Avtar Group, India’s leading Diversity & Inclusion Solution firm, hosted its second edition of the facilitated learning session, D&I Reboot 2.0 on 25 June 2020. With a variety of activities and discussions, the session was hosted on a virtual platform. Facilitated by Dr Saundarya Rajesh, Founder – President of Avtar Group and one of India’s most respected diversity strategists, the two-and-a-half-hour web conclave saw the participation of business and HR leaders who belonged to senior leadership teams of some of the premier organisations of the country.
One of the key segments of the session was a panel discussion moderated by Dr Saundarya. The four eminent thought leaders who graced the panel were Mr Pavan Mocherla, Managing Director, BD- India/South Asia, Ms Pallavi Tyagi, Chief Human Resources Officer – India, Capgemini, Ms Kalyani Roy, Managing Director, Accenture, and Mr Sudhir Shenoy, CEO, Dow India, who shared varied experiences of the D&I practices in their respective organisations. Through discussions that threw light on various aspects of D&I practices, the panel and Dr Saundarya Rajesh addressed some of the inclusion challenges being faced by business leaders and senior leadership teams during this pandemic phase.
The participants, who predominantly were senior leaders representing large business conglomerates were welcomed individually by Dr Saundarya before the start of the session. Participants included representatives from Element 14, Fidelity, UST Global, Integra, BNY Mellon, Indegene, Unisys, Kimberly-Clark, Indigo Airlines Franklin Templeton, Capgemini, Mondelize, Accenture, BD India, Dow India, TVS, Cognizant, Cargill, Birla Soft, Akamai, Wipro, Mastercard, Tata Steel, Uber, MTX, and Boehringer Ingelheim.
Addressing the participants and panellists through in-depth learnings attained through her expertise, Dr Saundarya gave a comprehensive view of the necessity of a diverse and inclusive workplace. “A crisis is nothing but a distraction. There is a fantastic opportunity for culture building, right in the middle of distraction. As each one of us, practitioners of culture, diversity and inclusion, our job is to rescue human potential from distraction and help them achieve their fullest potentials”, stated Dr Saundarya.
While rowing through the pandemic-induced days, when almost all the business leaders across the world are seeking a solution to become people-inclusive and create a sense of belongingness within organisations, Dr Saundarya facilitated the session by providing varied approaches to implement and practice D&I through a 5-step framework – AHEAD – Assess, Humanise, Empathise, Affirm, and Dialogue. “This crisis that we are undergoing right now is an opportunity for us. With the right kind of framework, we are going to be able to unlock a lot of potential in each of our organisations. You are going to be able to create diverse and inclusive communities within your workplaces, with the help of AHEAD framework”, she added.
Further into the facilitated session, the participants were directed to break-out rooms for an interactive forum handled by five senior leads with expertise in D&I. The break-out room facilitators included Ms Bhavani Balasubramanian, Chief Strategist – Diversity Evaluation at Avtar and Former Head – D&I, Deloitte, Mr Kannan Hariharan, Chief Strategist – Culture And Belongingness at Avtar and former Senior Director Human Resources, PepsiCo, Mr Karthik Ekambaram, Senior Vice President, Consulting Services at Avtar, Ms Nisha Chandran, Divisional Manager – Centre of Excellence at Avtar, and Ms Usha Pillai, Vice President, Operations at Avtar. The break-out sessions served as an open platform for all participants to share their opinions, best practices and culture within their respective organisations, amidst the COVID times.
In each of the break-out room, one aspect of the AHEAD framework was thrown open for discussion, and every session had a story setting from the book ‘The 99 Days Diversity Challenge‘, authored by Dr Saundarya. The break-out sessions were followed by the Reboot 2.O plenary session post which the panel discussions began. The various questions posed pulled a thread each of the different angles of diversity.
To the query posed to Mr Pavan Mocherla on the impact of the crisis on belongingness, he replied, “One large-heartedness I am seeing in these times of crisis is that people started recognising small acts and deeds. We had an associate go and help a COVID positive patient in surgery along with the surgeon. And he was celebrated across my organisation as a superman. So, I would say the sense of belongingness is at the highest, I have seen in my 29 years of work, just because of this crisis”.
Similarly, to bring to light the best practices of Capgemini in ensuring high motivation level in people, Ms Pallavi Tyagi shared her experiences as an HR person who has been an integral part in initiating different programs in her organisation. “What we have done to keep the motivation, morale, and the mental wellbeing of our employees is that we have started a stream, especially as part of a diversity and inclusion (D&I) effort called the Happiness and Wellbeing. Of course, the moment we moved to work from home, we had our employee assistance program, but we conducted extensive webinars on how to cope with work from home and the COVID-19 situation. We had close to about 10000+ participants for this. As part of the Happiness and Wellbeing program, we are looking at counselling sessions, value sessions, and also some bit of fun activities”.
The next question was to Ms Kalyani Roy on the novel efforts of Accenture, an established D&I champion and a Working Mother & Avtar Top 10 Best Company for Women in India. To understand the initiatives of ‘Vaahini’, a venture by Accenture (and of which Avtar has been a partner of), Dr Saundarya enquired about the initiatives at Accenture in enabling flexibility to the working mothers. Throwing light on a complete list of practices and events from leadership programs to maternity emblements, Kalyani explained, “Work from home has not been new to us in any way. In fact, we have done this for more than ten years pretty much at scale. Specifically, it was done to help mothers return to work. But as we have gone into this COVID situation, we are encouraging mothers to put in personal time off to spend time on their family and children. One of the things we have been doing as we went into March-April- May, essentially during the school holiday time, we conducted hobby classes, which was a daily one-hour session on different topics so that people could bring in their children and keep their children engaged while they could do their own work. We had about 30000 employees who have availed of this”. Kalyani also added that “As a leadership team, we also should make sure that we are setting the right example for our team at a personal level. Our focus from the beginning was making sure that the people are taking their time to be successful both at work and at home and that they don’t really go into overdrive just because their laptop is always available”.
The discussion further continued with Mr Sudhir Shenoy sharing Dow India’s contributions to the community. To a question on how to ensure community connect is still intact during COVID, Mr Shenoy replied, “I have always wanted to have an organisational culture where caring for others or giving back is an integral part of who we are. The way I look at ERGs (Employee Research Group), I almost encourage them to be unions within the organisation to play the very active and constructive critic within the organisation. And to my delight, it is these ERGs, that are rising to the occasion during this pandemic. There were employees who were voluntarily willing to go out and involve in activities to help transgender, disabilities, migrant labourers, etc.”.
With a short session on the various re-energising tips shared by each of the panellists, the floor was thrown up for questions and was flooded with queries from the active participants.