Flex India is the proud employer of over 100 specially-abled employees. “Right now, we’re focusing on talent with orthopaedic, hearing, speech and partial visual challenges,” informs Yathi Venkatesh, HR director, Flex GBS India. The Company’s shared services unit is where this section of the workforce happens to find the most representation. “At the end of the day, we work with computers. Therefore, there’s technically no place they can’t be,” explains Venkatesh.
While the finance department was the earliest adopter of specially-abled talent, other departments soon followed. “By now we have a representation across HR, IT, engineering, finance and procurement. I think all our verticals in the shared services centres engage specially-abled talent,” says Venkatesh.
Referrals usually drive the overall hiring at Flex India and it is the same for sourcing specially-abled talent. “It works well for us, so we’ve not had to source externally,” says Venkatesh. “While we do make efforts to communicate that we’re patrons of specially-abled talent, if I have to look back at where most of our employees come from, it has been referrals,” she adds.
“Each time there is a vacancy, we have an active conversation with the manager to evaluate why that position cannot be performed by a specially-abled employee instead of trying to prove why it can be.”
As for hiring specially-abled talent for the Company’s manufacturing units, Flex India partners with the Vocational Rehabilitation Centre for Differently-abled, a Chennai-based organisation affiliated with the Government of Tamil Nadu and established by the Indian Ministry of Labour & Employment in 1976. “Persons with disabilities enlist themselves with the organisation and receive training to make them workforce ready,” informs Venkatesh. “Some of the talent we recruited from there has been with us for five years now.”
While diversity is an organic part of Flex’s cultural fabric by now, the global company has been conscious of not becoming complacent. “I can say we’ve succeeded in shifting the mindset of leaders. They are now organically accepting of specially-abled talent in the workforce,” says Venkatesh, and adds, “While the environment is fertile and extremely conducive, the conscious part is to continue to address our unconscious biases.”
Illustrating how the Company puts this in action, Venkatesh explains, “Each time there is a vacancy, we have an active conversation with the manager to evaluate why that position cannot be performed by a specially-abled employee instead of trying to prove why it can be.” The discussions often end up unravelling many unconscious biases.
Venkatesh explains with an example. “When one is looking at a job profile, how often does a specially-abled talent come to mind as a potential candidate? Suddenly one realises how elementary it really is,” she says. “Why do we think that only people like us can do everything in the world? Why not somebody else? So until this doesn’t become our default way of thinking, we have to continue addressing unconscious biases.”
Venkatesh points out that there are two sides to diversity hiring, with one side often getting overlooked. Hiring specially-abled talent and building a friendly work environment is just one part of embedding diversity into the Company. “Giving them a job is one thing but are we fostering a career path for them?” observes Venkatesh.
Regular role evaluations, appraisals and upskilling may seem to be normal human-capital discussions, but specially-abled talent often goes unnoticed. Working with such talent revealed the other side, notes Venkatesh, “Sometimes a specially-abled employees are happy to just have the job and receive their annual increments. But are they really happy to come in and do what they do or are they really aspiring?”
The organisation’s conscious role comes into play in striking that balance, believes Venkatesh, “How to motivate our specially-abled talent to think big for themselves, think of the next potential skill so they can take on the next role? That’s where it becomes all about bringing both the sides of the coin to meet.”
As part of the Company’s individual development plans (IDP), HR business partners and managers regularly engage specially-abled talent in discussions about their career and its direction. “The next part of the conversation is checking with them whether they want to take on the next role in the first place because sometimes they don’t want to.”
Meanwhile, some are extremely aspiring but Venkatesh notes, “Do they put it out there? The kind of career progress we would feel entitled to, I’m not too sure all specially-abled employees would feel comfortable voicing the same. How do we make sure they don’t hesitate or cringe when they’re making their aspirations known? It is about telling them it is normal and they should be having these conversations.”