We had just bagged one of our biggest assignments. The entire team was energised and anxious at the same time. As diversity and inclusion advocates, we saw immense potential to be able to make a positive impact but we were working on some crunched timelines to get the initial phases implemented.
One of the initial processes for client onboarding includes technical compatibility and access checking—a process I unconsciously referred to as white-listing. I only realised the impact of what I said after a colleague of mine highlighted that this could be an unwelcome term in global settings and that ‘safe-listing’ was a more appropriate term no matter where you are in the world and who your audience is. While I have been trying my best to role model inclusion, this was a moment that made me weigh up. Experiences such as these strengthen my belief of how inclusion is a journey sprinkled with a variety of experiences—some new, some pleasant and some even unpleasant. The real question is—what are you going to do with those experiences? Engage with them or close the doors?
Within India Inc, diversity, equity and inclusion have been some of the most talked about areas in recent years. Over 60 per cent of organisations that underwent the Great Place to Work® Institute’s Trust Index© assessment across 2020-21, have a dedicated individual to combat discrimination and promote diversity. So, why are we still not seeing the outcome that we hoped to achieve in terms of economic participation?
The Great Place to Work® Institute, in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), has launched the Workplace Inclusion Index™, a holistic measure of workplace inclusion. In the first year of this pioneering study, over 1 lakh employee voices were represented and their experience on various aspects of workplace inclusion was understood. It is important to note that from among them, 35% were the voices of individuals from historically excluded groups*. Additionally, participating organisations were also requested to share details of the people practices they have implemented to further their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) philosophy internally and externally.
The Workplace Inclusion Index™ provides a detailed understanding of employee experience across the critical levers of inclusion and helps organisations understand how their current interventions can be enhanced or improved to address workplace inclusion in a holistic manner. Over the past year, the Workplace Inclusion Index™ has uncovered that by being mindful of three key principles, organisations can improve their workplace inclusion strategy and make it sustainable and impactful.
1) Leadership belief and intention do not necessarily lead to leadership action and participation:
While most leaders acknowledge the need for diversity and are keen to promote an inclusive environment, participation in advocacy and role modelling is limited. Ways in which leaders can translate their intention into action include:
- Learning more about the historically excluded groups through interactions and experiences
- Consciously building a diverse leadership team
- Participating in conversations and initiatives that advocate inclusion
2) Transition from focusing on a single historically excluded group to acknowledging intersectionality
When organisations commence efforts, we often hear them say, “We would like to begin with gender first and then move on to other groups.” While it is true that gender is one of the largest surface-level diverse demographics, not acknowledging other factors/possible intersections that influence gender inclusion will be counter-productive
- Broaden people practices that support the needs of various communities like LGBTIQA+, persons with disabilities, opportunity-deprived Indians, ex-defence personnel, minority communities and religions and so on
- Broaden sensitisation programmes to include learning and exposure to some of the communities mentioned above
- Start community-based initiatives so colleagues gain exposure and learn about various communities
3) Expand efforts from just increasing representation to moving other inclusion levers:
For the longest time, organisations have focussed purely on affirmative hiring programmes and representation has been the only measure of success. Apart from creating a serious demand-supply problem for many industries, over time, this approach has led to early attrition in many organisations.
Apart from short-term hiring strategies, organisations also need to engage in long-term strategies that will positively impact the talent pipeline, customer experience and innovation
There needs to be a parallel effort to make practices more inclusive to integrate, support, develop and enable individuals from diverse communities and facilitate their success at workplace
Leaders and managers are the crucial link between the practices and employee experience. Equipping managers to exhibit inclusive behaviours will impact employee experience positively, thereby supporting retention, growth, productivity and innovation
Incorporating these three principles will help organisations create a more sustainable solution to address the issue of historical exclusion in the country.
- Great Place to Work® has been studying employee experience, people practice in companies for three decades
- Over 10,000 firms from over 60 countries partner with the institute for assessment
- Research shows employee engagement and financial performance directly related
- Great Place to Work® India studied 712 organisations, of which 512 met eligibility criteria
- It recognised 150 organisations as India’s Best Workplaces™ for Women 2021
About the Author: Sandhya Ramesh is an advocate for inclusion. She heads the diversity, equity and inclusion practice at Great Place to Work® Institute, India.
*Historically excluded groups include individuals who identify themselves as women, persons with disabilities, as part of the LGBTIQA+ community, individuals returning from career breaks, ex-service persons, opportunity-deprived Indians and is an inclusive definition to include individuals from marginalised communities.