Diversity is more than a numbers game

A truly inclusive workplace requires behavioural changes and cultural changes

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The case for diversity calls for more than just hiring a bunch of different people into an organisation. Quite often, the ‘I’ in D&I (diversity and inclusion) tends to get overlooked as companies hurriedly tick the diversity agenda on their list after hiring. One of the reasons why diversity does not naturally exist in companies is because we fail to bring in inclusive behaviour.

Individuals spend a lot of time at work, almost one-third of their lives! Organisations have a significant impact on changing the attitudes in society, at large, and have the transformative power to make society more inclusive.

Rajeev Singh

“For any diverse group, interventions are required to be taken by the organisation to support their career.”

Steps to be taken at the workplace, to help drive the D&I agenda, include the following:

Attend to the unconscious biases at the workplace

Hiring for diversity will be an empty gesture if the workplace is not prepared for it. Tanvi Choksi, HR head, JLL India, mentions how they had to sensitise their employees before hiring a transgender employee into the office. “One has to create the right conditions for inclusiveness before hiring for diversity,” explains Choksi.

Biases are visible in different forms, such as the words used, jokes cracked and the manner of addressing people. Regular and periodic sensitisation workshops and training sessions are necessary to educate employees on how biases operate and how to weed them out through small behavioural changes.

For instance, instead of ‘husband’ or ‘wife’, a better word to use would be ‘partners’. This automatically makes conversations more inclusive. While individuals themselves should have the prerogative to choose the form of address they would be most comfortable with, it is the duty of the HR to ask the question. Attitudes need to be kept in check while dealing with different sections, such as members of the PwD or the LGBTQIA+ community.

Tanvi Choksi

“One has to create the right conditions for inclusiveness before hiring for diversity.”


Biases can also creep in through acts of microaggression, that is, commonplace and daily behaviours, which suggest negative and prejudicial attitudes. For instance, telling a woman in a senior role that she looks very young may sound like a compliment, but it is actually a subtle way of undermining her authority by focusing on her appearance.

One way to deal with such biases, would be to first find out that such biases exist, and then make individuals — right from the top rung to the bottom of the ladder — aware of their own assumptions. Tests, such as the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) can help workers find out what kind of biases each person is harbouring.

Create a conducive environment

Rajeev Singh, CHRO, ATG Tires, explains how the Company managed to enable its women employees working at the Gujarat plant. The Company has a plant entirely run by 30 to 50 women, which is already into its second year of running. The manufacturing industry being a typically male-dominated area, ATG had to take certain measures to ensure women could work in the plant without any hindrance. The Company arranged for accommodation facilities for the women where they could stay while being closer to the factory, ensuring easier commute and security for the workers.

“For any diverse group, interventions are required to be taken by the organisation to support their career,” points out Singh.

This also means making certain changes in the workplace. Accessible infrastructure for different groups is a way of telling them that they are welcome. Choksi cites the example of unisex washrooms at JLL India, which have brought about a more inclusive environment for transgenders in the organisation. Simple things, such as these need to be thought about and implemented.

Ensure pay parity

Fixing pay disparities may not be an easy process, but is an important one. Companies can start with a pay audit to find out how different individuals are being paid for doing similar work. The annual compensation review is a good time to do this. Audits need to be done periodically, as employees come and go and employees get promoted. Fixing the problem once will not ensure it does not crop up again. Moreover, it is important to look beyond just wages and concentrate on other factors, such as bonuses, stock awards, promotion rates and concentration levels by gender in certain roles. Relying on salary history may also lead one to perpetuate past inequalities.

Alter parental leave policy

Organisations today are moving towards increasingly inclusive avenues by making changes in their policies. One such area is the parental leave policy. While many organisations have implemented inclusive policies by providing the same duration of paid leave for all sections of employees, including medical and legal assistance in matters of adoption, there is still a long way to go for it to be commonplace. Recently, Fidelity International announced a change in its parental leave policy, allowing fathers and secondary caregivers to avail 26 weeks of paid leave for the first 12 months after the child arrives.

Lead by example

This may be the most important factor when it comes to implementing inclusive practices at the workplace. The message should come from the top. In other words, leaders need to be role models in advocating the diversity agenda. Executives and managers are instrumental to the Company’s D&I efforts. Mandatory training for the leadership team, which helps in tackling biases and assumptions is a good way to ensure that talks for diversity begin at the top.

Those in charge of teams may be given opportunities to learn how to better manage diverse workgroups. Real-life scenarios that managers face can be discussed, and inputs on sensitive ways of dealing with the same can be provided. For instance, an employee who needs an accommodation because of a disability or a single parent dealing with child care issues can be closely supervised.

At the end of the day, using metrics or scorecards to measure hiring numbers or retaining minority employees is just one part of the equation. More than quantitative measures, the success of diversity and inclusion should be measured on the basis of qualitative factors, such as behavioural or cultural changes within the organisation. Having the metrics in place without the accountability will only mean going half way up the path to a truly inclusive workplace.

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