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Hey, your bias is showing!

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on June 07, 2017

Conscious inclusion Making diversity count

Unconventional ways to manage diversity and address prejudice at the workplace



Advertising agency JWT has a library. Only, here the books are not made of paper and ink. People are the books (and the readers). The titles are varied – An ‘Other’ Small Town Boy, One Girl: Many Faces, The Friendly Odd Man – and the reading is a conversation.

The Human Library concept originated in Denmark and JWT borrowed it to address the unconscious bias that creeps into workplaces, says Tarun Rai, CEO, JWT South Asia.

“People tend to hire people like themselves, with similar backgrounds, as they like to stay in comfort zones. We’re a creative business and our work goes country-wide. A mixed set of people can only improve our product,” he explains.

Recognising this problem, many firms conduct unconscious bias training to sensitise employees. Through a programme called Unconscious Bias and Conscious Inclusion, pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly & Company India exhorts managers to shed set notions, says Anant Garg, Director, Human Resources. For one, that experience is mandatory in hiring – young candidates are good at driving digital initiatives, now high on the company’s agenda. It is also experimenting with hiring employees from non-science backgrounds, moving employees between therapy divisions for leadership skills rather than subject knowledge, and not sticking to regional affiliations when transferring employees.

While urban India, to an extent, has understood the importance of diversity and inclusion, other areas are still struggling with issues such as gender and sexuality, says Dnyan Shah, Senior VP Business HR Head at Mphasis. In a rapidly growing economy, “it becomes extremely imperative for us to be open to diversity, else we will be losing out on a large chunk of a talented resource pool”, she adds.

Discussion on diversity and inclusion in Indian workplaces skews towards gender even though policies exist with respect to disability, LGBTQ rights, regional differences, and such. The other major concern is age. Research shows that a diverse pool of talent is not merely a feel-good cause but has a positive impact on the business. Firms, therefore, are keen to enable women to grow professionally, and to retain millennials for longer than their young and restless nature will allow.

Gender rules diversity talk

Schneider Electric’s Rachna Mukherjee, Chief Human Resources Officer, says the gender divide is the first thing that needs tackling as it’s basic, and a business imperative. “Both men and women are our customers so both sexes have to contribute to the product portfolio,” she says.

Kiranmai Pendyala, Corporate VP and COO, HR, of semiconductor firm AMD, says the number of women begins to thin out at the middle and senior management levels as the challenges of straddling work and family increase. The constraints are tougher for manufacturing firms. “Demand is high but supply is thin,” she says.

In hi-tech product companies, less than 20 per cent women make up the workforce, says Pendyala. This is an improvement from a decade ago when that figure was less than 10 per cent.

A slew of measures designed to help women manage work and family, such as extended maternity leave and paternity leave, work-from-home facilities and schemes to bring them back to work after a hiatus are contributing to women entering and staying in the workplace.

Schneider Electric even has policies in place for employees who have children by surrogacy, with 12 weeks of paid leave and options for flexi-work following that. JWT has SheHour, a networking platform for women to meet and mentor each other. Infosys has set up a Global Diversity Council to equip women with insights and opportunities on the path to leadership and has had the Infosys Women Inclusivity Network since 2003 to address women employees’ professional needs.

Godrej’s Mahnaz Shaikh, Head - HR (India & SAARC), Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL), says, “Our people policy documents have included ‘other’ as an option for our transgender team members.” Adoption and healthcare policies take gender-neutral interests into account.

Why does gender rule diversity concerns? Saundarya Rajesh, President, AVTAR group and diversity expert, says the need for talent dictates it. Issues such as LGBTQ and ethnicity are cultural imperatives. Also, when it comes to calculating returns on investment, gender diversity is easier to measure. From a parity perspective, gender is important, but the aspect of diversity that’s important to an organisation’s strategy will dominate, she says.

The diversity that counts

A case in point is Standard Chartered Global Business Services. Rajesh Balaji, its head of Human Resources, says they employed 100 people with disabilities, most hearing-impaired, for data entry, and their accuracy on the job is 30-40 per cent higher than their colleagues with no hearing trouble. So they look for differently-abled candidates every time they hire for these positions.

Besides gender, age is a major concern. Millennials drive culture and synergy at a workplace. “In product companies like ours, we look at it from the innovation perspective. Ideation is very different from an experienced hand,” says AMD’s Pendyala. AMD has also set up an innovation fund that even young employees can use to pursue projects they are passionate about.

Several companies have policies that look out for differently-abled and LGBTQ employees. Godrej Consumer has an equal opportunity policy and a gender-neutral anti-harassment policy, to protect the rights of LGBTQ team members. Infosys Gays Lesbians and You was set up in 2011 to enable a dialogue on office processes and policies that affect this community’s members.

Weaving it into work

Firms are ensuring managers realise the importance of diversity in various ways, apart from reaching out to employees. At Ericsson, all global leadership team members have diversity and inclusion objectives related to gender as part of their performance management plan.

At JWT, “there is a realisation and some employees have written to us saying that they now consciously try to stay away from making those stereotypes in their minds. This is just the beginning,” says Roopa Badrinath, Chief Talent Officer.

Published on June 07, 2017

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