Written by Bhavani Balasubramanian
While the pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works for many businesses, it has turned out to be a catalyst for interventions in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space.
Covid-19 has unveiled the potential to accelerate the pace of DEI with an increase in efforts headed by compassionate and decisive leadership, looking at diversity as a strategic capability. The current focus areas are sustaining and building organizational culture, nurturing belongingness, safeguarding mental wellness, and enhancing trust and transparency.
The remote working model put into action almost instantaneously since the coronavirus outbreak last year has been a welcome change in the workplace dynamics. The work from home has levelled the playing field for the marginalized talent groups. Some of those who were earlier excluded — Persons with Disabilities (PWD), career intentional groups residing in Tier II & III cities and also villages, homemakers, women on career breaks, LGBTQ+, people with limited mobility — all have a fresh hope of being in the active workforce now. Futuristic organizations have deployed accessible tools to accommodate PWDs with the use of inclusive applications such as text to speech, screen reading, speech recognition and so on to ensure seamless transition and orientation.
Growing Challenges for gender parity at the workplace
However, the flipside is the gnawing challenge for gender parity at the workplace. A recent global survey by Deloitte has found that 45% of women employees reported feeling overwhelmed that they should always be available from a work perspective, and 48% say that their physical wellness has taken a beating. A whopping 70% of women professionals feel that their career progress is hampered in current times. The study reveals some of the top reasons for women professionals to quit workspace include lack of work-life balance, poor organizational culture, lack of flexible work arrangements, and formal mentorship programs.
The lack of flexibility, learning programs, sponsorships, empathy, and inclusiveness are some of the factors that had come in the way of increasing women’s workforce participation in the Indian corporate landscape.
High growth organizations accelerated the progress in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion with interventions such as child care, family-friendly policies, mechanisms to fair performance ratings, making flexibility a norm, promoting mentorship and sponsorship, incorporating strict bias filters particularly in the promotions and successions. Such practices foster an environment of emotional security to promote gender parity at workplaces.
Back to the bigger question about the way forward– how does one sustain and prioritize DEI goals, even during extraordinary times as now?
The key to DEI is the culture of empathy and trust. In times of crisis, leadership goals must be re-prioritized to focus on people first, making it the foundation for DEI, factoring newer segments and unexplored sub-segments of diversity. A well-deployed DEI strategy will yield cost-effective and efficient manpower planning.
In the 2020 Working Mother and Avtar 100 Best Companies, 60% of organizations’ focus on D&I initiatives has either increased or has been sustained and nurtured, in the Covid 19 situation. Apart from extending support for effective flexible working, other initiatives that demonstrate leadership’s intent include communications around well-being, virtual team building activities and much more.
Diversity, respect, and inclusion are non-negotiable, and they need to form a part of an employee’s experience every day. Non- inclusive behavior in the workplace should be addressed — no matter where they occur and however small their impact might be. These are instances where employees see the effectiveness of a truly inclusive leader driving the organization forward in the DEI journey.
The humanization of workplaces has been a bonus. Amidst the pandemic, the focus is shifting on designing workplaces to be essentially human. Leaders should aim at creating clarity of purpose, aligning the company’s mission around it and also look at means to drive human connection, innovation, and creativity. The focus must continue to be on human potential as the most valuable asset.
From structures to capabilities and potential, from physical workplace to organization and culture, the Indian corporate landscape is evolving to grow and adapt the DEI agenda.