Learning: The game changer for DEI
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“DEI is not an agenda of HR or learning teams. It's an organizational mandate. Let's not forget that. Collectively, we can get there,” said Swatee Sarangi, Global Head - Learning, Leadership and Organizational Development, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, in a panel discussion at Skillsoft Perspectives 2021.
The #Perspectives2021 panel discussion on the theme ‘Driving Learning through Inclusion’ brought together industry leaders Bidisha Banerjee, Global Group VP, Talent, Culture & Employer Branding, Welspun Group; Swatee Sarangi, Global Head - Learning, Leadership and Organizational Development, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories; and Laetitia Fieu, Global Head of Learning & Development, HR Communication and Culture Chez UPL, UPL, for an enriching conversation, moderated by Rashim Mogha, Customer Market Leader, Leadership and Business Solutions, Skillsoft.
The leaders reflected on why it’s essential to establish the purpose of DEI before leaping into policy and culture fixing, learning the skill of unlearning to drive behavioural change, and fast tracking the DEI agenda with digital learning platforms and customized learning programs.
Read on for highlights from the session.
Establishing the purpose of the focus on DEI
Before leaping into changing policies and running interventions, it is crucial to understand the why of DEI. Delving into the why, Welspun Group’s Bidisha Banerjee advised leaders to go beyond the optics advantage, connect DEI strategy with its impact on business performance, and work at a systemic level. “I think what's happened typically is there's a lot of focus on interventions or maybe having some tokenism policies. But the more we start talking about what's the problem that DEI can solve, how is this linked to your business strategy, and how will this help you achieve your business goals, that's when things will get more intrinsically driven.”
Once purpose is established, the next step is to establish success metrics. How would you measure its effectiveness? What are your growth parameters? How are you tracking them? The why and how are core to establishing the purpose of DEI.
UPL’s Laetitia Fieu highlighted here the difference between engaging in isolated actions and a very systemic approach towards DEI. Organizations see it more as a data management driven activity, said Laetitia, adding that limiting success to identifying any increase in hires across diverse groups is less systemic and is the weak point.
“If you start having a systemic approach, where you really train to shift mindsets, then the support and the results will come naturally, to support the business goals of DEI,” Laetitia added.
Adopting a learning mindset to enable change
When it comes to learning about DEI, it is essential to be aware of one’s own unconscious biases by stepping out of the myth that we are insulated to bias and have an open mindset. “It's really tied with first raising the awareness, the attention. You need to first realize that you might need to correct yourself. And once you work on this awareness, you can then work on the commitment, engagement, and that's when you start to shift the culture,” highlighted Laetitia.
Commenting on how learning sits at the nerve center of changing mindsets, Bidisha said, “Learning or changing a mindset is easier, as compared to unlearning a mindset. It takes a lot of courage, a whole lot of effort, when you have to get the organization to unlearn things they have believed and engaged in for a lifetime.” She added that while learning is very important, it is also important to realize what things we need to let go, what things we need to unlearn. “How do we develop the mindset for unlearning, and then getting people to relearn new mindsets.”
Emphasizing the approach where DEI is not restricted as an HR or L&D agenda, Bidisha suggested DEI be owned by the entire workplace ecosystem, including line managers.
“I think what will be the game changer is having these managers involved in conversations. This will help strengthen the focus on DEI, and cultivate a mindset of unlearning and then relearning,” said Bidisha.
“Organizations have to understand that it's important to create the kind of an ecosystem which all of us have spoken about in the past, and we have to find ways in which the culture is put it in practice, that learning is celebrated when people do it right,” emphasized Swatee Sarangi. She strongly believes that putting the learning in practice and celebrating doing it right is essential to ensure that there's a reinforcement happening, “and that kind of becomes a habit and sticks.”
“I think part of the reasons why often DEI initiatives or for that matter any initiative have not been successful in the past is because our measures were not true measures of learning,” said Rashim Mogha. “That reinforcement is so important, because what you are trying to do is you're trying to drive behavior change, and that doesn't happen with event driven training, it has to be learning, it has to be experiential, and it has to be part of your everyday life.”
Fast tracking the DEI agenda with digital platforms
With technology and tools contributing to the various facets of workforce and workflow management, DEI is yet another segment that can truly benefit from the use of digitally advanced tools and processes.
Talking about digital platforms, Laetitia noted that digital learning platforms have been a tremendous value-add for organizations with the ability to enable multilingual, customized trainings at scale and reinforce learning.
Reflecting on Welspun’s holistic approach to DEI and workforce wellness, Bidisha shared a range of initiatives that Welspun Group has invested time and resources in to provide access to needed resources for employees in different life stages, both professional and personal. While the organization has witnessed a 60 – 70% turnout for its digital initiatives focused on DEI, it also leverages digital learning platform to offer customized learning programs to its leaders as well as employees - not just white collar employees and corporate office but also extended to blue collar employees at plant sites as well.
Sharing Dr. Reddy’s efforts in leveraging digital to fast track DEI, Swatee said, “We've kind of focused on being more holistic, and trying to really address the core rather than scratch the surface. The pandemic opened all the doors for dialing up the digital intervention and we have our learning experience platform which offers truly hyper-personalized enriching experiences through a repertoire of skills and courses, that people can pick up at their individual paces.”
Swatee further shared how various initiatives such as mentoring, reverse mentoring, innovation boot camp, celebrating sensei and community learning through Dr. Reddy’s annual ‘People Development Week’ are helping the organization extend support and drive learning while enabling gender, generational and cognitive diversity.
“There's so much power in the indigenous ideas which come about, because diverse people are collaborating,” Swatee said.
With the global focus on making workplaces diverse, inclusive and equitable, it is essential for DEI leaders to ensure the progress is meaningful and sustainable, beyond a token initiative that restricts purpose to employer brand and optics. As important as numbers are, it is equally important to ensure a parallel shift in mindsets. That is key to unlocking the learning potential of employees to absorb what DEI encompasses, thereby going beyond lip service and ensuring that DEI is embedded in the DNA of the organization.