I was recently having a conversation with another colleague who was in-between jobs and making interview rounds at a prominent corporate in India for their communications role. I was surprised by some of the statements that were made, and that too by women. In the first round of interviews, the female CEO stated that almost 90 per cent of their team was unmarried… Most of them were in their late 30s and early 40s. They also made it a point to mention we don’t understand working from home, or flexi hours. They had no qualms whatsoever saying it.
Cut to round two of the interview, when she was in discussion with the higher up – again a woman. And they tried to mask their concerns about her marital plans, and instead asked her, ‘What are your ‘personal plans’ for the future.’ She got the meaning, and answered straight – ‘If marriage happens, I will go where it takes me.’
The reason we are seeing a dwindling representation of women in top positions in the corporate world finally dawned upon me. But what was an even bigger realization was that women themselves are perpetuating the ills of the workforce.
You could be a male CEO or a female one, but till the time you don’t get sensitised to diverse individuals with different ways of thinking and working, your organisation is not going to evolve in the true sense of the word. You may see 100x or 1000x growth temporarily but you will not attract new talent, or even be able sustain existing talent for long.
Biases at the workplace are not just limited to women, it touches everyone who is even slightly different – be it in their approach to life and work.
It’s time to look beyond the importance of gender equality, and address the overall issue called ‘diversity’.
What is Diversity?
Diversity is not just about the male to female ratio within organisations. Diversity is about embracing diverse nationalities, religions, races, ages, genders, the differently-abled, people with disabilities like autism, as well as those with diverse opinions, views and values.
And diversity nowadays is increasingly becoming the mandate of CEOs. If they don’t consciously address issues of inclusion in their organisation, they will see slow growth rates and reduced productivity. What’s more they will lose out on creative and innovative minds who often demand a certain sensitivity in being understood.
With growing globalization, shortage of skilled manpower and a largely digital world, the diversity issue has got pronounced in organisations. An organisation’s social image is also impacted adversely if they are not seen as diverse and inclusive, both in their workforce and processes.
Diversity in the Indian context
The Indian workforce is becoming more inclusive too… No longer does it comprise of Indian employees only, several foreign nationals are also making their way into organisations.
For India, the challenge is now to not only assimilate different states, languages and festivals, but also to acknowledge different nationalities, and give them the space and time to adjust to an Indian way of working. Moreover, diverse educational backgrounds and career experiences call for greater sensitivity in team dynamics.
Diversity needs open minds
All this really amounts to the leadership being ready to accommodate and change their way of thinking to suit different personalities. Leaders nowadays need to not just open the doors of their organisations, but truly open up their minds, because…
New research by Deloitte and other academic institutions demonstrates that diverse and inclusive teams are more innovative, engaged, and creative in their work. Our research comparing high-performing teams against lower-performing teams supports the view that people must feel included in order to speak up and fully contribute. – Rewriting the rules for the digital age: 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends
The spirit of inclusion in organisations can find expression in a variety of ways. Leadership, for one, can undergo training to understand the finer nuances of unconscious biases that may result while working in diverse teams. Very often, you tend to view those with similar views and backgrounds as more right than the rest. As a result, work allocation and promotions could also get biased.
How leaders can impact diversity
In group discussions, leaders should listen carefully to different ideas, and not stick to ‘what they think works’. Diversity of thought is probably a bigger challenge to absorb than the other more obvious differences.
In order to make teams more inclusive, employees with different talents can be clubbed together, so as to help them complement each others’ skill sets.
Another bias is that of age – to overcome this organisation can encourage young millennials to work with senior staff, so as to benefit from their experience. Mentor-mentee programs can be organized to facilitate this.
In addition to encouraging diversity within the organisation, leaders also need to look at inclusion outside the organisation. This could include the kind of vendors they work with; for example, do they give opportunities to all vendors, sometimes even the smaller ones – to present proposals and provide services – or do they just stick to the established and tested names. Giving solopreneurs and startups a chance also reflects a spirit of inclusion.
Finally diversity can be seen in the business too. Are the business services expanding their verticals to include more groups of people, the environment, and other politically correct issues? Or are they sticking to the business core, unable to expand and cater to diverse consumers?
Diversity acknowledges differences
The challenges of diversity and inclusion are many, and only growing. As the new workforce gets more sensitive to issues around them, organisations will have to rapidly change their mindsets to ensure they are reflecting these values on a day-to-day basis.
Leaders will have no choice but to stay committed to making an inclusive workforce a reality. They will have to display curiosity, courage and cultural sensitivity to deal with a wide spectrum of people and issues.
A University of Florida report titled, Diversity in the Workplace: Benefits, Challenges, and the Required Managerial Tools sums up these challenges well: ‘There are challenges to managing a diverse work population. Managing diversity is more than simply acknowledging differences in people. It involves recognizing the value of differences, combating discrimination, and promoting inclusiveness.’
The benefits of diversity
Once the spirit of inclusiveness penetrates into an organisation’s DNA much can be achieved. The positives of a diverse workforce are many…the most important being:
Better talent is attracted: When you are open to people of different backgrounds, genders and races working in your organisation, you will break away from a fixed mindset, and open up the possibilities of experiencing a lot more talent in your organisation.
Productivity gets enhanced: When employees meet and collaborate with different minds, they get exposed to different ways of thinking and working. Moreover, when clubbed with those who have a different skillset, they now get the time to focus on their own. For example, a person with good ideas may need to partner with a person who is strong on execution to see a project to fruition.
Communication is heightened: When teams work cross-functionally, bringing together different members of different departments, overall communication within the organisation is improved. Organisations are also increasingly looking for hires who can speak more than one language, and thus help connect them to more consumers.
Innovation is fostered: Diverse teams are known to be more creative and innovative, as different minds bring in their own set of experiences, adding a lot more to the end product.
Employees stay motivated: When a culture in an organisation is inclusive and sensitive to the background and needs of its employees, seldom will the employees want to quit such a place. In fact, they would be happy to stretch themselves voluntarily and feel a greater sense of ownership to the organisation.
An organisation that inspires is an organisation that is diverse and cohesive at the same time. To build such an organisation leaders need to expand their thinking, and practice diversity on a daily basis. They need to sensitise themselves, as well as those in their organisations – both managers and employees. This may call for regular training programs. At Yellow Spark, we offer one such program that helps your organisation grow into a more dynamic and diverse one. To know more about it, write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Ritika Bajaj is a prolific writer and editor, focusing on people, startups, and the finer nuances of life. She is currently a content consultant, generating ideas and providing solutions for online and offline mediums. Ritika describes herself as a spiritual seeker, voyager, and change agent, constantly finding ways to make life richer and more meaningful.