Article: Critical dialogues that drive inclusiveness


Critical dialogues that drive inclusiveness

Shachi Irde, Executive Director, Catalyst India WRC on the organisation's need for free and open conversations on diversity
Critical dialogues that drive inclusiveness

Diversity and inclusion have been on the agenda of HR heads for a while, and yet most organisations in India cannot claim that they’ve cracked the code. The diversity challenge is compounded by multiple sources that lend themselves toward making the workforce more diverse, and consequently more complex for organisational talent management teams. These additional challenges in India include the existence of a large number of communities and religions, thereby comprising significant diversities of culture. Global organisations still grapple with diversity challenges that the world thought were issues long forgotten. For example, one of the key diversity challenges that organisations in Western economies grapple with is the issue of race and ethnicity. While the issues of diversity across the globe are diverse in themselves, driving a culture of open and candid conversations can help tackle any issue that stems from the challenge of diversity.

The sales unit of the US based industrial automation company, Rockwell Automation, faced a similar challenge of equitability and inclusiveness between the white and non-white employees and between men and women. The challenge for the unit’s diverse workforce can best be articulated in Martin Luther King’s memorable quote,” Men hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can’t communicate; they can’t communicate because they are separated from each other.”

Rockwell Automation addressed diversity through dialogue

Rockwell Automation’s sales unit’s attempt at changing the culture of the organisation to become more inclusive was targeted at the mostly white-male people managers through leadership development programs. After attending these programs the unit realised the following three outcomes measured through internal qualitative metrics:

  1. Perceived incidents of negative gossip declined by as much as 39% in some work groups
  2. Participant’s demonstrating critical inclusive behaviours increased remarkably
  3. Co-workers visibly noticed changes in the participant’s inclination to inquire about and include diversity as an active operational agenda

A component of the diversity agenda in the company’s leadership development program included a lab called White Men as Full Diversity Partners (WMFDP). It was a targeted lab that was aimed at awareness on topics such as immersion, skills needed for driving positive outcomes from diversity, experiential dialogues, and commitment toward new behaviours. All of these were aimed at deriving the outcomes of critical thinking, ownership and responsibility, inquisitiveness about differences, ability to listen, and addressing emotionally charges issues.

The need for dialogue

Rockwell Automation’s diversity case clearly indicates that dialogue is a critical component to inflect positive thinking toward differences, and drive the culture of inclusiveness within the organisation. When focus groups within the unit were questioned about what was the largest differentiator between the pre and post cultural eras within the unit, all of them unanimously agreed that the company now has free dialogue on race and gender. Also, the leadership philosophy in the company has changed from the predominant white-male trait of closed power structures to the more inclusive trait of power sharing. The inhibitors of inclusion were identified through critical dialogue which the focus group conversations revealed. These included hatred or aversion toward certain communities, lack of awareness and philosophies about different diverse groups, and general perceptions handed down through convention.

The critical dialogue conversations helped to a great way in abolishing these myths and inhibitors of inclusiveness and also contributed toward increasing the commitment of the organisation toward diversity.

Sustained leadership commitment is crucial

The sunrise sectors, comprising mainly the service economy in India, have shown to be more inclusive and tolerant toward diversity compared to traditional sectors. These companies were exposed to global cultures and practices since inception and hence, they have been pioneers to many progressive talent practices within the economy.

For traditional sectors to emerge as tolerant and inclusive, the first step for them is to accept that their processes and policies were developed in the pre-diversity era and hence, they cease to remain applicable in this age. For example, in the mostly-industrial urban economy, the workforce in India was predominantly comprised of males. The legislative provisions and processes that characterise IR in India are geared to suit the male demographic. After the remarkable shifts in the HR and talent management landscape in India, sourcing of workers is no longer restricted to the male demographic given that 40% of the educational batches in institutions in India are females. After gaining this realisation, they need to identify champions within the organisation in leadership roles, who can drive the change culture. Inclusiveness is also an outcome of sustained commitment, and therefore, the HR and talent management’s role becomes even more crucial.

The Rockwell Automation case study was conducted by Catalyst’s Research Center. If you require a free copy of the case study, please write to

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Topics: Leadership

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