Inclusion in management — rhetoric and the reality

Anu Oza | Updated on October 10, 2021

When candidates go through an assessment process where sophisticated language is used, it could affect their performance

In the diversity space, there is a popular saying, “You can mandate diversity, but you can never mandate inclusion”.

Every year in India there are several cohorts of people who get past the hurdles of poverty and poor schooling and still manage to write their management exams and get placed in good firms. A number of forward-thinking firms like some FMCG majors have become so acutely aware of biases on the basis of language, caste, class and religion that they have devised ways of recruitment and selection while doing all they can to eliminate these biases.

For example, if a candidate has a working knowledge of English and is technically sound, she often gets a job offer. Where many firms fail is after getting the recruitment process as perfect as they can, they slip badly when people-management processes kick in.

As for the candidates, now that they are given opportunity, many of them begin to do well in their roles until their first major performance review, often outsourced to a big consulting firm. The companies they work for have likely invested enormous amounts in sensitivity training, DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) initiatives and training in unconscious bias.

Assesssment centre

But many firms are yet to look at people processes and the heart of these processes, like an assessment centre, which can seal the fate of a young person.

When they go through the assessment centre, the happenings hurt them terribly and mar performance. An assessment centre is a performance management and development initiative that has participants go through a list of tools, including a case study, a group discussion, an interview, that allows the participant an opportunity to be rated against a pre-established set of competencies.

The tools used tend to be sophisticated and these young men and women could have aced all these tools if they had not found themselves struggling to understand the sophisticated language involved. How could this have been averted? By embossing inclusion in the design and development of the Centre, which to this day is considered one of the fairest of performance management processes.

To give its best talent a fair chance in the future, a company should do the following:

First, have a detailed talk with the manager of the person who is scheduled to be in the centre process. It needs to be determined if language and other de-railers need to be kept in mind.

The competency framework must be socialised with all participants before the centre and, if necessary, in order to overcome the challenges that people raised in their mother tongue face, it must be explained to them in their language.

Coaching and career-pathing help should be provided by HR to assist the candidates for at least a year after the assessment centre. This choice should be thrown open to all candidates.

When consulting firms are hired, at least 25 per cent of the assessors must speak the local language.

The CEO’s support and support from business must be obtained. Support like this sends out a very clear message about the organisation’s commitment to inclusion.

There are practical challenges to this exercise. A firm cannot have the 20-plus languages. of the Indian Constitution as part of the tools. However, an effort can be made to translate simple tools into the local language. For psychometric testing, however difficult it may be, it is recommended that the original test is used.

The mix of candidates has to be carefully done suggesting that not more than one or two candidates will need language intervention.

This may seem like much ado about nothing, but it is important to remember that when DEI initiatives first started, and even to this day, there are discussions about the business case for diversity.

Employees should feel as far as possible that the performance management system is fair. Talent alone cannot take one very far in life. With the person who is a high performer, investment in mindful coaching can turn a diamond in the rough into a solitaire, and this is what inclusion in the performance management system should aim to do.

The writer is a consultant. Views are personal

Published on October 10, 2021

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