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Diversity and inclusion at workplaces: Myth versus reality

Diversity and inclusion at workplaces: Myth versus reality

Moving the bar seems to be a very pertinent HR priority. Do we only want to chase a number like a compliance target, or do we want to promote inclusivity in the truest sense of the term across every organizational stratum without compromising on meritocracy? When we talk about persity, do we straitjacket ourselves to increasing percentage of women employees in the organization or do we track as well as embrace every form of persity — sexual orientation, genders, physically challenged disabilities, racial, cultural, generational, religious, geographical etc. Aon recently conducted an exploratory study to find out where different organizations, spread across different industry clusters, are placed in their persity and inclusion journeys, what are their broad philosophies, persity strategies, challenges. The study that was broadly based around these themes generated interest from participants with balanced representation across industries like Financial Institutions, FMCG, Manufacturing, Pharma, Services and Tech and their responses unearthed some interesting results.

The Diversity philosophy, strategy and growth journey
Organizations that have made strides in their D&I journeys focus on a well-articulated persity agenda. Equally important is to ensure that the Diversity Philosophy is communicated to all stakeholders within or outside the organization using the right channels. As we look into the maturity continuum, organizations have transitioned from focusing on initiatives to defining values and model behaviours. Most organizations in India continue to define persity through the gender lens. However, we now see an increasing focus on other dimensions of workforce persity including persity of sexual orientation, PWDs and generational persity.

So who drives the D&I agenda? It is still not common for us to see a dedicated role at senior management to focus on workforce persity and inclusive practices in the organization. In most cases, the D&I agenda is entrusted to a senior HR leader or a committee having representation from different parts of the organization.

What’s in it for organizations? Firstly, a focus on persity and inclusivity is aligned to organizational values and culture as they strive to become equal opportunity institutions. Moreover, there is a strong business case backed by robust research which claim that a perse workforce would result in enhancing innovation, creativity and is great for ideation and problem solving. Lastly, D&I focus is a boost to the employer brand which allows easier attraction and retention of talent. Some other themes like balanced demographic representation, brand reputation, enhanced business results, compliance etc are also given importance in varying degrees by different industries/organizations.

How do organizations measure it? Metrics for measurement often exist in terms of hiring numbers, demographic representation, pay parity and engagement score. Some other non-quantifiable metrics also include improved employer branding, organizational culture transformation, removal of biases, etc. While most organizations claim to have a uniform focus on D&I across all workgroups, many organizations also admit that it is restricted to certain business unit(s) or job families etc due to various reasons. Also slightly more than half of the organizations state that they have specific interventions to find out preferences / opinion / pulse of perse employees through instruments like FGDs with perse cohorts, targeted listening sessions, annual engagement survey on D&I index, perception / aspiration surveys, surveys by global teams, third parties etc.

Challenges and way forward
While organizations are in different stages in their D&I growth journey, some of the key challenges which arise during this journey seems to be ubiquitous. Diversity often fails to attract the required attention from business leaders and remain confined to HR scorecards. Additionally, it is also observed that while the program development is done centrally by a core team managing D&I, the onus of its execution falls back on business teams leading to gaps between intention and execution. Most successful organizations in this sphere has managed to ensure the participation of leadership as well as the business at the agenda setting stage itself and also ensure Diversity and Inclusion KPIs are not just HR’s but also of the business trickling down from leadership to first line managers.

Another barrier quoted by many leading employers is while there’s an intention to absorb and immerse as much perse talent as possible, there’s a clear lack of availability of employable talent in certain sectors. Organizations that have seen success in this space have gone beyond just hiring persity candidates. They have strongly invested in building a persity talent pipeline by improving infrastructure as well as exploring opportunities at grass-root levels.

Organizations also face challenges due to the lack of adequate infrastructure, leadership support, and cultural biases to hire certain types of persity. In these circumstances, most organizations have followed a multi-pronged approach where they have started with gender persity and once those programs gain traction, graduate towards widening the scope of persity by incorporating other forms. This is done through intense internal campaigning to sensitize people and address their inhibitions. Leadership and role models play a very important role in this.

In addition to Diversity and Inclusion, the third pillar which is fast gaining currency now is Equity. The key question here is are organizations really treating everyone fair when it comes to pay and growth? Are managers completely devoid of biases while making decisions? We might have great persity representation, but do we really have persity at all the places possible or have we achieved our targets by taking large bites of the low hanging fruits? These would be some interesting questions to answer in the days to come…

The contributors are with Performance & Rewards, Aon India.

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