Last month, I attended the NASSCOM D&I conference along with a few colleagues at work. One of the rare seminars that was brilliantly planned & executed, each of the sessions was very interesting, if not inspiring! Surrounded by tonnes of like-minded people, our discussions and debates hit a new high.. Doe-eyed we came back with tonnes of notes and to-dos (read lofty plans on initiatives that we’d begin right away if not in a short while..)
And then reality struck.. the snide remarks, the sarcastic tones.. (the fact that Women’s Day fell in the following week didn’t necessarily help).. “Do you know how the men folk see all this jazz organisations want to create around this Diversity agenda? Have you ever thought how this can harm you women colleagues – Would you feel comfortable if someone thinks you made it to the top only cos of your gender!?” OF COURSE NOT… And if you still persist, I will get Mrs. Funny Bones aka Twinkle Khanna’s help to make this point clear(er) to you! For now though, let me help debunk a few myths so we realize the real reason behind why we need sponsorship on the D&I agenda and steer ourselves toward simple(r) solutions we may not have individually thought of!
1st thing 1st, D&I is not restricted to Gender - It’s another thing that you make a great start when you let half (or whereabouts) of the general population to be represented equally across teams and levels within an organisation.. The stats around ‘The Leaking Pipeline’ (brain-drain of women from mid-management level onward) was astonishing to say the least.. Yet it was equally heartening to see organisations successfully avoiding quota (the worst form of tokenism in my view) while actively tackling biases and warped judgment, providing the right infrastructure and policies (case in point - making the transition back to work for a new mother easier) and not making unwarranted comparisons among themselves..
What struck me was the lack of inclusion of the disabled/ specially-abled.. How conveniently we make our offices wheel-chair accessible, provide exactly one washroom facility for the handicapped in every building and claim that we are an equal employer i.e. We’re inclusive! What about those with eyesight, hearing and learning disabilities.. Never before had I given this a serious thought.. Access to technological advancements should enable organisations to do more in this space – How about we redirect our CSR funds to within the organisation and fund capital / operating costs to make ourselves more inclusive toward this population.. But wait a minute, will we continue to get those tax-cuts and/or media coverage.. hmmm interesting thought!
Now, our fellow colleagues who belong to the LGBTIQ group... We’re all aware of how even an indication that someone could be homosexual gets them undue attention and makes them vulnerable to harassment. It was disheartening when a survey revealed that 40% of these colleagues have faced some sort of harassment and more than half of them fear that they could be legally fired (in India) for merely revealing their real identity! Isn’t it time we as organisations provide them a safe and inclusive environment to perform to the best potential? (Or may be it is too much to ask after all!)
We could further exaggerate the situation by adding dimensions such as caste, class, religion, region (now this is slowly becoming a big one in the IT/ ITeS sector), skin colour.. the list goes on…
In short, between the cost of being non-inclusive vs. the benefits, we’d rather choose the latter, right? AND the silver lining is that with the Uberisation of the workforce, Inclusion could be a natural outcome if the organization makes it a priority.. Thanks to the socially-conscious millenials - they are far more aware, involved, engaged and have the highest tendency to speak up (or at least tweet about it) when they find something unfair...
My 2-pence based on what I heard from all these folks at the seminar on becoming an inclusive organisation (in a typical Jamie Oliver/ Tarla Dalal cook-book style)..
1. Pre-heat the Oven.. I mean.. Prepare your ‘Leaders as Advocates’- We need some serious concerted effort and commitment from the top management; Clearly, D&I cannot be an HR initiative! And if this is not the case, then clearly your organisation is not yet ready for the D&I agenda to become a priority.. Better wait it out y’all!
2. Add generous portions of Human-Machine Interface – Some at the stage of Talent Acquisition (crowd-sourcing talent, unbiased / algorithm-based resume screening, neutral entry criteria that encourage meritocracy over networks).. Some more when developing & retaining the right talent (virtual workplaces to provide increased flexibility, use of hackathons when setting up a new team, creating NWTs for increased learning and exposure for colleagues across different teams/ groups, watching out for the Hi-Pos that don’t fit the type-cast..)
This also includes enabling innovation and investing in accessible and assistive technologies (JAWS & Splitter boxfor the visually impaired, Converser-pro for the hearing impaired/ elderly, refreshable braille display… the list goes on)
3. Cut the negativity and the nay-sayers out – Challenge ladders of influence (i.e. conclusions based on selective data riddled with false assumptions) that lead to bad judgement – I was in a conversation with a friend in a leading IT firm and she was talking to me about how a high performing colleague (also identified as Hi-Po) was overlooked for a project in another city, merely cos she was married and had a 1.5 year old - For heaven’s sake, the next time around, could you kindly ASK the person, rather than make the assumption/s and inferences yourself!?
This also includes sensitising colleagues across levels through trainings on unconscious bias and making it extremely hard for colleagues that remotely indulge in bullying or harassment to be part of the system.. In one leaders words, “I’m still okay with incompetence/ bad performance.. the lightest hint of Harassment, and I show the colleague the door, no matter how tenured/ senior/ critical the resource.”
4. Meanwhile, add some real role models – Successful people who will increase the overall levels of ‘intentionality of career’ within the organisation – people that will encourage others around them to becoming more inquisitive, aspirational and place a few bets on the minority through formal and informal programs. Encourage and engage these active enablers in dialogues with the masses to gain further momentum.
5. Place the right emphasis on building the right culture through uniform implementation of organisational policies – While it’s a herculean task to match the industry best practices in terms of having the right practices and policies in place, let’s not underestimate the role of the watch-dogs to ensure these are implemented right at every stage.. For e.g. one of the leading organisation that has the best parental benefits sees a dwindling % of women returning to work after availing maternity leave, specifically in one of its functions – Why you may ask!? The real reason was the outlook of their managers and skip managers toward female colleagues, no sooner she announced her pregnancy. It’s a mere no brainer that no amount of ‘return to work’ programs and/ or benefits would replace the loss of self-respect and/or dignity through the initial 6-7 months…
6. At regular intervals, check if you have the right manager capability – Whether or not the organisation is truly inclusive is an outcome of how effectively your 1st and 2nd line of managers handle micro-interventions at a team level – How effectively they respond to uncomfortable situations (this again includes zero tolerance to harassment), how they are empowered to have empathetic discussions when sensitive situations come up.. In short, how they persuade colleagues to stay on-course when faced with challenges on the personal front and/or seek help from their manager at the right time. Do remember, in many cases (esp in the IT/ ITeS organisations) we are talking about people with 4 - 6 years of experience right after college – Spare a thought to whether we doing enough to keep them afloat!?
7. Season to perfection with an analytical/ scientific approach to managing it - .1st thing 1st set the baseline – Where are you right now? What are your goals? What are the metrics you will track? Be it Talent acquisition, engagement or retention – are we using the plethora of data available to us effectively? The Gen-X and esp. the Millenials are natives of the digital world – let’s get ourselves checking if we’re customising our organisational offerings to suit how they’d like to be treated, how they learn best and what makes them stay!?
How we expand our talent pool by including passive candidates through our digital footprint, how we remove hiring bias through neutral / automated JDs using text analysis/ algorithms to match job specs, how we track and measure workforce demographics to build predictive models will get us closer to our goals. This also includes using lessons from the past to build programs for the current agenda (for e.g. use lessons on how you built a successful support system for women colleagues to include people with disabilities.)
8. Mix all this together, and viola, you’d have become an inclusive Organisation!
What’s even better is that people like me will stop going to such summits cos there will be no need to host them anymore! :-D