Diversity & Inclusion; Challenge’s for India Inc – Part 1

Part – 1 (Gender Diversity Challenge)

I believe that, “diversity breeds 3Ps – Performance, Progress and Prosperity” the more diverse a team, organization, society, city or a country – the more rich, progressive and prosperous it is likely to be. Diversity is a reality that exists in the world, in which, we live and one cannot deny it. The key lies in including and leveraging the existing diversity. Let’s define diversity in simple terms, to me; it’s the uniqueness that people bring to the table. Uniqueness of thoughts, education, religion, ethnicity, country, culture, language, gender, generation, etc. Consider all these elements, and you will agree that, India is by far the most diverse country – it’s diverse and rich from every point of view. Hinduism is the major religion, but the highest number of Baptist residing in a country after USA is in India. Highest numbers of Muslims reside in India after Indonesia. On ethnicity, language, race, etc it’s very diverse. With a sex ratio of 1.06 its gender balanced. Consider age or generational diversity – with 50% of its population below the age of 25 years and 65% of it below the age of 35 years, India is one of the youngest nations of the world and is likely to remain so for a long time to come. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_India)

“At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time” : By Friedrich Nietzsche

Then what’s wrong with us? Why the corporate, government and the educational sectors amongst others are – found lacking and are challenged for creating a more diverse workplace. Is the problem that of diversity? Or that of inclusion? Lack of inclusion means, when one fails to include or leverage on the diversity that exists in their eco system. Well, in my opinion the problem is on both counts. For India Inc the challenge is mainly on two fronts; one is clearly Gender related; how to get more women talent in your organizations and second is related to having the mindset and capability of managing the increasing generational diversity in the workplace (younger people at work). Let’s discuss the two separately – Part 1 (Gender) and Part 2 (Generational).

Gender diversity challenge: Indian private and government sector is largely male dominated with few women employees working in them and even fewer at senior levels of the organizations. Some industries such as Banking, Hospitality, Media, ITES have made a steady progress and are relatively better than others. However, overall there is a serious gender diversity gap that exists in India Inc. So what are the top three myths, issues and challenges and their potential solutions? In my opinion, they are as follows:-

1)      The first issue – that, there isn’t enough women talent out there!! Well, this in my opinion is the biggest excuse that recruiters and hiring managers make and the only solution in my opinion is, that the senior management strongly role model and demand and make people sweat to source, assess and get good women talent, which is very much out there. Set gender diversity goals and targets for your company to achieve and link them to senior management pay/bonus. There is a gap in supply of women talent, especially when it comes to engineering and MBA talent. Top MBA and engineering colleges of India have a dismal 20% average women student intake in every batch (Source:http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-03-06/news/31127350_1_iim-kozhikode-gender-diversity-women-students ). But the good news is that the ratios are improving and fast. However this gap in supply cannot be cited as an excuse by companies whose diversity ratios are well below 10%. If you’re serious about diversity in your company, one should be able to source and hire at least 20% to 25% women talent from these institutes every year or for every batch of fresh talent that your company recruits from these top institutes. Lack of qualified women talent is indeed a challenge, but is also a mindset issue – coz we tend to use this lack of talent as an excuse. Once goals are set, which are SMART and linked to pay the excuse starts to vanish and things start to improve. I am fully aware that, companies and leaders are creating awareness and are putting enough pressure on these institutes to improve their student intake diversity ratios. In defense of these institutes, one must say that they are doing their best to improve without compromising with the merit and quality of students they admit.

 2)      The second myth is that, women cannot do frontline sales and service oriented jobs, especially in certain industries such as healthcare etc. I say, give me a break, and when you argue hard with people who possess such a discriminatory mindset – they soften their stand and then say, okay, “I stand corrected; women probably don’t want to do sales jobs as the conditions for doing these jobs are often hard and tough”. This in my opinion is a huge mindset problem and to my surprise it exists with men and women equally in organizations who making staffing and hiring decisions. Well the reality is that yes women compared to men or vice versa have their comfort zones and there are certain “dos” and “don’ts” applicable to both. For example, women folks do not feel safe and secure to travel or venture out on their own during early mornings or late nights – it’s a fact and we all know the reasons for it. Now if a country cannot guarantee safety of its women – it doesn’t mean that, women can’t or don’t want to do front line sales or service jobs. Medical devices and diagnostics industry requires its sales and service people to be on call during emergencies – but, let me also ask how many such emergencies are there. And if and when the emergencies come up, can an organization not make a suitable plan to ensure safety of its employees and/or have them covered by others who are comfortable doing it? I have seen this being effectively done by many good companies. Also it’s my experience and belief that if a woman isn’t comfortable doing a job – let me assure you a man won’t be comfortable doing it for long either. Therefore, this mindset and myth that women can and want to do certain jobs needs to be addressed and choice be left to women – the recruiters and staff planners need not make these decisions on their behalf.

3)      The third myth is that women employees aren’t stable enough (in tenure) as they depend a lot on their husband/spouses career and hence if the spouse moves and change their location the women (your employee) follow them. Also women take a lot of time off as they have to run and attend to their family emergencies, especially involving their kids. Well, I find this one – the biggest mindset problem in a male dominated organization and it’s a serious one. For those who have seen their mother, wife, sister or daughter work and balance a life as well, will appreciate and realize how regressive this mindset is. I have seen a large number of male colleagues leave the company and move locations because their spouses have re-located due to her progressing career. I am seeing increasing number of male colleagues take time off to attend a PTA meeting at their kid’s school or attend to ailing in-laws or other family emergencies. Yes by the nature of certain things women may be required to be at home a little more as compared to men. For example whilst on a maternity leave, or when the kids are small, etc. and this is a life cycle need of a family as compared to a need of the women alone. But the diversity and its benefits of having the women work for your organization outweighs her need to be continuously present at the workplace! (Not sure if continuous presence at workplace always helps – a subject for next blog I guess!)

I suggest the following common solutions for the abovementioned points and for enhancing Gender Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in your organization:

  • First and foremost make sure the top management is committed and the tone at the top is right. Create a common understanding and awareness on the advantages of doing it and the disadvantages of not doing it. Evolve a clear value proposition for enhancing and maintaining gender diversity in your organization: To build ownership for D&I in your organization people should be able to clearly understand and connect strongly with the organization’s objectives and intent.
  • Formal D&I policies and councils are important but what’s more important is having the right and shared guiding principles which will enable a conducive culture. As they say, “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast”. Well even in case of D&I its very important that you have a clear plan and the required interventions for building the right culture for the diverse talent to revel and thrive in. Culture building isn’t easy and it takes time, also there are experts who can help you with this. Don’t try to do everything on your own. Do seek expert help if and when needed.
  • If the right culture exists then the talent that you have attracted will contribute and stay engaged. Attract women talent and whilst you work towards achieving the set D&I goals and targets make sure that merit is never compromised whilst hiring talent. It’s important to ensure that diversity hiring doesn’t become a tick mark exercise.
  • Seek to understand the needs of the women talent in your organization and then make policies in support of their genuine lifecycle needs. Benchmark practices and policies of best in class organization and then evolve policies and practices to match or better them.
  • Set clear and stretch goals to achieve your D&I objectives. Reward and recognize achievers formally/informally to motivate them and create role models out of them – for sake of continuous improvement and learning.
  • Authentic leadership, commitment and sincere efforts towards creating a diverse and an inclusive workplace, goes a long way in creating a culture and an employer brand, which attracts diverse talent and diversity in turn breed’s the 3Ps – Performance, Progress and Prosperity. So it makes a lot of business sense too!!

“What we have to do… is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities”: By Hillary Clinton

23 thoughts on “Diversity & Inclusion; Challenge’s for India Inc – Part 1

  1. Really, really like this one! The mindset you’ve articulated is so evident from the many conversations I have on gender diversity with my leaders pretty regularly. It is seen as ‘sensitive’, ‘time consuming’ and so a real and concrete commitment to this organistional need takes a back seat. I will be recommending many of these solutions right away.

    • Thanks Sonali. Am so glad you liked it. yes it s a difficult and sensetive topic. bt we have to do someting about it and not just talk. I am sure you will show many people the way 🙂 take care and all the best! please share with me the progress you make!! 🙂

  2. Its actually sending across a lucid message and articulated to the apt sir. Nobody can be surprised when women choose female friendly industries and companies for their careers over those with a perceived male dominated image! .
    Yes it’s true that gender doesn’t automatically mean men aren’t caring and certainly some women are tougher than their male counterparts but in general the ideal Board and company’s employee composition should include the best of both so the genders work together to complement each other, thus achieving more than the sum of their two separate parts!. .

    • Agree and thanks Abhimanyu. You make a very good and pertinent point, as one focuses on enhancing gender diversity by getting more women into the workforce – one should not loose focus and attention on its male talent.

  3. I am happy to see D&I has started getting attention more than ever before in Indian corporate and coming out of the employee handbook to see some life in real. Congratulations Yashwant to pick this sensitive and yet very important topic to celebrate the unity in diversity. It is far more appreciable to see this coming from an HR professional.

  4. Fabulous article and the best part is..the issue is well dissected and integrated.
    Diversity when becomes more obvious at every level is nothing else but inclusion..

  5. Thanks Yash for writting on this topic and very candidly sketching the real picture. I and am sure most of my colleagues/friends will identify with it. I fully agree that most diversity challenges stem from the fact that we conclude fast based on stereotypes – women can’t do sales, can’t travel etc or youngsters cannot hold a positions of accountability without giving the option of choice to them. One school of thought says build the right culture of inclusitivity before including diversity while others say first have diversity let the culture evolve on its own, and there all plenty and more examples where Organisations have suceeded and failed with both the approaches.
    I look forward to further insights from you on this subject.

  6. Dear Yash,
    A superb article. It’s a mindset and we need to change. It’s really sensitive topic and we need t pay serious attention to change the Organizational dynamics. I really liked the article.

  7. According to me D&I issue is very sensitive and in order to improve the existing gap we need to relentlessly continue with our efforts. Perseverance is the key to success…Situation will change dramatically if we are able to develop women for the leadership positions. Women leaders will not only inspire the existing women employees but also attract women talent from the industry. Thank you Yash for sharing your views on D&I in India.

  8. Thanks Yash for writing on this topic …it is indeed catching attention in the corporate world. I second your point that in most cases it is in our minds than the rel problem.

    I have seen significant improvements made in the gender diversity numbers once it is a part of the metrics that senior leaders are interested in. I have had an opportunity to lead a project across APAC. Though the numbers greatly differ across various countries, having a target and visibility helped us make progress.

    Another aspect which helped us improve is by identifying roles and departments where female talent is available. e,g in hotels, the likelihood of finding female talent is higher in functions like Sales, HR, Finance< Front Office than in say Engineering, Kitchen etc. and accordingly focus on those areas to increase the diversity numbers.

    In my experience, what I have also learnt is the need to continuously communicate with people about the organization's reasons for having a D&I strategy. This will ensure that the reputation of being an Equal Opportunity Employer is not misconstrued. What are your views on this?

    Looking forward to reading the part 2

    • Thanks for your comments Saikat and am glad u found it useful. My views on having a D&I strategy and communicating it rigorously – well couldn’t agree with you more :). As someone has said, “the greatest illusion about communication is that, we think it has happened!! 🙂 cheers!

  9. Yash, Very intriguing article – I would read this with a tinge of caution. D&I shouldn’t inculcate a “subsidy” mindset towards any one sex (not souding like a MC though) which I see happening quite like the way we started off 60 yrs back trying to have reservations to bridge the gap between the haves and the have nots and taken that strategy almost to a different “political / opportunistic” plane. To me the point that you made about Culture is the holy grail – it should come from within and be practised unequivocally w/o moral bias for the either sex – If we try to tout D&I to score brownie points we’ll be deluding ourselves – Rome wasn’t built overnight and till that time we’ll continue to just “perfume the pig”…

    • Agree Raj – no subsidy mindset required. Mindset needs to change as no sex requires subsidy 🙂 they are both competent and strong on their own. They need to be included soon and fast. No more wasting of time and no waiting is necessary. Thanks for your comments. How have you been doing? All well? Lets catch up sometimes soon 🙂

  10. Excellent article Yash. Echoes the sentiments we see daily around us. Important for us to have a workforce which is reflective of the society and customers we cater to .

  11. Great piece Yash! Really enjoyed reading and identifying with all of it 🙂 And like I forever keep ranting, the assumptions that we make with regards women’s inability to travel, do sales , etc are based on gender stereotypes and as recruiters we should always be careful getting sucked into this mindset. Intent should be to be as clear about the job role and expectations and let the women decide if it makes sense for them.
    Life stage change is a reality for a woman and therefore important is to manage this well with the help of the manager and ensure there is a healthy pipeline of women talent as well.
    The other aspect of diversity where I think Philips does reasonably well is the educational background. So while most companies consider MBA a must for corporate job, I think it just gets more people who are conditioned in a similar manner and hence may impede fresh thinking and diversity of thought. So yes, new and different schools, which can get us talent with diversity of thought, will help.
    Looking forward to the next piece 🙂

  12. Indeed a thought provoking piece!
    Many of our folks do talk about diversity and its value proposition as a punch line or as a topic of choice…..when it comes to selecting a candidate, most of us end up picking up threads from our comfort zone only…atleast in PHARMA sector the trend seem to be regressive.

    look forward to read part -2 from the point of view of making it operational with clear check points/ milestone

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