Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), a critical element that drives financial performance and creates a positive brand image of an organization, has been rightfully discussed, ad nauseam, during the last few years in the corporate corridors and many board meetings. Research carried out by multiple think tanks corroborates the general impression that D&I bridges talent gaps, creates more opportunities for all, increases adaptability, promotes creativity and innovation, gives a competitive edge, and yields better business performance. It is also claimed that D&I has a salutary impact on the socio-economic development of the nation as a whole. Thus, while organizations today realize its great significance, they are facing challenges in transmitting it in their ecosystem.
D&I in India: A quick look
The 2019 India Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) report states that the share of women workforce in India is a mere 26 percent. A report by the Ministry of Statistics and Program, Govt. of India says that out of 2.68 crore disabled population In India, only 0.1 percent are employed in the organized sector. Such data reveal that meeting the desired objectives in this field is still a mirage. To make a positive turnaround, diffusing diversity and inclusion in work culture has become one of the most widely talked about topics of discussion in various business and social groups.
Thus, while organizations are endeavoring hard in this direction, the expected results are coming at a slow pace as they are related more to changing the ‘belief’ of people working in the system at all levels, rather than making investments and getting direct results. Also, the ability of an organization to manage a diverse workforce creates hurdles in meeting this goal. Countering this challenge is tough but not unachievable. Overcoming cultural barriers, the hegemony of a particular group, gender bias, etc. cannot be achieved by using one tool and in one go. It necessitates building confidence in the existing workforce towards adopting the new culture. It requires a comprehensive approach and perseverance on the part of the organization to make the workforce believe that the change is for the better.
Real action: Beyond rhetoric
One must agree that we have started the debate on the relevance and power of D&I. However, one has to graduate from rhetoric to some tangible action at the grassroots. Here are five critical fundamental approaches that can help us achieve the same:
- Frame ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ policies: Concrete policies on D&I should be articulated, delineated, and implemented in all social and work organizations, progressively and in phases. The policies should clearly state that the company promotes and supports the diversity of people in terms of their gender, geographical roots, beliefs, values, orientations. The organization's work culture at all levels should emphasize ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ as central to its culture and employees’ experience. Framing clear policies will lay the foundation for inculcating diverse and inclusive cultures in the business ecosystem.
- Link D&I to your business goals: ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ should be a business imperative. It should be ‘must to-do’ rather than being a ‘nice to-do’ for business reasons. Business goals should focus on creating a greater brand value proposition and achieving breakthrough results through this tool. We need to come out of the homogenous workforce and adopt ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ as a major instrument to meet the needs of the heterogeneous customer base. Research proves that making D&I an integral part of business strategy aid organizations in meeting their objectives.
- Wipe-out fear and assumptions: Enable people within the system to come out of their narrow perspectives towards race, religion, gender, age, geography, socio-economic status or physical disability. Thus, consciously challenge notions like an individual with physical disability cannot be productive, a given gender may not fit in a particular role, a set of job can be done only by a person within presumed age limit, persons from given geography or socio-economic strata cannot handle a specific job etc. Conduct regular sensitivity training and workshops on ‘unconscious bias,’ propagate examples of outstanding jobs done by diverse individuals in different companies and celebrate moments of success achieved by varied people in your company. These steps will do away with misconceptions, fears and assumptions in the hearts and minds of people within the system.
- Make your workforce feel comfortable: Nurture diverse talents to their optimum level of performance and promote conditions that infuse their inclusion in the organization. Create infrastructure and policies like providing flexible work arrangements, offering guidance and support, mentoring and coaching, to instill in them a sense of belongingness towards the organization. Encourage employees from diverse backgrounds to participate in essential activities and make them feel valued and empowered to contribute to the company’s success positively. The level of comfort of your diverse workforce will determine the extent to which ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ is embedded in the organization.
- Exercise patience and perseverance: Creating a diverse and inclusive culture takes time, and the process isn’t always linear. Hence, keep permeating diversity and inclusion in the organization without expecting any immediate benefit. With time, D&I policies and practices will have far-reaching positive outcomes on the business and the society as a whole. This change is time-consuming, but undoubtedly, rewarding. During the gestation period, the momentum to promote diversity and inclusion should be kept animated, and desired interventions should be on.
The above approach, if adopted in total, can stimulate positive D&I outcomes. Success stories of many leading companies in this field reveal that they all adopted it in one or the other form. Above all, confidence in the approach espoused, positive mindset, and willingness to win will decide the extent of your success in imbibing the values of D&I in the organizational culture. A speaker giving a TED talk rightly says, “creating and sustaining a diverse and inclusive culture demands connecting it to the company's vision and mission, framing and implementing apt strategy, harmonizing dynamics of changes required in organizational behavior and injecting value proposition of D&I in the hearts and minds of people working in the system.”