The DE&I agenda: Is it just another corporate propaganda?

A more diverse and inclusive workforce is necessary for long-term sustenance, for which it should be more than just a gimmick

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India, being one of the largest nations in the world, sees diversity in all shapes and forms. From caste and religion, to gender and sexual orientation, Indians hail from all sorts of backgrounds. The great Indian diversity, however, does not necessarily get reflected in the workplace. Incorporation of diversity in the workplace has been prioritised by top corporates in recent times. Diversity hiring has indeed become the main focus of most corporates, and special recruitment drives for people belonging to underrepresented sectors have become more prevalent.

Representation of different communities isn’t only a social responsibility for the corporate world. Having people from varied backgrounds is also a means for companies to ensure sustenance in the long run. Jagjit Singh, Former CHRO & HR Consultant, believes that inclusion of a more diverse workforce is necessary for the sustenance of a company in the long run.

“The social media functions in a system where it is all about ‘you pat my back, I pat your back’. When somebody rolls out a generally-appreciated initiative, someone else is surely to follow in their steps”

Jagjit Singh, Former CHRO & HR Consultant

“Most of the new ideas or inventions have typically come from the most unexpected quarters. The Forbes top 50 list of 1995 and of 2015, will reveal that half the companies haven’t survived. Unless one can accept diverse thoughts and ideas in an organisation, it will be difficult to survive in the long term,” he says.

Singh says that with the inclusion of people from different backgrounds, a company can expect to extract ideas that can’t be put forth with a team with a similar background. Hence, to stay relevant and on top of the shifting requirements of any market, an organisation requires to nurture talent from diverse backgrounds.

Chaitali Mukherjee, partner and leader – people & organisation, PwC India, also believes that the conversation around DEI is not only one that a company must engage in for social benefit, but also for remaining relevant in the market. “The starting point of diversity is to have people with diverse perspectives come into the workplace. Earlier, it was believed that organisations are doing it for the people. However, for an organisation to thrive in the new world, it is critical to understand the customer base, which happens to be very diverse. Hence, having a diverse workforce actually works in favour of companies, helping grow their businesses and cater better to the market,” she says. “If I choose to work with a smaller percentage of the world, I’d be irrelevant in a few years,” she adds.

Elucidating further on how a company needs to embrace the idea of diversity, Singh says that the concept of inclusion must be imbibed within the core of an organisation. Otherwise, it may actually end up restricted to being just a gimmick.

“An organisation needs to nurture talent from diverse backgrounds by providing an open culture — a culture which rewards innovation. Moreover, leadership also needs to be open to diverse perspectives, which are contrary to the widely held, accepted norms or beliefs. Otherwise, we will celebrate diversity in the shape of a day or an event, and then get back to business as usual.

“Society takes time to accept. Everything has an evolution cycle. These drives only work when people from the community are comfortable enough to come forth and have a conversation about themselves and accept their identity. Companies can only ensure a safe judgement-free environment. The onus of imbibing a change lies entirely on the society”

Chaitali Mukherjee, partner and leader – people & organisation, PwC India

When an organisation is a market leader, that is the time it needs to take the risk of bringing in more diversity of thought, background, region and so on,” suggests Singh.

Can DEI be restricted to being a buzzword in the future?

The importance of establishing a diverse workforce in the present age is, hence, unquestionable. However, diversity incorporation will ask for substantial changes in the ways of the working of a company.

“Running DEI initiatives in silos doesn’t work anymore. There was a time when organisations could launch separate initiatives for different sections, such as gender, LGBTQI, work-life balance and so on, under ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. Today, however, organisations are realising that there are many layers to inclusion and there is intersection across gender, caste, religion, region, disability, age and sexual orientation that often come together to disadvantage people. ‘Intersectionality’ is about realising that different layers of social stratification can combine to hold people back from achieving their true potential. It is myopic to think that we have complete information about our colleagues, based on our interactions with them behind a screen. Each of us has a unique story and by knowing and empathising, we can be more cohesive, inclusive and accepting,” explains Ruchi Bhalla, country head – India delivery centres, and vice president – human resources (Asia Pacific), Pitney Bowes.

With diversity hiring taking centre stage, there are more chances of diversity and inclusion talks becoming a way for companies to work on their public image. “The social media functions in a system where it is all about ‘you pat my back, I pat your back’. When somebody rolls out a generally-appreciated initiative, someone else is surely to follow in their steps,” points out Jagjit Singh.

A look at one’s LinkedIn feed is enough to observe how big conglomerates are coming forth with LGBTQ hiring drives. “Society takes time to accept. Everything has an evolution cycle. These drives only work when people from the community are comfortable enough to come forth and have a conversation about themselves and accept their identity. Companies can only ensure a safe judgement-free environment. The onus of imbibing a change lies entirely on the society,” asserts Chaitali Mukherjee. She believes that only time can tell whether something like this will become a trend or a propaganda. However, if companies are not prepared internally for the incorporation of diverse talent within their workforces, then it may become a larger issue for them.

“Creating a culture of merit, where only talent matters and having role models to look up to, so that people have the courage to dream bigger, get inspired and reach their goals, allows for impactful DEI programmes”

Ruchi Bhalla, country head – India delivery centres, and vice president – human resources (Asia Pacific), Pitney Bowes

In order to avoid that, HR professionals believe that it is necessary to deal with the inherent biases of existing employees first. “The advantage of building diverse teams is only realised when one drives inclusion. Building a strong cultural ethos that values diversity is the first step towards creating an inclusive workplace. In order for diversity to be successful, organisations must cultivate a structured environment that allows for inclusion. Creating a culture of merit, where only talent matters and having role models to look up to, so that people have the courage to dream bigger, get inspired and reach their goals, allows for impactful DEI programmes,” Bhalla enunciates.

In conclusion, the only way for special hiring drives to reach fruition is for Indian society to overcome its inherent bias towards people of certain communities. Diversity in the workplace is essential and its incorporation is a must. However, companies must ensure a bias-free environment for diverse talent to prosper and becoming invaluable assets. For that, social constructs need to change. Whether they will or not, only time will tell.

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