With a 4000-strong workforce in India, Thoughtworks, a global technology company, has launched a gamut of programmes to transform itself as a more diverse, inclusive and egalitarian workplace. It aims to have 40 per cent women and underrepresented gender minorities in tech roles by the end of 2022.
At present, women and gender minorities comprise 39.1 per cent of the workforce.
Vapasi, for instance, is one such programme that it enables experienced women developers currently on a career break to re-enter the world of programming post a three to five-week boot camp. The short and intensive training programme is designed to impart as well as gauge knowledge related to the core of software development.
Another programme named WiLD – short for Women in Leadership Development – helps emerging women leaders in the organisation gain exposure to leadership skills, including ways of resolving conflict and mentoring others, and recognising their key strengths and areas of interest.
“Each participant is offered personalised guidance to help them achieve their personal vision of contributing to Thoughtworks in a leadership role,” explains Chirag Doshi, head of people, Thoughtworks India.
“Thoughtworks is growing rapidly. We need leaders who will grow faster than we are. Therefore, we feel the need to continuously invest in helping them reach the next level,” he addd.
Thoughtworks, a global technology company spread across 17 countries, is devising new ways to increase the representation and advancement of not just women but also other underrepresented groups such as Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) and LGBTQ+ community members.
Addressing mental-health challenges
The organisation has also been taking steps to support those grappling with mental health issues and personal challenges, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Shining a spotlight on the initiatives being taken, Doshi says that Thoughtworks has tie-ups with other organisations, giving Thoughtworkers easy access to counselling support and professional guidance around self-care.
Moreover, training sessions are regularly conducted in which leaders are coached in ways to educate and guide employees on where to reach out in case of mental health problems.
However, the impenetrable stigma around mental health struggles isn’t easy to dispel given people’s reluctance to speak of these issues, particularly at the workplace. According to Doshi, the act of sharing helps dismantle the curtain of shame around these struggles. “Thoughtworkers – both senior leaders and newly-joined employees – are encouraged to share their personal stories about mental-health challenges at company events. Uninhibitedly talking about these issues makes people feel that mental health issues can afflict the best of us. It makes the fact of battling mental-health issues seem more relatable, even normal,” opines Doshi.
Welcoming & supporting people with disabilities
Notwithstanding the growing awareness with regard to making workplaces more friendly and accessible to PwDs, the ubiquity of ableism can scarcely be denied. According to Doshi, Thoughtworks India has focused on promoting diversity since day one. The Thoughtworks India offices, across seven Indian cities, are PwD-friendly and have multiple employees with various kinds of physical disabilities.
Doshi further informed that whenever global town-hall meetings are held at which the CEO or global leadership addresses employees on a zoom call, sign language experts are called in to communicate the address to colleagues with hearing disability. “These are small but visible steps through which a signal is sent out about how we desire inclusivity,” he points out.
Doshi also underlines how employees are themselves becoming more sensitive and conscious of the need to ensure accessibility. “Whenever Thoughtworkers want to get together to discuss a new subject of technology, they create a flyer or poster – typically containing an image – and e-send it across the office. Each time, they make sure the flyer contains the most important part of the information in text so as to enable visually-challenged colleagues using a screen reader to read without difficulty,” he says.
“We’ve run campaigns such as ‘Talk Tech to Her’ to help overcome the stereotypes. However, the mindset needs to shift; women must battle it out to establish themselves as equal players in the technology industry”
Chirag Doshi, head of people, Thoughtworks India
Supporting sexual minorities
Today, organisational decisions related to employee-resource groups, recruitment practices, and marketing are increasingly being shaped by a regard for LGBTQ+ rights. In line with this corporate zeitgeist, Thoughtworks has introduced a host of LGBTQ+ inclusive policies. These include the ‘Intern with Pride’ initiative, a five-month training internship programme for fresh tech graduates from the LGBTQ+ community. The organisation is also providing insurance cover – in collaboration with its medical insurance partners – to LGBTQ+ employees for gender affirmation surgery, besides extending other types of support such as sanctioning a break from work during the procedure. It has also introduced a gender-neutral parental leave policy that extends the definition of parenthood to include surrogacy and adoption.
However, research shows that sexual orientation remains a workplace taboo with most LGBTQ+ workers reluctant to come out of the closet, fearing exclusion and joblessness. Besides, negative social attitudes towards the community are deeply entrenched.
What is Thoughtworks doing to sensitise existing cisgender employees towards their LGBTQ+ counterparts?
“We regularly organise events and panel discussions that involve the participation of LGBTQ+ workers as well as those who see themselves as LGBTQ+ allies. Listening to their journeys and lived experiences helps foster understanding and engagement,” responds Doshi.
He goes on to mention that the Thoughtworks Indian leadership team had, in the past, conducted a series of workshops titled ‘Being Inclusive’. The workshops were aimed at helping employees learn about inherent, unconscious biases that made the workplace a less welcoming place for sexual and other minorities.
More pertinently, Doshi explains that the Thoughtworks worldview is articulated to potential employees at the interview itself. “We educate them regarding our beliefs. That initial conversation allows us to set expectations from them,” he enunciates. Unsurprisingly, Doshi reports having observed a correlation between candidates who displayed resistance to ideas of inclusivity and were close-minded about other things as well.
Shattering stereotypes, banishing stigma
However, gender inequality remains rife in the technology sector. According to a report by Deloitte, 38 per cent of women workers quit the technology industry within two years of joining. Doshi opines that the broader challenge in the industry was to address and shatter all-pervasive stereotypes. “If someone mentions a programmer, most would imagine the person to be male! That stereotype has to be shattered,” observes Doshi. “We’ve run campaigns such as ‘Talk Tech to Her’ to help overcome the stereotypes. However, the mindset needs to shift; women must battle it out to establish themselves as equal players in the technology industry,” he emphasises.
As far as the LGBTQ+ community is concerned, the stigma surrounding gender identity can barely be said to have shrunk at Indian workplaces. Doshi notes that metropolitan cities in general and the IT sector, in particular, are witnessing a growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ members. “But there will be larger change when we begin creating smaller pockets of change in the industry,” suggests Doshi. He explains that the work culture at Thoughtworks encourages employees to be allies, supporting colleagues from the community. He also stresses the need for Thoughtworks to keep an eye out for what more can be done to help the tech industry become more progressive in this regard.
“For instance, this interview. Perhaps someone will read about the Thoughtworks initiatives and get inspired,” he says, adding there is a long way to go. “I am optimistic of a shift in the industry over the next 10-15 years, though. Today, many companies have consciously begun ensuring gender diversity and balance. The same will be true for LGBTQs in future” he adds, signing off.