), the Indian workforce has been changing in new ways. With a need to attract talent to meet the demands of an expanding knowledge industry sector, creating competent India operations teams within MNCs and the ambitions of Indian organizations to go global – bringing in and managing diversity has become imperative for businesses.
Merely bringing in diversity, most popularly gender, or age or geographies is however not enough to reap its benefits. Organization have to strive to promote quality, respect, and trust across multiple teams and geographies composed of heterogeneous people in terms age, gender, sexual preferences, physical (and mental) abilities and national cultures. The inclusion in India Inc. report, by IIM Ahmedabad and the Biz Divas foundation looks at what organizations in India are doing to create an inclusive culture that goes beyond the tokenistic social and legal mandates. The study brings together individual opinions, organizational contexts, actions of those driving the D&I agenda, stances of business heads / managers and experiences of employees of various minority groups working in 21 Indian and multi-national organizations of different sizes (headcount wise) in various sectors .
Business Imperatives to support D & I:
Inclusive cultures and organizations with diversity achieve superior business outcomes – retention, productivity and profitability. Some of the business reasons that were explicitly stated in the study as the underlying driver for D&I:
Diversity and inclusion is a multi-step journey. Findings of the report with respect to the various steps in the inclusion journey are elaborated upon below:
There are various dimensions to diversity. Organizations can choose to focus on sex, age, sexual preference, physical and mental ability, socio-economic status and nationality, to name a few parameters.
A. Bringing diverse people in:
The study found that 51% organizations had consciously chosen to bring more women into the organization to start their diversity and inclusion journey.
Regional and cultural diversity was the second most mentioned focus area (at 21%) for increasing diversity in organizations, followed by age and disabilities at 12% each. Diversity in terms of LGBT was a language that only 2 % of the organizations surveyed (only MNCs) seemed comfortable with speaking about. Else, it tended to get completely dismissed.
Change efforts can fail in the long run due to resistance from the existing people, lack of communication with the people affected by the change, lack of buy in of the key people and not investing enough in cultural change. Sustaining these efforts and getting results requires high quality dedication to the project.
B. Identifying champions
Inclusion is a slow and steady process and can only be driven with an organization level commitment. This usually necessitates that a dedicated person managing it and working on it constantly. 24% of the surveyed organizations had a designation with the sole responsibility to drive the D&I initiative. In most other organizations, this responsibility was usually taken up on one of the members of the HR function.
Gender mix of people leading D&I was found to be 68% women and 28% men. It is possible that this is because having long been on the minority side, women are assumed to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion more.
While women and HR seem to be driving the D&I initiative, the researchers feel that there is a greater need for men from different functions to also be a part of the team driving change. Not only do diversity efforts need to driven by diverse groups, but also any successful change effort requires the support of allies to get people within their circles of influence to buy in and change their ways.
The tangible efforts made by the senior management also play an important role in disseminating the message and solidifying the efforts towards building diversity and inclusion. Many leaders do this by highlighting the D&I agenda in organization wide gatherings and by iterating it informally in meetings and casual interactions with managers. Sometimes CEO or members of the top management team also spearhead D & I councils that are set up within the organization.
C. Creating organization wide awareness through sensitization processes and talking openly about biases
People are often not able to perform up to their potential due to the biases and expectations of others. Patriarchal biases persist against women’s abilities, especially in certain sectors like finance and mechanical work. Other biases mentioned by the study participants were against single people, which especially creates a tough situation for LGBT employees as they are less likely to get married. Some organization leaders feel that men deserve growth more, since they are considered primary breadwinners while women’s income is considered supplemental. In case of married couples, husbands’ professional choices usually get a higher weightage in deciding geographies and the need to move. The wives either don’t ask or are not given the same consideration.
Organizations undertake sensitization efforts in the form of mandatory, generic and specific trainings. The study data reports that a lot of these initiatives dealt with the issue of gender.
Mandatory ones are enforced by the law and mainly done for awareness and prevention against sexual harassment. Generic trainings broadly cover a range of issues around the understanding of inclusion and exclusion. Finally, specific trainings are focused on specific issues such as biases during recruitment and working around different abled people. Many organizations undertake projects and surveys internally and use them as a hook to start sensitization training. The study found that significant investment in sensitization efforts yielded results for organizations over time.
D. Giving opportunities in good faith – recognize and be accepting of unique needs:
The organizations must address the needs of various minority groups by making various adjustments, so that the system oriented to the majority doesn’t treat them unfairly.
- Work place adjustments: 48% of the surveyed organizations took into account the provisions to be made for the differently-abled. These include infrastructural enablement like creating ramps at all access points, having slightly large cubicles and restrooms, ergonomically designed seating etc. and technology enabled assistance like modified laptops and voice activated programs.
- Special provisions and facilities: Efforts in this direction included making the workplace more comfortable an environment for the women. Some of these provisions like making the workplace friendly for working mothers (like tie-ups with crèches) and paying close attention to ensuring safety of women who work late (ensuring a safe cab drop off etc.) have gone mainstream.
- Breaking barriers: Certain organizations have been enabling their women by breaking invisible infrastructural barriers. For e.g. women have been practically absent from engineering hangars where technicians and engineers do major aircraft maintenance. This traditionally male bastion requires special ramp shoes and it was found that Indian manufacturers only produced men’s shoes which was a hurdle for qualified women. IndiGo therefore got a sample made and had women work at the ramp.
- Supporting mobility and providing flexibility: In a culture where competence is valuable, organizations have become a lot more willing to stretch to accommodate a high performer. At least 3 organizations in the study shared examples of creating roles or work structured to enable a woman who is moving cities to continue being part of the organization. Over the last few years, policies regarding work timings, sabbaticals, maternity/paternity and flexi-work, to name a few, have been modified to allow more flexibility to the employees.
In most cases, the policies are designed as gender neutral, broad guidelines, so that men can also avail of the same provisions for themselves. However, individual biases of managers can come into play here. It is often a taboo for men (unlike women) to ask for a work from home arrangement to take care of a child. Hence, some organizations have bias-minimizing progressive practices in place like establishing some of these policies as a right for individuals, instead of leaving it to the manager’s discretion.
E. Supporting employees to succeed, advancing based on merit and fixing leaks to fill gaps
An organization on its journey towards inclusion must provide support and training to ensure that all members receive a fair opportunity to develop and grow in the organization. Support helps the underrepresented groups to overcome any pre-set disadvantages and training helps fill in the gaps of skill and confidence. The analysis of the study data showed mentoring and sponsorship as two robust development interventions in the surveyed organizations.
71% of the organizations when interviewed said that mentoring was important, while 52% (11 out of 21) had vigorous programs on mentoring and/or sponsorship. These were found to be especially directed at grooming women leaders and also for new recruits at the entry level. MNCs were found to be more focused on creating mentoring processes than Indian organizations.
67% of the surveyed organizations, especially all large ones, also made use of support groups to extend support to some of the minority groups, for example for SG for expecting mothers, in which older women, who have gone through the same journeys, provided support. Other instances of SGs were for the LGBT community and regional minorities like north-easterners. SGs were tangible gestures by organizations to acknowledge that employees have a demanding life with its own set of challenges and pulls beyond the identity that the individual has at the workplace.
F. Creating safety mechanisms to address exclusion
Education is a long term way to make people aware of their biases, attitudes, stereotypes, prejudices and to help change mindsets but it is not sufficient to ensure immediate well-being of the individual that is perceived to be wronged. Thus organizations have to put policies and mechanisms in place to check misconduct. This signals organization sensitivity to the minority groups and enhances their feeling of psychological safety. It also sends out a clear message about no tolerance towards misbehavior or insensitivity and educates employees on what behavior is acceptable.
86 % of the organizations had an appointed ombudsperson to deal with issues being raised. In some cases, HR persons were also accessible for people to raise their issues. Such concerns could be expressed at anytime and are usually kept confidential. In several organizations, the hotline to report unethical actions is also the recipient of complaints on exclusion. Clear and strict action was taken in proven cases of harassment and exclusion.
G. Celebrating diversity
Celebration finds a reflection in the D & I organizations in two ways; one is by creating a holiday calendar acknowledging the significant days of all religious communities and celebrating festivals on office premises. 81% of the organizations surveyed in the study had this practice. The remaining 19% were from amongst the MNCs. All Indian organizations surveyed, irrespective of size, had these practices. 90% organizations were also found to recently have begun marking special days such as International Women’s Day and World Disability Day on their calendar.
Aside from a range of common practices such as emails of wishes from the CEO, gifting and a feasting with festival’s special delicacies, some additional unique practices that emerged in the study were: celebration of Men’s Day in an organization where talk shows and health programs were help for the male employees. Another organization celebrated a religious festival in spite of having only one employee from that community. One organization also had an event celebrating the diversity of the customers that the organization engages with.
H. Making driving inclusion everyone’s priority
The final stage of the journey is when D&I is no longer a pet project of just a few individuals in the organization, but owned by all as a priority and a way of being. Perhaps, this is a stage when most people are able to see how inclusion, in its broadest sense, serves not just a few but each and every one of them.
While organizations start with finding occasions to represent and celebrate that diversity, ultimately they broaden their understanding of diversity beyond the labels like gender, language, age and sexuality to ensure respect for all individuals. Organizations in this study were found to be advancing in their inclusion journeys with a multipronged approach of communication, sensitization efforts, policy and support mechanism. There seemed to be a common understanding that while promoting inclusion needs to be done passionately, it cannot be imposed on people. It is most successful when people themselves volunteer to be the drivers of change by participating in different interventions.
While none of the organizations understood diversity as insular from the inclusion journey that it entails, the attempts at inclusion of each varied in reach and focus. Gender seems to be the primary focus area across all organizations in the study.
In terms of what can be done better, the study found that the language of D&I can be used more naturally, with fewer constrains. When talking about the LGBT community, for instance, the response of a large number of professionals was along the lines of ‘those are not differences we are still willing to recognize’. It also suggests that organizations can be more upfront, comprehensive, informal and creative in confronting the biases that openly conflict with inclusion instead of over-relying on formal awareness sessions to counter the resistance at the middle-level of the organization. They need to challenge the premise that D & I efforts can only be focused upon when the going is good and to be relegated to the back burner in tougher times.