People@Work

Nine questions on diversity & inclusion during Covid times answered

Saundarya Rajesh | Updated on July 29, 2020 Published on July 29, 2020

1. Are Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiatives still relevant in these challenging times?

There is VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) across several dimensions of life today — health, employment, education. With blurring boundaries of work and home, it is important that companies invest on initiatives that drive belongingness in employees. This will result in greater engagement amongst employees and higher productivity at work. If companies focus their energies on leveraging diversity of their workforce, by intentionally creating cross-functional diverse teams for strategy, it will lead to innovative and synergistic outcomes.

2. What is the role of leaders in driving inclusion, in the Covid context?

Even as organisations navigate market turbulence, it is important that leaders address employee concerns. Successful crises management strategies of organisations show us that at the helm are leaders who are inclusive and authentic, who help employees connect with the bigger vision they are pursuing. Transparency in communication helps set realistic expectations among employees. Leaders also can drive greater ownership amongst employees, when they are demonstrably inclusive. There is a positive impact on an employee’s trust levels and they are better engaged.

3. What are the most bias-prone talent management areas a company should be conscious of, today?

Biased decisions across the talent processes of hiring, engagement and growth in organisations are a reality. While there has been a temporary slowdown in hiring activities of companies, the gear is shifting to adapt to the new normal of remote hiring. Bias filters are still a work-in-progress as recruitment activities move online. When it comes to engagement in the work-from-home scenario, being blind to operational challenges of employees with care-giving responsibilities is a bias manifestation.

From a growth standpoint, L&D (learning and development) activities of organisations are also prone to bias, by being of limited access and opportunity (with budget constraints also in picture).

4. How can an inclusive company culture drive employee productivity during this pandemic situation?

Companies that had invested in inclusive initiatives have the upper hand in adapting to the disruption Covid-19 has created. Such organisations would already have created effective remote work protocols (targeting diverse talent pools like women) that help employees segue into the new operational model.

5. What are some of the best practices to nurture the sense of belongingness amongst employees at this time?

IT major Capgemini has started a new employee stream, as part of a D&I effort called the Happiness and Wellbeing to keep up the motivation, morale, and the mental well-being of employees. Accenture, a listed Champion in the 2019 Working Mother & Avtar Most Inclusive Companies Index, started conducting online hobby classes to engage with employees’ children. EY, another Champion in the 2019 Working Mother & Avtar Most Inclusive Companies Index, has transitioned the employee life-cycle experience to the virtual mode. Schindler, a manufacturing veteran, follows a concept called the three 5s wherein every day, every employee is encouraged to reach out to 5 co-workers, 5 customers and 5 family members. 3M has activated Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in order to seamlessly operate on virtual platforms to sustain the organisation’s long-standing culture.

6. With the normalisation of remote working, what are the diversity hiring priorities in companies today?

Companies that had already laid the foundation for flexible working found themselves adding on greater systems and processes to facilitate remote working. Amidst the diversity priorities of such companies is tapping into the talent pool of women (including women on career breaks) for whom remote working is a great career enabler. Another interesting trend that we see is locational restrictions no longer being a challenge when companies actively hire. Companies are open to hiring high-potential talent from across the country (or the globe).

7. Is there better availability of a high-potential diverse talent pool in the market today as a consequence of Covid?

Review of retrenchment trends shows that gender discrimination is also prevalent in retrenchment. According to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the rate of job loss for women in India is 17.6 per cent more than that for men, in the Covid-19 induced situation. This also means the availability of a more diverse talent pool who are active job seekers.

8. What can diversity bring to the table in such a crisis?

Diverse perspectives lead to greater innovation and more strategic thinking to tap into hitherto untapped opportunities. Leadership that is visibly diverse and values cognitive diversity will be more adept at Covid-induced crises management. When companies begin to value thoughts and opinions from across the employee base (irrespective of gender, generation, tenure or sexual orientation) employees feel more included and engaged, which eventually results in greater effectiveness.

9. What are the important guidelines to ensure zero tolerance to workplace sexual harassment, in a context where most employee interactions are online?

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, defines workplace as “any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by the employer for the purpose of commuting to and from the place of employment”. This includes home work environment. The law was defined keeping in mind that sexual harassment can occur via digital medium as well. The POSH Act is applicable even when employees communicate with each other using virtual tools like email, text messaging, social media and video conferencing.

Regular POSH awareness sessions should be conducted. Professional etiquette in interactions and the need to adhere to a code of conduct apply when business meetings happen via virtual platforms. Managers can set clear expectations of employee behaviour and conduct regular check-ins with team members to understand remote working challenges. Organisations must take complaints of harassment seriously and address them swiftly.

Saundarya Rajesh is

Founder-President, Avtar Group

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Published on July 29, 2020
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