Tapping the Untapped: Addressing diversity underrepresentation in India

Written by Athira Premarajan

In a country like India, where discussions on gender diversity take the centre stage, often forgotten are the other groups which also fall under the category of diversity population. While the phrase ‘diversity population’ does not guarantee inclusion even within the workplace scenario, the term too is often incompletely interpreted, associating it with only the gender strand. It is also the reason for the under representation of other diversity strands at the workplace.

HBR (Harvard Business Review) notes in one of its reports how ‘diverse candidates’ or ‘diversity hires’ are often judged for their differences rather than the talents, skills, or individuality they bring along. This create an “Us vs Them” scenario, which is not conducive for inclusive growth. India needs to look through an entirely new vista for repurposing the current flow of efforts pertaining to DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). It is time we accept that the underrepresentation of diverse candidates has more to do with the culture of an institution (organization).

Yes, women’s representation is a priority topic on the table today. But sensitization and awareness on other diversity strands in India today, including the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community, PwD (People with Disabilities), Veterans, etc. is most crucial, especially during the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) times we are going through. Their negligible representation in leadership positions is a significant marker of under representation.

Today, millennials benefit from the opportunity of working alongside three other generations of people, enabling each one to learn from the diverse experiences of the other. However, there is still a diversity void despite about 8% of India’s population (104 million) belonging to the LGBTQIA community, and 2.1% (80 million) in the PwD category, for instance.

Let’s look at some basic steps that can be taken to fill this gap:

  1. Starting from the Grassroot Level

Historically underrepresented groups are susceptible to unconscious or subconscious bias from the “normal” crowd. The societal construct in India from pre independent times was prone to systemic discrimination, the remnants of which are still prevalent even in the digitally empowered world. As a grassroot level intervention, the sensitization needs to start from educational institutions, where the learning of social perception and other concepts get seeded. Familiarising the young generation with the specific names of diversity strands, rather than clubbing them under the umbrella term of ‘diverse population’ will help to a large extent.

  • Enabling Accessibility

This pertains to both infrastructural as well cultural accessibility. Infrastructural provisions for the differently abled people have been in the list of the government and other institutions as part of nation-building fundamentals, like –

  • 4% job reservation provision in the government sector
  • Unique Disability IDs (UDID)
  • Transport accessibility initiatives
  • Skilling programs for the differently-abled, to quote a few.

Many allies, both corporate and the government, have opened doors to the previously discriminated group – the LGBTQIA Community by empowering them with the requisite skills, jobs, all respecting their constitutional rights. Kerala government laid the foundation for a historical movement in India pioneering the implementation of the Transgender Policy by employing transgender people in the state’s first Metro Service. Furthermore, Tamil Nadu became the first state in India to grant free sex-reassignment surgery. 

  • Translating DEI Strategies to a Sustainable Reality

Diversity adds little value in the absence of inclusion. The focus on increasing the representation of the marginalized sections should be sustained to help them thrive in their career progression. This helps keep the pipeline strong, enabling the right composition in an environment promoting equal participation. A Gartner report establishes that organizations capable of enabling sustainable DEI efforts achieve optimal results, including a 20% increase in organizational inclusion, a 5% increase in employee retention, and approximately a 3% increase in employee performance.

Overall, understanding that diversity is not just about the underrepresented groups but also about the larger team, enable the latter to become more inclusive and unbiased of the former. A thought to remember could be the celebration of diversity, rather than segregation of it.

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