Gender inclusivity refers to the practice of creating an environment that respects and affirms the identities of individuals of all gender expressions and identities. It involves recognising that gender is not limited to a binary concept and includes a wide range of identities beyond the traditional male and female categories.
7.ai realises that gender-inclusive spaces and policies strive to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their gender identity, feel welcome, valued and safe. This involves providing equal opportunities, eliminating discriminatory practices, using inclusive language and accommodating diverse needs. Gender inclusivity acknowledges the unique experiences and challenges faced by different genders and works to promote equity and respect for all.
The company has not only decided to implement gender inclusivity but has also made sure that each segment of the workforce feels valued and seen. A software and services company, 7.ai uses artificial intelligence, human insight and deep vertical expertise to produce personalised, consistent and satisfying customer experiences.
Nina Nair, senior vice president and HR head, India and America, 7.ai, shares, “The decision to enhance gender diversity within our company was grounded in the recognition of the importance of a broader spectrum of perspectives. Initially, our gender diversity was at around 22 per cent among our workforce, which prompted us to question whether we were fully embracing the potential of diverse talent.”
That is why, 7.ai aimed to address this by actively inviting more women to join its team, ultimately aspiring to achieve a gender ratio of 60:40. Nair believes that while progress has been made, there’s still room to grow. “This push for gender inclusivity was rooted in the understanding that diverse teams contribute distinct viewpoints and innovative problem-solving approaches. In our experience, this diversity of thought has elevated our work culture,” reveals Nair. “When tackling challenges, projects, or decisions, the presence of both men and women at the table definitely enriches discussions. Their unique perspectives, shaped by their gender and emotions, have led to more comprehensive and effective solutions,” admits Nair.
“We’ve strived to foster diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community, accommodate individuals with varying abilities and provide for those with special needs. To achieve this, we’ve taken practical steps such as introducing gender-neutral restrooms and creating an environment where people are accepted for their unique identities, including clothing choices”
Nina Nair, senior vice president and HR head, India and America, 7.ai
By fostering a collaborative environment where these diverse strengths intersect, the company has greatly benefited, in terms of an enhanced work culture and more well-rounded outcomes.
Since implementing LGBTQIA+ community initiatives, gender-neutral washrooms and other programmes, the company has witnessed a range of positive outcomes. One of the most significant achievements has been the growing understanding of what true inclusion entails.
“We’ve strived to foster diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community, accommodate individuals with varying abilities and provide for those with special needs. To achieve this, we’ve taken practical steps such as introducing gender-neutral restrooms and creating an environment where people are accepted for their unique identities, including clothing choices. It’s become clear that while diversity is essential, true success hinges on effective inclusion,” explains Nair.
She further adds that, by acknowledging this connection and working to embrace both, the firm has seen the emergence of a more welcoming and harmonious atmosphere that truly celebrates the richness of its diverse workforce.
Ensuring that employees feel valued and included within the organisation goes beyond policy implementation — effective communication plays a pivotal role. To bridge the gap between policies and employee engagement, the company prioritises clear and relatable communication. Rather than simply posting policies in the HR system for periodic review, they take a different approach.
Citing the example of the anti-sexual harassment posters throughout the 7.ai office, Nair points out how instead of directly addressing ’anti-sexual harassment’, they started by first addressing everyday language and scenarios. “We tackle terms that may be used casually but are inappropriate. If someone refers to someone else as a ’bomb’, we make it clear that using the term to refer to anything other than an explosive is unacceptable language. This approach ensures that the message resonates and is comprehensible, particularly for our diverse generations such as the Gen Zs and Millennials.”
By conversing in a language they understand, the company was able to effectively drive home the principles of its policies, helping them differentiate between right and wrong. The key lies in adapting communication to employees perspectives, nurturing a culture of understanding and inclusion from the ground up.
Regarding the incorporation of gender inclusivity within the organisation, Nair talks about the quarterly feedback mechanism known as the ‘16 surveys’. These surveys comprise 16 carefully-designed questions with drop-down indicators, seeking insights from employees.
In Nair’s words, “We run these surveys every quarter to capture evolving perspectives. This iterative process enables us to listen to our workforce, implement changes based on their feedback, and assess the recurring nature of issues or emerging challenges.”
While concrete numerical data showcasing the direct impact of gender inclusivity on productivity and retention is not available, Nair has observed encouraging trends. Particularly, in cases where they have intentionally hired batches of women, there has been a noticeable increase in retention rates. However, Nair mentions, “Overall attrition remains a focus for us, aiming for a monthly attrition rate of 3.5 per cent. Our ability to consistently hover around this target is significant, considering the industry’s higher average attrition rates.”
Talking about the challenges they have encountered in the pursuit of gender-inclusivity initiatives, Nair says that the one major obstacle was achieving organisational alignment. “We needed all leaders, including operational and administrative heads, to wholeheartedly embrace gender diversity,” shares Nair.
Addressing discomfort with certain shifts, such as night shifts, proved to be an ongoing challenge. She adds, “We’ve strived to accommodate employees’ preferences while ensuring essential operations are maintained. Transportation and security measures have been enhanced to facilitate late shifts for women, improving their confidence and participation.”
In terms of future initiatives, the company is actively involved in the UN Women’s Empowerment Programme (UN WEP). Beyond internal gender initiatives, 7.ai is committed to uplifting women beyond their organisation by supporting women’s groups, livelihood development programmes and educational initiatives for girls. The company also extends its inclusivity efforts to LGBTQ+ communities through participation in LGBTQ+ job fairs and exploring ways to integrate LGBTQ+ individuals within the workforce.
While navigating these transformative times, 7.ai is redefining its organisational culture to foster a sense of safety, ownership and happiness among its employees. “We’ve emphasised talent development through a comprehensive talent-management framework that guides employees from their early stages to becoming successful, impactful contributors. This commitment to creating an inclusive culture and enabling individual growth stands at the core of our journey towards gender inclusivity,” shares Nair.
To drive success within organisations and their workforces, gender inclusivity practices are vital. Embracing diversity in gender identities fosters innovation, as varied perspectives lead to creative problem solving. This inclusive environment enhances employee engagement and satisfaction, reduces turnover and attracts top talent. Moreover, it cultivates a positive public image and compliance with legal requirements. Overall, gender inclusivity propels organisations towards greater creativity, adaptability and prosperity.