Has the DE&I agenda been reduced to woke washing in India Inc.?

To ensure that diversity seeps into the culture of the organisation, it should begin right from the leadership team and cascade down the ranks

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We always talk about the top-down approach in business. The organisation’s visions, ideas, values and missions are first ideated by the top management and practised by them before they flow down to other subordinates, automatically.

Many HR leaders and experts suggest that the diversity agenda in a company is driven by its top management. When there is visible diversity in the leadership team and in the executive board, it indicates that the organisation follows the diversity agenda and truly embodies it in its culture. The likelihood of such an organisation to have a diverse workforce is also high. Is that really so? Is ensuring diversity in the leadership team an actionable initiative to bring a genuine change in the corporate culture, or just woke washing to attract talent? Let’s find out from our experts.

Emmanuel David, director, Tata management Training Institute, truly advocates the fact that diversity always flows from top to bottom. Recalling his previous stints with various organisations, he observes that it was easier for any organisation to drive the diversity agenda when the leadership was diverse. They all embodied the diversity agenda, believed in following diversity in every aspect — from hiring to employee benefits and celebrations — and, therefore, drove it enthusiastically.

“I was working for a firm, whose leadership team comprised different nationalities, such as Germans, French, Americans and Indians. We could see diversity at every level, in hiring, in the leave policies, and also in terms of the range and variety of festivities in accordance with regional diversity.”

Emmanuel David, director, Tata management Training Institute

“I was working for a firm, whose leadership team comprised different nationalities, such as Germans, French, Americans and Indians. We could see diversity at every level, in hiring, in the leave policies, and also in terms of the range and variety of festivities in accordance with regional diversity,” says David.

Showing us a different side of the story, Debjani Roy, CHRO, Mind Your Feet, gave a totally different view on this matter. According to her, organisations in India, do not understand diversity at all.

They fail to see it as a tool to achieve growth. And hence, she believes that some hiring for leadership positions to drive the diversity agenda is indulged in simply as a one-time activity by most organisations.

“Indian organisations may just bring someone as part of the leadership team to achieve certain objectives, such as to successfully crack an M&A deal, or when the company is going for an IPO or when it desires to establish some kind of a value proposition in the market. Do organisations truly internalise this process? Most often not. The CXO team ends up using this as a tool, opportunistically, as and when it suits them. As a result, the whole idea of diversity in the workforce cascading down to the bottom, fails miserably.”

Debjani Roy, CHRO, Mind Your Feet

“Indian organisations may just bring someone as part of the leadership team to achieve certain objectives, such as to successfully crack an M&A deal, or when the company is going for an IPO or when it desires to establish some kind of a value proposition in the market. Do organisations truly internalise this process? Most often not. The CXO team ends up using this as a tool, opportunistically, as and when it suits them. As a result, the whole idea of diversity in the workforce cascading down to the bottom, fails miserably,” explains Roy.

Naresh Kumar Puritipati, human resource director, Lactalis Group, says, “If there is no diversity in senior leadership roles, it indicates that the organisation is not committed to driving the diversity agenda, because it is the leaders who act as role models for many people internally,” shares Kumar.

Roy feels that even though India is showing some progress in the DE&I front, there are very few of organisations that are actually taking it seriously.

“If there is no diversity in senior leadership roles, it indicates that the organisation is not committed to driving the diversity agenda, because it is the leaders who act as role models for many people internally.”

Naresh Kumar Puritipati, human resource director, Lactalis Group

Roy is of the opinion that the diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) agenda should be driven as a project in the organisations rather than as a one-time activity, where one has cohorts within the teams and the workforce, who basically serve as the champions of driving diversity in the organisation. Presence of subject matter experts responsible solely for designing initiatives to drive DE&I in the organisation goes a long way. This ensures that it becomes part of the system and the processes practised on a regular basis.

She talks about a fast food MNC outlet, which was manned by a diverse and inclusive workforce comprising deaf and mute employees. “They were all doing a great job as professionals, which showed the amount of effort being put in by the organisation to train them,” mentions Roy.

There are organisations out there that still use DE&I activities as a weapon to market themselves as a diverse organisation. It is high time such organisations wake up to the fact that diversity is not just about creating a corporate image, but about truly embodying it in the organisational culture.

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