OPINION: Creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace — Sustainability through inclusivity

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OPINION: Creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace — Sustainability through inclusivity
Representative image (BCCL)
In 2015, Krishnagar Women's College in West Bengal's Nadia district made headlines across the country for opening its doors to Manabi Bandopadhyay, its first transgender principal. This was a revolutionary movement, for it demonstrated the true meaning of inclusivity.
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In the tech industry, a recent TechGig survey indicated that 77% of tech firms go out of their way to retain LGBTQ+ developers. Another Economic Times article reported how during Pride Month, companies in India are increasingly expressing their support for the LGBTQ+ community. The same piece, however, said that many companies still remain silent about caste equity, highlighting the need to continuously work towards expanding the definition of what diversity truly means.
Studies by the University of Washington and Yale show that stereotypical notions shaped by unconscious biases affect 90-95% of people from early childhood. Little shifts, I believe, are as important as big steps. As an organisational psychologist and bestselling author, Adam Grant, says, "Changing your mind is a moment of growth."
This means that organisations can also grow to encompass new ideas and guide their employees to grow beyond their unconscious biases. However, let us start at the very beginning with a basic question.

What do Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) stand for?


A UK-based consultancy, Global Diversity Practice, explains diversity as: "In a nutshell, it’s about empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin."
It is important, however, to acknowledge that diversity has many complex layers and is defined by external and internal factors. In a safe workplace, there is no discrimination against anyone based on their external or internal identity. A safe workplace is also where everyone is treated with respect regardless of their job function or organisational hierarchy.

Why Diversity and Inclusion matter


Diversity and inclusion ensure that the idea pool is enriched with diverse perspectives. Inclusion also makes good business sense because when all employees feel a sense of belonging, their work quality and productivity increase. A recent Forbes article by management consultant David Michels says that more women in the workplace bring leadership capabilities, professionalism, self-motivation, resilience, networking and collaborative skills to the table.
When women occupy leadership positions, they also unfailingly mentor women who aspire to be leaders. Today when companies all over the world are in need of advanced digital skills, they are beginning to realise that only by being inclusive, gender-sensitive and expanding their search across various ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities will they be able to attract the best talent.
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How do we retain diversity?


During the pandemic, more women left the job market worldwide because of unrelenting domestic responsibilities and consequent burnout. Foreseeing this, many companies extended flexibility to caregivers who needed a little time and space to focus on their domestic responsibilities. It is not just important to hire more women to join the workstream but also to retain them.
Inclusivity must begin from the hiring process and percolate down to HR practices and managerial conduct. A leader must ensure that respect for diversity, intersectionality and inclusivity is reflected in the formal and informal workplace language, pay equity and work culture where conscious or unconscious biases don't show up to disrupt professional equations.
Leading by example is the best way to foster inclusion and respect regardless of ethnicity, gender, caste, religious affiliation, race or sexual orientation. Listening to employees and providing them with equal opportunities for growth and a safe space to talk about their issues is another way to show them that they matter.

Everybody wins in a diverse workplace


A 2020 report by McKinsey & Company titled “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters” highlights that over the past five years, the likelihood that diverse companies will out-earn their industry peers has grown. While analysing the importance of diversity and inclusion across 1000 companies from 15 countries, McKinsey also throws light on the importance of ‘social listening’—identifying and assessing what the internet or social media users say about a brand.
A 2017 white paper by Decision Intelligence platform Cloverpop went on to survey 600 business decisions by 200 business teams over a span of two years and found that diverse teams made better decisions up to 87 per cent of the time.
But can people with fundamental differences always work amicably? Yes, if a company has solid inclusion policies, everyone on board can row the boat together. When a workplace is teeming with diversity, there could be communication gaps based on linguistic differences and hearing or speaking difficulties. Too many opinions or conflicting ideas may also slow productivity, and subtle or overt discrimination against LGBTQ workers, socially backward employees, or women may create an unhealthy atmosphere.
This is where a company's commitment to go beyond tokenism is tested. A strong and clear company policy regarding code of conduct, compensation, and termination procedures can navigate these seemingly complex hurdles, as does diversity training and decisive leadership!
Documenting best practices and policies, a non-discrimination module in the annual employee training agenda, and having Employee Resource Groups (ERG) to encourage synergy and mentoring will also help in establishing a truly exemplary workspace.
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Creating a diverse workplace


According to a Deloitte University report, 83 per cent of millennials are actively engaged when they believe their organisation fosters an inclusive culture. So how should an organisation engage employees to foster this trust?
A Harvard Business Review article outlined six behaviours that can unlock innovation through strategies that generate confidence and trust nearly a decade ago. These range from ensuring that everyone is heard, making it safe for anyone to propose novel ideas, delegating decision-making authority, sharing credit for success, giving constructive and actionable feedback, and implementing feedback from the team. The piece also highlights the critical role of leaders in inspiring fresh insights and tapping into the "innovative potential" of their team members.
This is why some of the most innovative companies are also proudly diverse. In India, the idea of inclusion of diversity and inclusion may be at a nascent stage, but we are on the right path. As a truly diverse country, we know that we can only move forward when we do not leave anyone behind.
Gitanjali Singh is the Head of Strategy and Client Success at the Visionet BFSI
This column is part of a year-long (2022-23) campaign on the theme “ Only One Earth: Sustaining People, Planet and Prosperity” by Business Insider India’s Sustainability Insider .
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the author/interviewee do not necessarily reflect the views of Business Insider India. The article has been partly edited for length and clarity.

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