In all fairness

Diversity and inclusivity at workplace are the buzz words of the corporate world. Prachi Rege speaks to HR heads of companies about practicing and sustaining these new mantras.

Diversity and inclusivity at workplace are the buzz words of the corporate world. Prachi Rege speaks to HR heads of companies about practicing and sustaining these new mantras.

“Creating and managing a diverse workforce is a process, not a destination.”
–R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.

Over the years, there has been a paradigm shift in the demographics of the workforce within emerging markets across all levels – local, regional and global. Workplace diversity and inclusivity is now integral for any business to thrive. A diverse workforce consists of people from all economic backgrounds and gender with a variety of innovative and creative skill sets. "Fostering an environment of inclusiveness gives an organisation an upper hand in a competitive market as it helps increase positive interpersonal relations amongst the employees which can lead to higher output of ideas, and a sense of mutual respect amongst hierarchy levels," says Suveer Bajaj, co-founder, FoxyMoron, a digital agency. As an employer, it is essential to leverage the talent that diverse employees bring to the table to help your organisation’s bottom line.

However, experts believe that though Indian workplaces are open to diversity and inclusivity across cast, culture, region and race, inequality towards the fairer sex is still a practice. "Not all companies respect gender diversity. A lot needs to be done to nudge women positively in the direction of education, growth and learning," says Manjit Lakhmana, Head HR, Canara HSBC Oriental Bank of Commerce Life Insurance Company. Madhur Ramani, co-founder and managing partner, Stratum Consulting – A business HR advisory firm, sites the example of Indian Air Force which in a way is one of the nation’s biggest corporates.

Referring to a recent comment—“Women are not physically suited for flying fighter planes”, made by the Indian Air Force Chief Marshal, Arup Raha, Ramani says,"While on one hand women have excelled in all walks of life and are at the helm of top leadership positions, the air force industry deem them to be physically unfit to fly fighter planes. This shows that not all sectors in our country have a unified inclusion policy; especially towards women."

Telecommunication giant Vodafone India Ltd (VIL), represents the positive side of gender diversity in action in India Inc. They hired 50 per cent women trainees from educational institutes across the country under their Discover Campus Programme. It is an aspirational ‘management trainee’ programme that provides fast-track career growth, exciting and challenging opportunities and a platform to connect with fellow alumni. "32 per cent of mobile owners in urban India are women. However, this proportion of customer base did not reflect in the women personnel at VIL. Hence, having a diverse workforce became a strategic business imperative for us," explains Ashok Ramchandran, director, Human Resources, VIL.

At FoxyMoron, teams represent inclusivity across verticals and cities. "We consciously employ people from varied talent pools with different employment histories to equip each employee with opportunities for professional growth and encourage innovation," says Bajaj. They foster diversity and inclusivity through quarterly activities like FoxyConf’— a platform for every team to showcase their work, learn from another colleague’s mistakes and network with other teams and a weekly session called ‘A Fox Wants To Know’—where every single employee poses any business/ organisational related queries to the directors and co-founders of the agency. "This open-dialogue helps results in informed and aware employers and highly involved employees. Thus resulting in positive business decisions," explains Bajaj.

"We are currently in the process of formalising certain practices of growth, learning and mentoring for all our colleagues across diverse backgrounds, ethnicity, career patterns and specialisation, across all career levels. We are excited to leverage our natural opportunities within the system, and anticipate many more positive side-effects of these new habits," says Lakhmana.

Experts suggest that no matter how large the workforce of your organisation is, it is important to foster an environment where people have the opportunities to voice their opinions, share their learning, express their concerns without feeling like they are being judged or personally attacked.
Ramchandran strongly believes that corporates must undertake simple but engaging initiatives like celebrating national festivals for employees. "With these in-house initiatives, the entire organisation will imbibe the cultural hues of national festivals, leading to the creation of a family celebration environment, building a closer connect amongst the work force," he signs off.

Foster diversity and inclusivity through..

  • A policy that ensures zero tolerance for negative behavior which demeans a person and their values or beliefs.
  • Promote the use of technology and various communication platforms to convey policies and other company information across all verticals and teams.
  • Reward employees who foster and encourage team spirit across the organisation. Encourage these employees to become advocates of a diverse and inclusive workplace environment.