Leading by example: How Uber India is driving the D&I agenda

"The biggest formula for winning is when teams are diverse and it leads to better business outcome", Pavan Vaish

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Uber, the global transport company with its roots in San Francisco — one of the most diverse cities in the United States — is now driving the diversity agenda in India. Through the Company’s Bhavishya programme, which is Uber India’s and South Asia’s initiative, it has been trying to onboard more women and diverse driver-partners into the Company.

Pavan Vaish, Head of Central Operations (Rides), India and South Asia, has been the personal sponsor of the programme. Bhavishya has given birth to Rani from Bhvaneshwar, India’s first transgender driver-partner for Uber, and many others with similar stories of success.

Vaish says, “We felt the need to make more concerted efforts to bring diversity into the platform. We started off with women and then transgenders. Initially, it was a small experiment, but once we saw how it had transformed their lives, we doubled our efforts. We now have women in their 20s to 40s, who are successful partners at Uber.”

Pavan Vaish

Inclusion starts with having a conversation that is frequent and open. Superior business happens when you are diverse.

 

Vaish mentions that once Uber opened itself to hiring members from the LGBTQ+ community, recruitment was not easy as people were initially hesitant to come onto the platform. Sourcing remains a big problem in most cases of diverse hiring, and Uber India has partnered with NGOs and government agencies to tackle the issue.

The Company has also taken measures to make sure that the recruitment process is free of subjectivity. While those recruiting may have the right intentions, they may still be vulnerable to certain prejudices, which they may themselves be unaware of. Uber has around a thousand recruiters who have been trained to recognise and work on their unconscious biases, while hiring.

Recruiting and including diverse talent in the workforce is only the first step. It is not just enough to make them part of the workforce. They also need to be able to feel like they belong. Without a sense of belongingness, an employee feels less engaged in the workplace. Uber India tackled this problem by introducing several Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), to cater to the diverse needs, such as those of parents, women, senior as well as differently-abled talent. Harassment policies and practices have been designed after understanding the different needs of the people and what exactly constitutes ‘harassment’ for diverse groups, such as LGBTQ+ and differently-abled people.

The ERG which works for the LGBTQ+ community is called Pride at Uber. It takes care of  issues related to the LGBTQ+ community and helps them ease into the workforce and the Company.

It is not only the diverse talent which needs special attention. Employees at the office, in general, also need to know how to deal with the change. We continue to live in a society which is struggling to come to terms with giving safe workspaces to people in need, and therefore, sensitisation is a necessary part of the whole exercise. Uber India has conducted sensitisation workshops for the employees in the office. Topics such as how to interact with LGBTQ+ employees in a respectful manner and how to use the correct pronouns while addressing them are some of the points covered.

The driver partners are also brought into the office so that they meet and interact with the other employees and really get a sense of being included.

“Inclusion starts with having a conversation that is frequent and open. Superior business happens when you are diverse,” explains Vaish.

It is not only the LGBTQ+ community but the differently abled as well who have joined and benefited by becoming driver-partners for Uber India. Vaish gives the example of Mahesh Babu from Ahmedabad, who is differently abled and drives with partial functioning of his lower limbs, which limits his ability to use the clutch. To help him along, and also enable him to become a driver for Uber, the Company has provided a car with the clutch system modified such that it is part of the gear box and allows him to use his hands instead of his legs.

To make things more convenient, customers are also notified when the driver has special needs. For instance, in Mahesh Babu’s case, he is unable to pick up luggage or open doors. Therefore, customers are accordingly pre-informed, and expectations are set for both parties.

There are other needs that have been addressed by the Company, such as providing a special kit for women employees which includes safety tools, such as pepper spray. In addition to the general emergency number, there is a special helpline number for LGBTQ and women employees.

“Today, organisations worldwide see the need to be diverse as a part of their strategy to exist in the global market”, adds Vaish.

For every global entity, it becomes a responsibility to set examples which inspire others to break the shackles of societal restrictions, and rise to become independent. For Rani or Mahesh, Uber has provided a platform to do just that.

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