Article (November-2017)


D&I : A significant orgnisational challenge

Lalitha M Shetty

Designation : -   Senior Director-Human Resources

Organization : -  Omega Healthcare, Bengaluru


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We read about diversity, inclusion, women in leadership, and the need to be open minded about religious and cultural differences in the press. The topic has been raised in the public eye and research now proves that companies with great diversity outperform their peers by a significant margin.
Here's evidence :
  • Deloitte Australia research shows that inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team - based assessments.
  • McKinsey's research shows that gender - diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers and ethnically - diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same.
  • Catalyst research shows that companies with more women on the board statistically outperform their peers over a long period of time.
Globalization requires more interaction among people from diverse backgrounds. Employees no longer live and work in an insular environment ; they are now part of a worldwide economy competing within a global framework. Hence, organizations need to become more diversified to remain competitive. Maximizing and capitalizing on workplace diversity is an important issue for management.
So, what should companies do to promote and maintain higher level of gender diversity? Lalitha Shetty responds to BM Questions :
BM : What should companies be doing to improve diversity in the workforce and what needs to be done to maintain a higher level of diversity?
LS : Diversity can benefit the employer in many ways. Having a diverse group of employees helps ensure that there will be a wide spectrum of ideas, backgrounds, and skill sets that can help the organization have more innovative ideas and less likelihood of tunnel vision that comes from not having enough differing perspectives.
Here are few ways to improve & maintain higher level of diversity in the workplace :
  • Widen your recruiting base - If you restrict your recruiting to your immediate geographic area, you may be missing an opportunity to develop a diverse workforce. Use other recruiting models to expand your base, including online job boards, social media, publication, campus hiring from broader geographic area etc.
  • Training and is important when it comes to recruitment. We all have unconscious bias that cause us to automatically view people of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, sexualities and socio economic backgrounds in a particular way. Recruiters in particular cannot afford to let these biases cloud their judgment when it comes to selecting the right candidate for the job. Therefore, it is very important that the recruitment teams undergo training to help them identify their own biases and how to tackle them.
  • Have a diversity policy and communicate it regularly to employees. Formal policy in place will act as a written promise to your current employees and future employees that your organization will put anti - discriminatory practices in place and do what you can to foster equal opportunity.
  • Focus on retention - Many organizations find they're able to attract a diverse set of applicants, but over time, the organizational culture remains homogeneous due to a higher turnover rate for some groups. Focus on retention efforts if this is a trend in your organization.
  • Supervisors and managers need to recognize the ways in which the workplace is changing and evolving. Managing diversity is a significant organizational challenge, so managerial skills must adapt to accommodate a multicultural work environment.
  • Get leaders and employees with influence to set a good example. When leaders openly and honestly speak about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, demonstrate values through their actions, they lead by example and create an ethical culture. Action speaks louder than words.
  • Pay attention to organizational culture. Does your culture promote inclusiveness? There may be pervasive attitudes and actions that end up dividing the workforce, making some groups feel unwelcome. These will need to be addressed to maintain diversity in the workforce. Consider utilizing employee surveys to gauge how employees feel on these topics as a means to discover issues before these issues cause employees to leave.
Overall, diversity has to be fostered at all levels, not just in hiring. If the workplace culture is not diverse at the upper levels, there will be less of a chance of retaining diversity in general. If all employees don't see they have an opportunity to achieve their personal goals, they may be more likely to leave.
BM : What are some common myths in gender gap that are worth noting?
LS : There are certain myths that are hard to neglect. Below is the list of some interesting ones :
Gender equality is just a women's issue, men should not get involved in it - Women definitely need the support of all individuals, all organizational leaders and others with power and influence of both genders, to make the changes necessary to advance and thrive, at work.
Workplace equality is the concern of the management and HR leaders - Many men and women seem to believe that workplace equality is the domain only of the HR leaders and management. The reality is that this is the responsibility and concern of every single person, as well as everyone involved with people in any capacity. 
Gender equality is just a workplace issue- There can be no equality in the workplace if there is none at home. If women continue to handle the lion's share of domestic responsibility, there is no possible way that they can become the leaders and influencers in workplace.
BM : What is hindering gender diversity? Do you think some of the world's political and economic issues are tied to a lack of diversity in the workforce?
LS : Although gender diversity in the workplace has been a "hot topic" and corporate priority for many years, women are still underrepresented in organizations across the globe, and the gender disparity in the pipeline proves greatest at senior leadership levels. 
While entry into the corporate sector is easier and a reasonable percentage of entry level positions are filled by women, the percentage of women declines sharply as we move up the ranks. Owing to the absence of trusted care takers and lack of adequate infrastructure to support working from home, a number of women opt out of work after maternity to take care of domestic responsibilities. At the same time, even among those who manage to continue working with support from family members, many women find their career growth slowing down after a while. The lack of opportunities for women to progress within the organizations, combined with a firmly entrenched patriarchal mindset results in a few women making it to the top echelons of the corporate sector.
As gender diversity is strongly correlated with the corporate culture, besides affirmative policies and actions, managing gender diversity may also require a shift in corporate culture in order to make the workplace more conducive to the needs of working women.
BM : What can be done to promote gender diversity?
LS : First and foremost, it is important to admit you have a problem and an opportunity. Be transparent, and gather the data necessary to analyze where you are today and what stands in the way of real change.
Broaden your understanding of what it takes to support women. Look beyond typical programs when considering how best to support and enable all talent. For example, gender - specific programs focused on either health or financial wellness, neither of which are common practice today, are associated with improved diversity.
Implement new programs and benefits only in the context of an enabling environment. Foster an organizational culture that is comfortable with different employees contributing to the overall enterprise in different ways and that actively manages women so they effectively utilize available programs and benefits in the context of their overall career development.
HR can also help senior leaders with the effectiveness of different programs through close observation of data, which can help in monitoring common patterns in workforce operations. It is also important to track hire rates, promotions and exits of women through appropriate analytics. 
Most importantly, the commitment from CEO and top management will contribute in big way in promoting gender diversity at the workplace.
Understanding organizational and social barriers is helpful for diagnosing the current state of women's career advancement within organizations. Continuous and special attention paid to the business case, development programs and culture will enable organizations to shape workplaces that support women leaders. Women, in turn, add value to the business by bringing diverse perspectives and skill sets.
BM : What are some of the informal steps that can help companies motivate and develop female leaders?
LS : There are several reasons why women may choose to leave the workforce, or "opt out" from taking leadership role. Popular media depicts "familial obligations" as the prime motivation; because women tend to be more relational than men, they often leave the workforce to care for children or elderly parents. Additionally, they may leave the workforce because a spouse's job has been relocated. However, to distill the issue down to familial obligations is a simplified explanation, especially because women and men both cite work and family balance as a major area for concern. 
  • Flexible work schedules and work from home options help women to balance out familial obligations and move ahead with their career aspirations.
  • Identify the career aspirations of budding leaders and give them opportunities to handle special projects.
  • Show consistent respect and courtesy.
  • Encourage them to share ideas and creative thoughts.
  • Introduce buddy system/mentor to help them develop their leadership skills.
  • Reward equally and fairly.
  • Appreciate for the job well done and recognize them. 
  • Most importantly, creating an environment where women can succeed is vital.
BM : What are some positive things you've seen that show that companies, particularly in India, are moving toward improving diversity?
LS : Promoting inclusiveness and diversity within the workplace is one of the best ways to foster an open - minded global company culture. Not only does this make good business sense helping your company to better understand colleagues, clients, and customers around the world it also makes the workplace a more interesting and personally enriching environment for everyone. 
Most organizations in India have taken this topic very seriously and introduced many best practices to improve diversity at workplace. We, at Omega Healthcare, believe in "Equal Opportunity for all" and it is one of our corporate values as well. At Omega, 40% of the total employees are women. To promote our corporate belief and help women to grow in professional and personal, we have introduced a forum called "Roshni" which is  women forum dedicated to all women employees across the organization to showcase talent and sessions from experts on health, career, finance, work life balance and many more. One of the large scale programs across India launched under Roshni umbrella is about advancing women. Our training offerings help women expand their network, connect with role models in leadership, and hone their skills for advancing to the next level.