Making Diversity & Inclusion A Sustainable Reality

Vishwas Nandalikar, Head - HRBP, Adecco India Vishwas is an experienced head of human resources with a demonstrated history. He is also skilled in HR Consulting, Retail, Recruiting, HR Policies, and Human Resource Development.

Over the years, corporate India has been compelled to sit up and take note of a critical aspect of employee welfare diversity and inclusion. When we talk about diversity, the tendency is to assume that it has only to do with ‘gender’. While gender diversity is the prominent challenge, in a country like India, the challenge of colour is additionally replaced with that of caste, social bracket and cultural associations. Therefore, these aspects of diversity demand attention as well. Diversity can be achieved if companies take specific actions and commit to this goal. More importantly, for organizational change, it is the leaders who have to drive diversity and inclusion.

Indian women give up their careers much earlier than professional women in other countries. Studies suggest that the mid 30s are a common age group for women to leave full time jobs. While this could be a result of life events, the exodus can be stemmed by giving their careers proper direction prior to the break. Supervisors/mentors gave a crucial role to play here. A professional is more likely to come back to work when she knows what is expected of her and what growth trajectory she can expect in the future. In the absence of a clearly defined career path, an employee coming back after a break would clutch at straws trying to fit roles and employers will potentially have a low employee engagement issue on their hands.

There are enough studies to demonstrate that diversity has a beneficial effect on company culture and financial performance. Embracing diversity is a win across the board. The candidates are provided with equal opportunities and companies benefit from the different backgrounds and perspectives of a diverse workforce. It is therefore vital to not only liaise and communicate but also find ways to resolve the difficulties in scouting diverse candidates to interview and retaining diverse employees who accept the offer.

How can companies bridge this divide? Here are a few recommendations:
1)Address Inequality: Companies should address inequality across the spectrum be it at entry level jobs and internships or mid career jobs. Set in place a gender equality system that
offers as many opportunities to women as they do to men.

2)CEO Commitment, Cascading Down to All Management Levels: Shared objectives and commitment to this practice builds ownership at the leadership level and an approach that is favourable to inclusion. As the primary connection between leadership and frontline workers, managers must be mindful of how to support and foster a diverse workforce. Scheduling cultural and other sensitivity training could be useful.

For organizational change, it is the leaders who have to drive diversity and inclusion.

3)Communicate Clearly: Set diversity goals and communicate it to your employees. Execute these programs as you would other activities in your business track its progress and make people answerable.

4)Address Subconscious Bias & Hiring for Diversity: Embracing cultural diversity in hiring practices can help to shake up the implicit bias that often leads to companies bringing on the same sort of people. One way to address and mitigate biases, conscious or subconscious, is by creating tools and standards the company for supervisors and leadership to oversee from hiring to performance reviews. The talent acquisition team should be diverse and the selection process should be focused on behavioural based assessments and feedback from multiple interviewers. More importantly, identifying biases is not enough, people should be taught to step in when they observe instances of bias and discrimination.

5)Foster an Inclusive Environment: Creating an inclusive environment in an organization can be encouraged by formalizing processes related to career progression and feedback systems that allow for regular engagement with the employees. A consistent momentum for communication will build trust with the workforce and nurture relationships that endorse open and direct feedback channels.

6)Gender Ratio & Upward Mobility: There are three areas that need continual attention for gender balance in every company recruitment, retention, and rate of progression. Companies need to examine and explore how they can move women through their organisation. It is essential to spot aptitude early and giving them plenty of opportunities to grow and learn, involving them in key strategic projects that can help develop their skills, and prepare them with the competence to lead the organization. As they move up the corporate ladder, it is essential to institute re tooling and re-skilling programmes for them at each level to ensure they are abreast with all the latest developments in the industry. Avoid clustering women in functions that are traditionally dominated by them, like HR and Communications. These gender stereotypes are often seen across sectors, reflecting an alarming trend towards relegating female employees to 'less critical, lower complexity’ of jobs.

7)Build Diversity Friendly Policies: Facilitating workplace diversity may mean creating new policies or modifying current ones system wide, from recruitment to performance evaluations and promotions. Rewarding diverse referrals, allowing for employees to take-off work for religious holidays that may not be otherwise observed by the company, flex time and telecommuting benefits to accommodate employees with disabilities, offering onsite daycare, making the office space disabled friendly and extending the option for flexible work hours are some examples of diversity friendly policies.

8)Quotas Don’t Automate Inclusion: Hiring goals may boost diversity numbers but this won’t automatically create an inclusive culture. To retain and nurture top talent, it’s critical to create a positive end-to-end employee experience with a focus on creating conditions that support inclusion on a daily basis and designing ways to measure the impact.