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The Roadmap To Inclusion And Diversity: One Step Back, One Leap Forward

There is no room for instant gratification on this road – thus, counter-intuitive as it may seem, one step back and one leap forward could very well be the key to successfully internalising a culture of inclusion and diversity.

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Jiddu Krishnamurthi -- One of the most prominent Indian philosophers of the twentieth century once said, “Action has meaning only in relationship; without understanding relationship, action on any level will only breed conflict. The understanding of relationship is infinitely more important than the search for any plan of action.” While his frame of reference was interpersonal relationships, and dynamics that cause it to succeed or fail, it is equally applicable to other forms of social contracts such as those between organisations and employees. 

By considering its own relationship with employees, companies can embed a value-driven culture and create an equitable community in the process. This nuanced understanding becomes critical while bringing any systemic change like Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) into the fold.

Every organization will make its unique journey to inclusion

In today’s business climate – when companies are challenged from COVID-19 to cyberattacks and everything in between, customers and potential employees are looking for organisations that mirror the broader society. Different skills and capabilities, different life experiences and expertise and even cognitive styles are shown to make organisations resilient to market forces. In fact, for most employees now entering the workforce, I&D is table stakes in their search for a purpose-driven organisation. 

A recent analysis of S&P 500 companies by the Wall Street Journal in 2019 revealed that the 20 most diverse companies reported an average operating profit margin of 12% in contrast to 8% of those at the bottom. 

Diversity is an inherently non-exclusive concept so there can never be an exhaustive list of what it covers. However, if we were to look at the most underrepresented groups – it includes race, gender, LGBTQ, persons with disabilities; specifically, in the Indian context – regionalism, ethnicity and caste. This brings to life one of my adages – ‘even diversity needs diversity.’ Depending on the nature of industry, and understanding amongst employees, each company will make its distinctive journey. In the end, the ones that prosper in the next decade will be because they are on this track. 

Planning the I&D journey

Creating an I&D programme needs to be a carefully crafted process which starts long before the act of hiring and onboarding. Recruiting diversity candidates without adequate planning will set them and the organisation for failure. And given the primal instinct of ‘fight or flight’, a bad experience can linger on in the collective memories and wrongfully stigmatise the cause.

A good practice is to start by assessing the company’s current I&D layout, benchmark against peers and create a blueprint of where the organization wants to be. Creating periodic milestones for every candidate, Human Resources should analyse requisite skills and ecosystem required for a person to do their jobs, before hiring.

The building blocks of a successful I&D implementation

Successful implementation of an I&D programme requires a steep learning curve. An initiative of this nature which impacts multiple stakeholders, should get a buy-in from most. While this seems like a herculean task, with defined purpose and understanding of relationships it is certainly achievable. Additionally, given its nature, I&D initiatives are best served if championed by the leaders. From being the archetypes of change to setting expectations, the success of a new recruit or a programme depends on the leader’s efforts and commitment to the cause.

Next, organisations need to introduce policies that create a level-playing field, to ensure there is no “reverse discrimination” or a semblance of it amongst existing employees. This can be mitigated by creating a safe environment for dialogue and deliberation. One way to do this is by forming multiple Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) which support the organisation by engaging with diversity groups and the rest of the workforce. From building peer networks to enhance understanding to developing community programmes for better outreach, ERGs can go a long way in driving meaningful change.

And finally, the success of an I&D initiative requires a change in mindset - in addition to training and sensitisation sessions, it is equally important to ensure that existing employees become invested in the success of their new colleagues and vice versa. If implemented well, this would be a testament in bringing together a diverse group of people to collaborate and work towards a shared goal.

In Summary

It is said that diversity is asking a person to come to a party, inclusion is asking them to dance and belonging is them staying back to help you clean the dishes – which should be the end goal of how we live and work. There is no room for instant gratification on this road – thus, counter-intuitive as it may seem, one step back and one leap forward could very well be the key to successfully internalising a culture of inclusion and diversity.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
diversity Diversity and Inclusion

Chandrakant Nayak

The author is CEO and Country President, Dow India

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