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