Why should a successful organisation embrace diversity? Some will say discrimination is wrong, illegal and imm-oral. Others will talk of the social need for inclusion. There is, however, a larger reason for organisations to embrace diversity. The paradigm through which the organisation sees diversity is crucial and that will shape the organisation’s diversity philosophy.
The most common diversity paradigm is the moral paradigm and rightly so. Discrimination is wrong, illegal and immoral. Next is the social need paradigm. India is growing at a rapid pace. India’s diversity, too, is growing and is different from the western world (see box: India diversity concerns) and even from our neighbour China. So, our solutions to diversity must be different from the rest. Here, some organisations are going an extra step to ensure that unique needs of genders are identified and met. For instance, a new mother may want to work from home. However, the diversity scope (that is, beyond gender), speed and quantum need to be accelerated.
Finally, the competitive advantage paradigm. India is quite unique and there is a competitive rationale behind the cause of inclusion. India’s growth is creating emerging diversity in the markets and to succeed in this reality, the organisation needs people from diverse groups to design, develop and market the solutions. In this paradigm, diversity is not about ratios; it is about recognising that women are different and bring in the famous “woman’s perspective.” According to Desmond Morris, “In olden days the perception was that men and women are unequal and different. Now, we have come to an era of men and women being same and equal. True benefits will come when we realise that we are equal and we recognise and leverage the differences.” It is not about hiring a woman and then “encouraging” her to think and behave like a man. This is true for all diversity groups. In India, organisations must use all of the above paradigms to guide our diversity philosophy.
I will come to the pillars of managing diversity at the work place. Organisations need to understand that these are not phases but ongoing engagements. For instance, communicating a diversity policy is not a one-time activity but a continuous commitment demonstration process at all stakeholder engagement activities, such as induction programmes, supplier meets, promotion debriefings, off-sites etc.
Pillar 1: Inclusion has to be a strategic focus of the top management. As far as possible the organisation’s diversity policy should be based on both the needs—that is, the social need and for competitive advantage. The organisation should state its diversity policy and broad objectives.
Pillar 2: Create committed teams and empower them. The organisation needs to create strategic teams to implement the diversity policy. Typical teams can be at three levels:
- Strategic team comprising the top management. This team will work at the policy, communicate the intent, allocate resources, regularly measure and communicate the achievements and actively engage with operating teams.
- Operating teams. Each operating teams will be organised by a representing group (for instance, gender, physically challenged etc.) and will have a defined structure, report to — and have the support of — the central strategic team. The team members must be empowered and reflect the geography and business units.
Both the teams must ask these three leadership questions about diversity:
- What needs to be done to make the group feel welcome, valued and respected within the organisation?
- What can the organisation do with each group to maximise the group’s value to the organisation?
- What can the organisation do to influence this group’s buying decisions and be seen as a preferred solution provider?
The operating teams will have to study the very unique concerns of their constituency. Some common concerns will be stereotyping, representation within key decision making levels, recruiting policies, promotion policies and support for special needs such as work-life balance for the new mothers, physical infrastructure for the physically challenged.
|INDIA’S DIVERSITY CONCERNS
||Illustrative special concerns of this group
||New mothers — remote working and networking opportunities
||Over half a billion Indians are less than 25 years of age
||Youth — mentoring and fair HR practices; older employees — reskilling on new technologies
|City and hinterland
||Rapid urbanisation and growing rural economy Over 800-million people spending more than $425 billion
||1.Employees from hinterland - handholding to assimilate within urban areas and culture, e.g. English language training
2.City folks - understanding of rural market
|Geography and religion
||India is geographically and culturally diverse. Buying patterns are different
||Respect and understanding of other cultures
||Agriculture share is reducing, industrial share is around 30%, services over 50%
||In such a rapid transition national human force will need orientation to adapt
||Disabled persons constitute about 2% of the total population in india**
||1. Equal and fair opportunities and fair promotion policies
||Single parents, widow(er), divorced, live-in couples
||Sensitivity and fairness
||Here, most of the world is still in the wilderness
||1. Life partner benefits
2. Sensitive and non-discriminatory
||Not a significant area yet
||Training to succeed in India
|**Report: Disabled Persons in India by National Sample Survey Organisation; Ministry of Statistics and
Programme Implementation, Government of India
Pillar 3: Common understanding of the strategic intent. A clear future picture should be created between both the strategic and the operating teams. The long-term and medium-term road maps should be prepared and approved by the strategic team. It must clearly bring out the competitive advantage objectives of the group. For instance, “the share of women customers in the overall sales pie will increase from the current 6 per cent to 30 per cent in five years.” Or, “we will develop appropriate solutions and will be seen as the preferred solutions provider for the physically challenged group in three years.” Or, “over 50 per cent of the locations will have local leaders in five years”, and so on.
Pillar 4: Both the teams must constantly communicate and maintain buy-in from employees and other stakeholders.
Pillar 5: The implementation pillar. This will involve day-to-day implementation strategies on recruiting and sensitivity trainings for all staff, fair promotions and retention policies, empowerment, and a structure to manage differences as they arise. The demonstration of commitment is the key. This pillar should institutionalise acceptance and respect for all.
Pillar 6: Measurement. It is important to measure the success in both numbers and the feelings. Measurements like diversity ratios, competitive advantage objectives etc should be analysed, presented logically to appeal to required behaviour changes. It is also important to know how the stakeholders feel about the initiative. ‘Feelings surveys’ need to be carried out from time to time. Audits, exit interviews, surveys, polls etc must be part of the process. It must be an independent activity carried out by people not involved in the process.
Pillar 7: Feedback and course correction. This is a long-term initiative and giving feedback should be simple. The process of feedback and course correction demonstrates the management’s commitment to diversity and encourages employee engagement.
Managing Director, PeopleSys