Business leaders need to stay invested in the DEI agenda

Amita Kasbekar was the lead for Diversity and Inclusion at Deloitte US India offices. She has over 25 years of experience in areas of talent management, retention strategies, and diversity management. She has demonstrated capabilities in gender leadership, sensitization, and workplace flexibility. Amita is actively involved in writing and speaking about gender issues in various forums. She has been the voice of organizational diversity and effectiveness, and has spearheaded many initiatives at Deloitte. Joining Avtar Group as the Principal Strategist, LGBTQ Practice, Amita Kasbekar (AK) shares her Inclusion journey and learnings from thereon.

Please share your personal thoughts on why Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) is important to you.

AK: During my childhood years, I have experienced gender discrimination at home and more broadly in society.  As a girl child I was denied many opportunities to explore my potential.  Then, after marriage, when I lived in the US for a few years, I experienced colour and race discrimination.  So I knew very early on what it felt to be excluded.  Exclusion has an adverse impact on every aspect of one’s growth and well-being. It thwarts confidence, self-esteem and productivity. So, as far back as I can remember, I’ve been passionate about Diversity and an advocate for Inclusion.  Inclusion is all about behaviour, which is not only the right thing to do, but it is necessary for the common good in societies.  It is essential to achieve the best results – in every relationship (personal & professional), every business and in every organization.  Inclusive behaviour doesn’t always come naturally to everyone. It has to be cultivated. We just need to be aware of those inclusive behaviours, and mindfully demonstrate them.   

Can you share the instance when you first began advocating DEI at Deloitte? 

AK: I joined Deloitte as the Inclusion lead for all the US offices in India. And since that was my full-time job, I remember from day One, I was advocating for why we need to embed inclusive practices at every stage of our employees’ life-cycle — hiring, retention, engagement and advancement.  Deloitte as an organization has always been committed to fostering an inclusive culture, but you’ll always have some folks in every organization that are not sure what inclusion means; how can it be enhanced, and why spend time and energy focusing on it in the first place.  I’ve always believed that it’s important to get senior leaders on board, and take everyone along on this journey of understanding, embracing and demonstrating inclusion. 

Speaking of having the right approach, what has been your style towards understanding different perspectives of people from diverse backgrounds?

AK: It’s not always easy to welcome or celebrate diversity of thought, backgrounds and perspectives.  And as many of us would’ve noticed, appreciating different perspectives comes more naturally to some, than to others. However, once we understand the business case for DEI and its potential impact, it not only becomes that much easier, but also one begins to see how essential and effective it is to practise inclusive behaviour. What’s more — it makes us a better person, and more successful – personally and professionally! 

Building diverse teams that come together to achieve an organizational goal is not a cakewalk. Can you please share some anecdotes on your experience of implementing certain DEI programs?

AK: Now when I think back of the time we spent trying to convince some leaders to adopt ‘ Work-from-home ‘ (several years ago), there was some apprehension around our Professionals’ ability to be productive in a virtual environment. In today’s world, with the pandemic still raging, most organizations have moved to 100% virtual work; and found that people can be trusted to be as productive, and as efficient. 

Typically, a select member crew is part of Diversity Task Forces at organizations. Who, according to you, should comprise Diversity committees in companies?

AK: The Diversity Council at the organization level, must include leaders from the business & HR.  Business leaders need to stay invested in the DEI agenda, and take responsibility for communicating, role modelling and driving Inclusion goals within the organization.  

Many a time in a bid to stay inclusive the language or the communication sent out by managers tend to be ‘calling out’ rather than be ‘calling to’. How should managers be shaping up the DEI narrative in their respective teams?

AK: It is at the managerial level that most employees experience the organization’s culture.  Hence, first it is critical for managers to be sensitized around the Why and the How of Inclusion. They should also be evaluated on their Inclusion quotient, during their performance evaluation.  Managers should encourage open conversations around all aspects of diversity and inclusion; listen without judgment, check-in with each team member about their wellbeing and aspirations, model behaviour that minimizes micro-inequities, all of which dispels the perception of favouritism towards any one, or few team members. 

What do you think will it take for organizations to get to where they want to be, in their DEI journey?   

AK: In my mind, the answer to that is simple.  But for various reasons, many organizations seem to struggle with this.  If I were to distil it down to three things, it would be: 

  • Genuine commitment to fostering an Inclusive culture – where the tone at the top is unequivocal. Senior leaders need to walk the talk, be role models for Inclusive behaviour & champion the cause; 
  • DE&I awareness and sensitization training needs to be mandatory for all leaders (managers included); and
  • Build DE&I parameters into the score cards of leaders.  

Organizations that can crack the code on this, will surge ahead in every aspect — attracting top talent, building a strong brand, & enhanced profitability, creativity and innovation. 

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