The need for

broader diversity

15th September 2018

      Most organisations tend to think of diversity as gender diversity or racial diversity only. Most conversations on the subject revolve around questions like ‘how many women leaders do you have?’ and ‘what’s your diversity ratio?’ Almost everybody is trying to fix the gender diversity problem. I personally believe that a highly diverse organisation generally makes better quality decisions which are more holistic in nature. If you have a workforce where everyone thinks along similar lines, then decisions might get skewed to favour a particular viewpoint and might not be inclusive. It is essential to bring more women into organisations because they bring a different perspective to the fore which allows for a meaningful conversation or debate to happen and that ultimately leads to a better decision.

 

      Similarly, we should start looking at other segments. Everyone should ask questions like ‘Is your organisation friendly towards the differently abled?’ Physical disabilities do not mean that people are unable to contribute to organisations in a meaningful way. Even people with mental disabilities or autism can contribute in a meaningful way. The question we must ask ourselves is ‘is the organisation geared to handle that?’ How people are different does not matter; we all have a lot to contribute to the organisation and the society as a whole. Therefore, it is imperative that organisations have policies & facilities which are all-encompassing, allowing people to come in and settle down with ease. The same thing applies to sexual preference, gender identity, age, race etc. Everybody has a role to play in society. To me, diversity simply means an amalgamation of people in the organisation both old and young; men, women and transgender people; abled and differently abled; heterosexual people and homosexual people. Even if an organisation doesn’t have these segments today, are organisational policies built to welcome these people in the future. And once they are in, is the organisational culture geared to engage all of them such that they feel welcome and integrated? Organisations should not leave people out who could potentially add a lot of value.

 

      There is company in Bangalore called Vindhya which exclusively hires people with disabilities. I was very impressed to see their operations. I distinctly remember a guy who was visually impaired. He had put on a headphone and was selling DTH cable. He was having a conversation with a prospect using just one ear and with the other ear he was listening to what was being typed on the keyboard. The person on the other end had no idea about this at all. There was another person with no hands and his typing speed was 70 words per minute, which is probably faster than most of us. We might have a perception that someone who is different may not fit into the organisation, but leaders of organisations should think about such elements. And we generally can’t think about these elements because we are not in their shoes. Therefore, people who are in their shoes must be a part of the decision-making framework so that organisations can bring more people in and make them part of the ecosystem. There should be no biases. The only thing that should matter is whether the person has skills and capabilities which add significant value to the organisation.

   There also comes the aspect of looking at policies which come in the way of such hiring. Let’s look at education for example. Most companies have a policy that mandates employees to have at least a bachelor’s degree. But a lot of people who are successful do not have a college degree. The biggest examples are Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. If these billionaires had applied for a job, they wouldn’t have cleared the screening filter because of policies. Diversity is all about a combination of people with degrees, people with PhDs and people without degrees. If a policy comes in the way of hiring the best possible talent, then such policies must be updated frequently to reflect the inclusive culture of the organisation.

      We must also ask if our organisations have the ability to absorb these people into the institutional culture while making sure that they are a part of the engagement process to make the company a better workplace. For example, a thought which came to my mind was, “why can’t organisations hire hijras to take care of security needs for women who work at night?” (hijras are transgender people from India who typically come from a poor economic background. Most of them suffer abuse and neglect daily). I have engaged with many leaders to figure out how this can be done. Today, the law requires that all women who work at night be dropped off by the company after a specific time. To ensure safety, many companies add a security guard in the cab. But what if the driver and the security guard collude together? On the other hand, if there is a hijra security guard in the cab, then there is no chance of such collusion. A hijra security guard is less of a risk. But, this is easier said than done.If an organisation tries to bring in hijras into the workplace, they have to address several issues:

a) They have to make sure that hijras do not get harassed by the employees.
b) They have to make sure that the employees do not get scared because of the presence of hijras.
c) They must also make sure that women who are supposed to feel safe do not feel uncomfortable.
d) They must decide which restrooms should hijras use. Men’s restrooms? Women’s restrooms? Or should separate restrooms be built for them?
e) If the hijra has come from an abusive environment they would require rehabilitation & training to get accustomed to a corporate environment. The company must make sure that such training is available.
f) The company must also co-ordinate with NGOs and other social organisations to understand the problems that these hijras go through, to sensitise the workforce and to provide a respectable working environment.
g) Even if one organisation embraces the change, and if it’s located in a multi-tenant building, then it requires other tenants to also embrace the change because facilities like lifts, cafeterias and common lobbies are shared.

      There are lot of minute details which have to be thought through. Every small thing matters. Even though it might be my stated intent that I want to create equal opportunity, whether I am able to do it depends on many factors. It needs work on the people front, the policy front and the culture front. There has to be active communication & debate and one must clearly explain the rationale behind the move. The effort and resources required to make it happen require funding. A company also has to take into consideration other questions like what is the legal perspective on the change they are trying to bring? What is the corporate view on it? What are the gurus going to say about it? Lack of communication dooms any change before it begins.

      Stating an intent and acting on it are two different things. Therefore, the will of the leaders driving the change is paramount. And then the company must be brave enough to experiment. Someone recently asked me whether the time is right for such initiatives? And I just showed them this article which came out recently.

This_is_India’s_first_transgender_cabbie

   Highly diverse organisations are better and generally more successful than others. And businesses should embrace diversity in spirit and not just on paper. If organisations try to bring about change they should make sure that they are fully prepared for it and should go all the way. In the end we all want to be treated as equals. For god has created us equal. Hasn’t he?