Article (February-2019)


Is your workplace a monochrome?

Rajeev Bhardwaj

Designation : -   Vice President-Human Resource

Organization : -  Sun Life Financial Asia Service Centre, Gurugram


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Much has been said and written about the need for ushering in diversity and inclusion policies at workplace. The need for offering equal opportunities for women and specially-abled people, and the necessity of eliminating biases against all minorities - ethnic, sexual or linguistic are elements that are high on the minds of most human resource managers. While the subject is being discussed with much fervor, not all sections of the corporate world have truly internalized its spirit. For many this concept remains a powerful slogan on paper that fails to find enough policy backing to be implemented in spirit. For others, the investments in finances, time and energy required to overhaul the fabric of an organization to make it amenable to a diverse workforce are not worth the effort.

However, it is pertinent to underline that nurturing diverse and inclusive workforces is not just ethical but also smart. In a rapidly changing world where the age-old edifices of beliefs and work culture are being challenged, investing in diversity and inclusion makes real time business sense. Having a diverse workforce transforms your workplace from a monochrome to a multi-hued entity. This seemingly minor change not only imparts a new energy to the creative thought process, but also strengthens the company's talent pipeline over the long term.

Why diversity matters

Inclusive polices at workplace throw your doors open to a truly diverse workforce which in turn lends your organization the benefit of having a wide variety of problem solvers on the board. Come to think of it, different kinds of people bring different approaches to work. This is why an amalgamation of people of different hues immensely enriches the workplace. It saves your organization from becoming a monolith which hires clones as employees. Moreover different people imply more thoughts and ideas. When organizations work diligently towards implementing diversity plans and ensuring that each individual feels liberated and accepted in the office environs, they experience a series of benefits, both tangible and intangible. To cite an example, a 2007 study by research organization named Catalyst, found that among the Fortune 500 companies those that had more female board directors achieved higher financial performance.

Inclusion doesn't end at achieving hiring parity

People tend to think that eliminating all biases during the hiring process fulfils the need. However, the truth is that equitable hiring is only the starting point of ensuring inclusion. At every point in an employee's work cycle, the organization has to walk the talk on being an equal opportunity employer. This entails equitable choices while giving work opportunities, while rewarding, promoting as well as rolling out policies that take into account the different needs of different employees. Retaining and nurturing them is as important as hiring them. Nothing other than quality, efficiency and ability of candidates must impact the way the organization treats them. The fact that a woman might have different needs than a man must not act as a road block for her career growth and progression. We often encounter a tendency among managers to reward and value male employees more since they are easily available till late hours. This is clearly a case of internalized gender bias where another element takes precedence over quality of work. Often, diversity candidates also find themselves at the wrong end when managers handpick employees to be nurtured and mentored for leadership roles. The most common example of this phenomenon is the treatment of women employees when they decide to have a family. Equal opportunity employer means that you will hire, nurture and promote the best candidate even if she is on course for a maternity break. New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently became the first leader to avail a maternity leave while in office. Her move was nothing short of revolutionary.

Mentoring and Grooming

We are very serious about diversity, inclusion and nurturing employees of all backgrounds in our organisation. In this context we are structuring a coaching and mentoring program for women to groom them for leadership roles involving a prolonged coaching program by industry experts. Not only does this empower our candidates but it also creates a pipeline of leadership for the organization. This 8-9 month long intervention involves not just significant monetary investment but also the time of the individual.  Another critical intervention we are working on is eliminating all kinds of bias in the language we use to communicate with potential and existing employees. We often see a clear gender bias when organizations describe their jobs profiles. When you clearly lay down in your requirements that the job entails 'regular late night availability', you are subtly but firmly implying that women are not welcome to the profile. This language bias must end.  When it comes to diversity, we often tend to limit our focus to gender. However, people with disability are equally important diversity candidates. We are currently in the process of auditing our infrastructure, policies and organizational culture to check and ensure that we are prepared to welcome specially-abled people in the organization. We are also conducting awareness and sensitization programs to ensure that organization is ready not just from the standpoint of physical infrastructure but also mentally and emotionally to include them into our fold. We desire to hire real talent and make a meaningful commitment to this process, rather than adopt a piecemeal approach.