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Diversity and Inclusion in Action: An Indian Perspective - banner image

Diversity and Inclusion in Action: An Indian Perspective

By Jai Thade, Head of Content 

Last week, we looked at the history and context behind diversity and inclusion in India, with a special emphasis on the issues of Caste, Disability, and LGBTQ Identity. We also briefly touched on a few examples of the work being proactively completed in this space to create inclusivity. 

This week let’s take a deeper dive into the work various organisations are doing in this space and try to derive a few key insights that we can carry into our own workspaces. 

While of the 3 issues in our last article we discussed the most about Caste, ironically the least seems to have been done about it.  

Most organizations report no issues with caste, saying that all their people-decisions are based on merit and merit alone. However, this perspective doesn’t fit well with research that indicates the low representation of disadvantaged castes at higher management levels, and which also sheds light on their day-to-day experiences of marginalization.  

However, it is also worth taking the time to acknowledge some of the progress made, as well as some of the initiatives put in place to tackle this inequity. As a rule-of-thumb, marginalized castes generally tend to fall under the umbrella of those initiatives that organizations say target the “underprivileged” or “financially backward”.  

For instance, ICICI Bank has set up the ICICI Manipal Probationary Officer Programme. This provides such students training in the soft skills necessary to better assimilate into a workforce that also contains employees from more privileged backgrounds. These kinds of training initiatives aim to build confidence and fill the lacuna created by an imperfect education system. 

Tata Group and its subsidiaries have also taken many strides in this space. Their Tata Affirmative Action Program (TAAP) focuses on practices like positive discrimination (preference being given to minority candidates over regular candidates when their qualifications and performance in the selection process are on par), awarding scholarships for meritorious students, as well as partnering with vendors from marginalized communities.  

One of the winners of their TAAP Jury award, TRL Krosaki, has also promoted entrepreneurial initiatives within the community through vocational skill development in skills like sewing. Such know-how encourages disadvantaged individuals to earn their own livelihood. 

My opinion revolves around the idea of offering the community help, not handouts. “Help” could include measures like mentoring, transparency in business processes (displaying inclusion data publicly may change behaviour by exposing business units to potential scrutiny), as well as incentivization by our government through the awarding (or removal) of concessional rates, export subsidies, tax benefits etc. 

Last week, when looking at initiatives focused on improving accessibility for employees with disabilities, we looked at the example of Wipro Technologies. However, there are also other examples from India’s IT-BPO industry worth discussing. 

For instance, there’s Infosys – which also happens to be the 1st Indian IT company to establish a separate office for Diversity and Inclusion. They launched an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for employees with disabilities called “Infyability”. This ERG assists with various facets such as the recruitment, development, engagement, growth, and retention of disabled employees.  

Along with the more customary practice of providing accessories and tools that enable greater accessibility, they also offer their disabled employees a special loan scheme which enables them to even purchase such equipment that their condition may require. 

They also leveraged their intranet platform to launch some innovative information-media campaigns within the company. These campaigns used videos and emails to allow disabled employees to share their experiences with their peers.  

The response of Infosys employees, indicated for instance by a large number of views and positive comments on the video of an employee with cerebral palsy, vindicate the power of storytelling. Moreover, such initiatives also provide an avenue for others to learn from the experiences of disabled employees. 

Please note that these examples are no way exhaustive of the work being done by various organizations in this area. They only attempt to scratch the surface.   

Personally, I really liked the idea of sharing experiences to shed light, dispel myths and build empathy. In fact, research even seems to indicate a health benefit that comes to someone by sharing their story. We can also take such initiatives one step further by involving guest speakers and setting-up panel discussions as well – something we as an organisation do across the globe in cities such as London, New York, Johannesburg, Singapore, and Mumbai. 

When it comes to LGBTQ inclusion, initiatives are more common in the realm of multinationals and elite companies than in SMEs.  

A great example would be the software consultancy organization Thoughtworks, and the work they’ve done in their India chapter. They have an initiative called “Interning with Pride”, a 5-month technical training program for LGBTQ interns, which builds skills through the industry experience of working on a real-life project hands-on. There are examples of interns of this program becoming full-time employees as a result.  

They have also set up an LGBTQ+ council called “MITRA Collective”, which organizes events, conducts workshops & awareness campaigns (both internally and externally), and partners with non-profits for the cause. 

There are many other examples of LGBTQ-friendly initiatives sprinkled throughout Indian organizations.  

When it comes to the practice of sharing stories, LGBTQ employees at Accenture can do so on a virtual platform that also allows them to answer questions from allies of the cause. IBM has allowed employees to do something similar on YouTube through the medium of vlogs.  

When it comes to awareness, Sodexo ran a campaign against homophobia at work. The Lalit Hospitality group held sensitization sessions led by drag queens and trans activists.  

When it comes to policy, the same Lalit Hospitality Group also provides health insurance coverage to same-sex couples and to single parents with children from surrogacy or adoption. The insurance also covers Sex affirmation surgeries. 

I think broadly a lot of the work being achieved constitutes steps in the right direction. What we need next is for such initiatives to become the norm rather than the exception. Gradual exposure and sensitization, along with knowing (and even more importantly seeing evidence of) the business case for LGBTQ inclusion, will do a good job at catalysing that. When it comes to the nature of initiatives, we will eventually need to progress beyond sensitization and informational workshops to more substantial initiatives, like some of the examples above. 

While a lot of steps have been taken in the realm of D&I, you will, with no doubt see how a lot of progress is yet to be made. It is to take an active part in this progress that In Diverse Company has begun to launch many initiatives in the country. 

Our work is underpinned by one key idea: Integrating the best of data-technology with the deep human connection to make workplaces inclusive for all.  

One of our flagship products, for instance, is our D&I ROI™ tool. Research has repeatedly demonstrated a strong business case for inclusion. This tool aims to bridge the gap between this research and the day-to-day reality of your organization. Based on our conversations with decision-makers in some of the country’s top organizations, we know how important data is for them when making people decisions. Our tool tracks your organizational data, and monitors the link between D&I, interventions and overall company performance (not just financial performance).  It can also predict future trends using the data it collects.  

We have also developed the In Diverse Company Maturity Model™ in partnership with universities from across the globe. Because of our international experience, we know the key differences between D&I strategies that are effective and ineffective in the long run. Our model allows your organization to work on creating inclusion in the “right” way and focus on what matters the most. It uses a psychometric tool and an organization-wide audit to measure the inclusiveness of individuals, teams and organizations. Supported by psychological and business research in the area of inclusion, the tool has been analyzed, tested and made to prove its reliability and validity across multiple cultures, sectors, and geographies. The organizational audit, on the other hand, is mapped to United Nations inclusion principles and pledges. With this product, organizations can hope to receive accredited ratings and detailed profiles for individuals, leaders, and teams. 

We are also mindful that issues of inclusion in organizations are embedded in larger socio-cultural ecosystems. We saw in our previous article how this is very much the case for India as well. Therefore, community work forms another big part of what we do. Here, we look at specific aspects of D&I and try to incorporate all possible stakeholders into the breadth of our interventions. For instance, when looking at the issue of Maternity – we not only offer mentoring and support to women before, during and after pregnancy, but we also try to extend the same services to members of their extended families. Issues are embedded in environments, and by targeting environments in this manner, we aim to help resolve issues at a more systemic level. 

As we conclude, it is important for us to remember and stay committed to the ancient Indian ideal of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The world is one family) – a message that’s even engraved in the entrance hall of the Parliament of India. We need to transcend our various demographic labels and strive to be more like a family. A family that, in spite of their differences or even their disagreements, stays together, supports one another and flourishes together. A family that encompasses every Indian.