We were four school friends who lived in the same neighborhood. All of us were brought up on Indian middle class values, with a strong emphasis on education and our parents empowered us to make choices and follow our passions. Looking back, this was perhaps the key reason for us having graduated with top honors and further specializing in our fields of study.
Three years back, one of us left the organization he was working with after a 7 year stint. He was the most disciplined and brightest student amongst us in school, and someone who would nurture relationships. This was startling as he was in the running for the Vice President position and also considered a High Potential (HiPo) employee for the organization. But yes, some of his personal choices were indeed unique and were not as easily accepted by the organization.
This brings us to asking how a lack of diversity in the workforce can derail well planned organizational interventions, including the HiPo program. In this article, we study diversity from three lenses.
1. Gender: Currently there are 450 million employable women in the country, which comprises of 48% of the employable workforce. It took a SEBI stipulation in Feb 2014 to get all companies to have women directors on their board. Till date a total of 829 companies have complied, out of which 733 are first-time appointees to the board of a listed company.
2. Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual & Transgender: In 2012, with the growing momentum of LGBT movement, a survey was conducted by Mingle (Mission for Indian Gay & Lesbian Empowerment) on LGBT workplace diversity and Inclusion. It covered 455 LGBT employees from 17 companies. A third of the respondents reported harassment at the workplace and nearly 80% reported hearing homophobic comments in their offices. However, most of the LGBT employees had not experienced any discrimination from their managers.
3. Differently abled workforce: An International Labour Organization 2011 publication mentioned that the differently abled people in India constitute a significant 5% of the population. It further pointed out that India has a potential workforce of 30 million people with disabilities, however only 0.1 million have succeeded in getting employment in the industries till now.
This lack of diversity stems primarily from unacceptability of the employees and the society as a whole towards these sections. With prejudice and a lack of respect being openly expressed, bias and discrimination amongst employees becomes inevitable. The result is a glass ceiling for the employee. Such an environment is dangerous even for the HiPo program. There could be exceptional people who bring diverse perspectives to the table yet the ecosystem is neither enabling nor encouraging!
Why is Diversity important for building an effective HiPo program?
In today’s VUCA world when the organizations are dealing with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity; it has become essential to create a talent pool so dynamic and progressive so as to deal with the present and future market challenges. The following elements are important to understand when considering the impact of having a diverse workforce, and will probably need to be probed more.
1. Diversity breeds engagement. Engagement attracts talent.
2. Diversity breeds respect. Respect breeds team work. Team work breeds performance.
3. Diversity breeds innovation. And innovation breeds business success.
Ensuring a Diverse HiPo Pool…
If the organization’s environment is conducive, Diversity shall flourish and shall allow a rich source of talent into the HiPo pool. To do so, we might want to consider the points share here:
o Leadership alignment
o Approach Diversity as a strategic choice and drive it
o Identify employees from various segments and create policies which enable them
o Create awareness with employees on Diversity and the Organization’s stand
o Feedback mechanism which shapes the strategy on diversity, internally and externally
o Continuously communicate across internal platforms the importance of letting go of stereotypes
o Celebrate the culture of Diversity through a variety of engagement activities
o Workspaces need to be sensitive of special needs of women and the differently abled
To conclude, this is not just HR’s job. It is the organization’s leadership commitment and intention which will be the drive in creating a culture for Diversity; and allowing it to thrive, flourish and evolve in the organization. The friend in question at the beginning of this article is now a CEO of a large Multinational based out of Amsterdam. Under his leadership, the organization revenue has grown by 115%, profits by 40% and stock prices have nearly tripled!!!
With research support from Varun Mathur and Vibhor Srivastava.
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