Capitalizing the diversity dividend: All roads lead to radical inclusion
A look at why radical inclusion is the need of the hour — inclusion must be intentional to attract a diverse talent pool.
"Talent perceives differences; genius, unity.” — W.B. Yeats
This maxim by W.B. Yeats — a famous Irish poet and a leading 20th-century literary figure — continues to hold true in the dynamic, interconnected and diverse business ecosystem of 2020. A critical differentiator for organizational success, Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) has evolved from a buzzword to become an integral part of organizational strategy for driving innovation and creating a healthy business ecosystem.
To begin with, there are two different bell curves when it comes to I&D initiatives in India. The first comprises organizations that are still thinking and acknowledging the need for I&D, and the second comprises a handful of organizations that are already acting on the identified gaps to make I&D a part of their organizational DNA. They are making progressive yet tough decisions to create a focused I&D roadmap, with nuanced, actionable and measurable targets. These organizations are well on their journey to transform into inclusive and diverse workplaces that are aspirational for new-age employees and give them an opportunity to do their life’s best work.
Challenges in building inclusion and diversity
Globally, I&D engagement across the business community has been on the rise. However, there are several roadblocks that have curbed the pace of adoption. Some of these include:
Cognitive and cultural resistance — The existence of the "status quo" cognitive inertia involves people to harbor an innate bias in favor of preserving the current state of things. A tendency to hire employees who are a reflection of themselves among the leadership and managers can be a huge hindrance in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. While conscious bias is easier to identify and address, unconscious bias is a bigger challenge to overcome and can negatively impact recruitment of candidates, mentoring and promotions.
I&D not integral to business strategy — It is imperative for organizations to reflect on this recent attention on I&D. How many of us consider I&D a key area of focus to achieve business imperatives? Truth is, most companies are laying emphasis on I&D more due to peer pressures and external branding rather than the true value of these interventions. I&D initiatives are still mostly viewed as activities that require budgetary spend versus being important business investment. Therefore, such initiatives usually suffer from a lack of adequate funding, with undue focus on short-term ROI instead of long-term transformation.
Exclusion of the LGBTQ community and differently abled people — With June being Pride Month, there’s not a better time to talk about the challenges faced by the LGBTQ community in terms of the hostility and harassment they face at their workplace. To avoid discrimination, they often cover or downplay aspects of their authentic selves and are forced to live a dual life. Even today, most countries do not provide legal protection for LGBTQ+ employees, with only 77 out of 197 countries prohibiting discrimination in employment because of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Similarly, differently abled people are often left out of the fold owing to unfounded assumptions and unconscious bias. Employers fail to provide suitable infrastructure for them and often people with disabilities are overlooked for a job role and their academic performance and competence are ignored. This poses a big challenge to any organization's I&D aspirations and the need for diverse teams to serve as many diverse customers. We must keep in mind that gender makes up just a portion of diversity. So, it’s okay for companies that are only now initiating their I&D track to contain efforts to gender diversity to start with, but they must revisit their I&D agenda to realign their efforts and resources to make it all-inclusive.
Radical inclusion to change the game
To overcome all these challenges, the emphasis needs to be on inclusion. If inclusion is intentional and is pursued with a keen focus, diversity will follow suit. An earnestness to provide equal opportunities to all employees, in roles, learning, growth and pay parity, regardless of their gender, appearance, sexual orientation, social, ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds, will inevitably attract a diverse workforce.
A radically inclusive working environment needs to be created where daily interactions recognize, embrace and anticipate diverse talent and everyone is encouraged and appreciated, and every voice is heard, acknowledged and their inherent worth recognized to make larger impact. It follows the Principle of Trust — trust that each person has a voice that matters, and this voice is heard, not because it is obligatory, but because it is valued. Radical inclusion ensures that the capitalization of a diverse workforce is achieved through changes in an organization’s culture and operating model. Additionally, a radically inclusive workplace is one that is free of harassment, bullying, discrimination in any form; has parity in pay scales; promotes respect; and values each individual in the organization.
Consider the case of the LGBTQ+ community. The need is to create a radically inclusive environment and culture at work where sexual minorities can be themselves and feel safe and comfortable to voice their perspectives. This can go a long way in attracting and retaining top talent as well as winning new consumer business and securing their loyalty. Also, having a gender-diverse workforce has benefits of its own, as was corroborated by a research conducted by McKinsey in 2019. It found that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than those in the fourth quartile. As a result, there is a substantial performance differential — almost 48% — between the most and least gender-diverse companies.
Building a resilient I&D culture
Gender diversity is only a part of the I&D equation, and the real value of inclusion is realized when leaders reflect on each voice in the organization and take appropriate action by providing direction for awareness building, sensitization programs, trainings, removing bias from job descriptions and other talent management processes. It is critical to implement such strategies with clear timelines and measurable output to help organizations augment their demographics at a good pace.
Here are some steps organizations can take to build a resilient I&D culture:
Fostering inclusive leaders who instill trust in the teams and promote a message of ‘united we belong’ and implement radical inclusion programs as both an inward (being open and non-discriminatory in one’s own thoughts) as well as external pivots (welcoming people from diverse backgrounds, etc.).
Driving the metrics — It is imperative to quantify I&D strategies in terms of ROI, benefits, successes, and failures through changes in policy, processes and the larger system. This will enable diverse groups to not only sustain, but also thrive in the business ecosystem.
Rewards and recognition — Implementing a system to recognize and reward those who become ""Ambassadors of I&D"" helps in establishing deeper roots for the I&D culture.
Using advanced technologies — Solutions backed by artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) can aid in significantly reducing unconscious bias from business processes, such as recruitment, training, performance reviews, etc., through automated reports and data analytics."
The aim here should not be to add diversity merely in numbers but to create an inclusive ecosystem that allows growth and sustenance of a diverse workforce. Extraordinary things happen when we value, include and learn from diverse people and perspectives. We build stronger connections with each other; can navigate through the challenges of this ever-changing world; deliver products and services that work better for those we serve; achieve more powerful results; and increase profitability for organizations. Therefore, I&D needs to be made a part of an organization's culture and DNA, inculcated within the leaders and employees alike — a united culture. And this must not be viewed or executed as quarterly events but must be an on-going endeavor, constantly reminding ourselves that we can do much more to create an environment where all employees are equally appreciated and respected for their unique contributions, regardless of personal characteristics, backgrounds and life choices.
The above article appeared in ETHrWorld.com.