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Diversity diktat in the office: It’s all about you!

Saundarya Rajesh | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on December 07, 2016

Workplace web The concept of Intersectional Diversity acknowledges thatemployees have multiple identities LIGHTSPRING/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM   -  Lightspring/shutterstock.com

Diversity and Inclusion progammes that focus on niche segments of the workforce are passe

Recently in Mumbai, I asked a prominent woman CEO in the BFSI space about the programmes that her organisation offers for advancing women’s career prospects. Her response was startling. She said: “I am seriously considering stopping programmes that are directed only at a certain section of the workforce.” Elaborating, she said that men often feel there is excessive focus on women, and single women feel there is too much focus on married women. In effect, she said, diversity programmes are inherently not inclusive.

So how can we make them more inclusive?

For the past decade and a half, I’ve had a ring-side view of how Diversity and Inclusion programmes have evolved. They began with a tentative acceptance as a HR practice, but are acknowledged today as a great tool to ensure competitive advantage. However, one of the questions that’s always asked is: “Does Diversity only mean four or five big areas such as Gender, Generation, Ability/Disability, Sexual Orientation? What about the hundreds of other identities that define us?”

Enter a new concept: Intersectional Diversity (ID). As the name suggests, it is the intersection of various aspects of our identity. If we visualise it as a Venn diagram, the overlapping circles are the multiple facets of your identity, which include gender, generation, sexual orientation, physical capabilities, region, religion, marital status, income, education, and so on. The common area at the intersection of all these circles defines you uniquely. It is as distinctive as your fingerprint. The concept of ID marks a paradigm shift from one-dimensional to multi-dimensional exploration.

A breakthrough concept

In the early days, Inclusivity was projected as something that requires legislative provisions to protect — such as equal opportunity, equal remuneration and maternity benefit. With the economy opening up, and the ‘talent thirst’ experienced by organisations, diversity became a business imperative. But it never stopped being seen as a distant cousin of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Today, every high-growth organisation pursues a diversity agenda, with sensitisation programmes, unconscious bias training, diversity-based recruitment policies, and so on. What do these deliver? They ensure that groups that the organisation considers underrepresented, disempowered or marginalised are given their due. So where does that leave the larger workforce?

The framing of Diversity as being intended for the weaker, underprivileged or discriminated sections of the workplace assumes inferentially that there is nothing about the large majority that requires celebration or attention. Champions of diversity within organisations often face resistance when they pitch for projects in which ‘non-diverse’ individuals have nothing to gain.

More than one strand

In this context, Intersectional Diversity presents a different solution. Consider the diversity strands of ‘gender’ and ‘generation’ and think of where a woman from the millennial generation might fit in. An organisation may have policies in place for women’s advancement and other policies to engage millennials; but do they have any specifically aimed at millennial women? Aren’t the aspirations of millennial women different from millennial men or Gen X women? Will the same strategies work? Definitely not.

A recent AVTAR study on Indian professionals found that 70 per cent of millennial women valued fast-track growth over work flexibility or monetary benefits. For Gen X women, however, flexibility was the top choice. The ‘women’ and the ‘millennial’ categories will not work in isolation, but only in intersection.

Individual differences are at an all-time high today. And as one progresses along the generational continuum, differences become the norm. By 2020, millennials will account for more than 50 per cent of the active Indian workforce. Compartmentalising this set based on five or six attributes would be unfair, and not good for business. At the workplace, every individual should be a ‘Diversity Candidate’. And it is this clarity that ID brings.

ID is the practice of looking at programmes and policies with a lens that goes beyond basic definitions. It is about devising engagement programmes and development programmes that address the majority. ID represents a shift towards inclusion and, thereby, caters to aspiration differentials. To me, it appears the best bet in creating collaborative workplaces.

(The author is the Founder President of AVTAR Career Creators & FLEXI Careers India.)

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Published on December 07, 2016
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