Diversity is not a new issue for India. Our national anthem proudly represents the beauty of our diversity as a nation. Our festivals, our food, our fashion, our language, our religion all display the richness of a tradition that is deeply rooted in diversity and inclusion, tolerance and acceptance. Still, Corporate India Struggling to identify itself as a richly diverse ecosystem, special programs and teams are needed to drive a culture of inclusion, to explore and expand efforts around diversity.
This paradox fascinated me as a social science student and a human resources professional. While learning about this place, the ideas that stood out to me were under-representation, social justice and privilege. I understand that over time the workplaces, inadvertently and perhaps unconsciously, have played a key role in perpetuating representation and increasing privileges. If we go back in time, women in India have been cultivating land hand in hand with men and we have strong examples of women leaders, leaders with disabilities and LGBTQIA + leaders who have become prominent in their chosen field over time. In the years of aggression, the “protection gene” followed by the colonial regime has played a significant role in the case of women and persons with disabilities. In the “modern” workplace, before and after independence, women have played a more important role in the upbringing and care of men when men became providers. This urban myth has perpetuated itself for decades as social norms reinforce these models of acceptable occupations for sex. Infrastructure has not kept pace with our PWD community and it has become incredibly difficult for anyone with disabilities to find equity while the nation is trying to keep pace to educate and create jobs for its working people.
Not that those women have occasionally broken the norm of being highly successful icons in society, the workplace and the profession, and even we have given the world an iconic if not its first female prime minister. However, these were exceptions, and for the most part we found it difficult to systematically invest in supporting our “unequal citizens” in their journey of equality.
Corporations and the workplace woke up a decade ago that they could play a key role in changing that narrative, and we’ve seen a lot of corporate investment in education and the workplace to provide “opportunities” to these under-served and under-represented groups. This well-intentioned effort had some green shoots but, for the most part, remained a corporate narrative, better to intervene based largely on the emotions of a few senior executives. Even organizations that claim to have success in this area have seen their efforts succeed, either within a group of employees or across specific leadership profiles across leadership frontlines, from gender to ethnicity, sexual orientation, and all-encompassing workplace. PWD.
The year 2020 was marked by a number of related global crises including COVID-19 global epidemics, significant racial injustice and social unrest, which had a disproportionate impact on marginalized populations. In 2021, we have seen media and community activism around corporate responsibility in this space, which has created important headwinds for most corporations to make their game more diverse and inclusive. Covid-19 forced companies to stop and consider their gender diversity goals, as well as how they envisioned themselves in a more inclusive workplace, emphasizing women and people from under-represented groups. Remote work has challenged many psychological models around workplace design, role requirements, and workforce engagement. Leaders and HR functions were pressured to redesign work methods to accommodate people in need of different accommodations and learned that it only increased performance times to provide such flexibility. This has created the need to provide a progressive, secure, and employee-centered environment for new normal, potential candidates. One that increases access and engagement for members of under-represented and marginalized communities around the world to achieve an inclusive and equitable experience for all employees and candidates. The focus shifts from hiring different employee groups to how companies will engage with these groups honestly and give them a fair chance to move forward successfully and professionally.
This pivot was not easy and required significant investment from companies This can range from providing unique and more inclusive benefits, including healthcare and insurance, to investing in employee accommodation, workplace accessibility and job role audits. This part was difficult though easy. It was structural. The next step for most organizations will be cultural rearrangement around inclusion and this is especially difficult. The rate of rejection of a “new” norm leads to simple, often surface-level changes that have no significant effect on results within the organization. This part of the transformation requires an in-depth inspection of every existing business and human process to extend a strong vision and ideology supported by the survival threat or strong positive action of the existing ideology. All the nutrition theory tells us that if we love to eat pizza, salads will seem strange as a food substitute unless we stick with it, until it becomes a habit. It takes time, perseverance and most importantly irresistible desire to change habits and change habits.
There is no real threat to the existing norm of gender unequal workplaces, only those workplaces that have the potential to lead this space by fulfilling this ubiquitous passion for redefining social and workplace rules. Changing the person and business practices deeply embedded in the exploration of a developed world is a lofty goal and often not with immediate reward. Companies that believe in leaving the world a better place are more likely to be on this incredibly difficult journey to create truly diverse and inclusive workplaces.
In addition, a diversified workplace adds to the country’s economic success. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, if companies were gender diverse and inclusive, global GDP would grow by 26 trillion. Increased focus on ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion by prioritizing efforts through carefully designed programs is thought to have a favorable effect on gender diversity ratios and representation across technology and non-tech roles. On top of that, companies with programs dedicated to women – to return to the workforce after a break or to explore other career paths across specialties – can scale the business in a variety of ways. Organizations that focus on improving their experience and interaction with the organization as well as improving the employee’s skill set build trust and long-term relationships. Potential candidates want to work for forward-thinking organizations. They value meaningful work that has a positive impact on society and also promotes the organization’s long-term goals.
Most importantly we believe that we must do what is right and create an inclusive and diverse workplace “the only right thing”.
Swati Rustagi, Director, DE&I, International Market, WW Consumer, Amazon