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Diversity Is A Long Road, And India Inc. Is Leading The Way!

Gayathri Ramamurthy

This article was originally published in Human Capital and has been reproduced here with permission.

As workplaces become populated with younger people and millennials, fed on newer and broader values of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), there is a distinct change on corporate campuses.

A “First Day of Period” leave for female employees has got corporate India talking. Culture Machine, a Mumbai-based media company, instituted the leave as a company policy recognizing the physical discomfort faced by women.

India Inc. is changing. As workplaces become populated with younger people and millennials, fed on newer and broader values of diversity and inclusion (D&I), there is a distinct change on corporate campuses. But truth be told, the industry got into action mode on D&I long before most other industries or even before the entry of millennials.

Successful companies do things differently

Forward-looking companies identify natural differences among their people, understand the requirements of each group, and inject a culture that brings out the best in them. Of course, there may be a business interest there. Studies show a diverse workplace makes good business sense, increases a company’s bottom line, builds a better work culture, and more.

Consider this: A World Bank survey says $32 billion is wasted each year as a result of LGBT+ discrimination in India. An ILO study puts the cost of overall social exclusion of people with disabilities between 3–7 percent of a nation’s GDP. A McKinsey study said a 10 percent rise in women employees will add $700 billion to India’s GDP by 2025.

While this may be true, let’s not cultivate the notion that companies are promoting D&I based on the principle of “What’s in it for me.” In fact, far from it! There’s a strong culture of D&I in corporate India because organisations know it to be right. Else, what would account for the many ground-breaking initiatives the industry has taken to address this?

While diversity is rightly held up as a key differentiator in organisations, it’s the inclusive practices that make a real difference at the workplace. When we talk of diversity and inclusion, I am addressing three areas that attract attention because of targeted policies: LGBT+ people, women employees and persons with disabilities.

Women’s equality – the essence of diversity

A Nasscom study says women constitute more than 50 percent of employees at the entry level in the IT industry. But their progress, and numbers, fall drastically because of the need to balance work and home. For example, a Gender Balance India Survey claims over half of women employees quit after giving birth.

At a time of continuous technological and other workplace changes, it’s critical to help build a continuous workplace connect for women during their long absence from work. The good sign is that several companies are doing this successfully.

PayPal’s ‘Recharge’ program is a ‘back to work initiative’ for women, focusing on building skills in women technologists to pursue careers returning after long breaks. Vodafone’s ‘ReConnect’ welcomes back women who have been away from work for as long as several years, and who wish to return but face problems in making the professional connections or refreshing the required skills.

Capgemini runs similar programs. Our fareWelcome initiative assists in transitioning during office to maternity leave, help stay connected with the organization and colleagues, and ease ‘back to work’ after the gap. It provides employees an opportunity to constantly upskill their technical knowledge in this ever-changing world of technology. Similarly, CAPtivate is Capgemini’s Career Comeback initiative to support women professionals to address their experience gap and provide them a route to get back into the workplace.

Per McKinsey, women make up 37 percent at mid-management level and only 26 percent in senior management. It’s imperative to address and fill this gap to prepare women for future leadership roles. Capgemini’s Power Ahead program is an opportunity for select senior women employees to interact with top industry leaders and inculcate valuable leadership lessons.

The result? Women’s overall representation at Capgemini has increased by 2 percent since 2017, and there has been a 7 percent rise in women’s promotions. Significantly, what the program has done is create a mindset shift, wherein identified women leaders recognize their own potential to grow, to lead, and to chart a wholesome career path for themselves.

PWD inclusion – it’s about a mindset change

“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible,” said Stella Young, an Australian comedian, journalist and disability rights activist.

It sums up the condition of PWDs everywhere. Despite proven abilities, PWDs have long faced discrimination at the workplace. With over a billion people worldwide with disabilities and 40–50 million in India, PWDs represent a large pool with employable talents and skills. But things are changing, and yet again India Inc. has taken the lead.

For example, IBM Research-India has created “Spoken Web,” a voice-enabled technology to complement the Internet and help people with impairments to access information and perform business transactions. The company’s Human Ability and Accessibility Center in India initiative is to use technology to make the workplace more manageable for people with all forms of disabilities – sensory and physical.

In fact, Titan Industries pioneered the use of sign language at the workplace way back in the 1980s to accommodate people with speech and hearing disabilities. The practice has caught on well. Today, several industries such as hospitality have dedicated policies to enlist PWDs, which has greatly pushed up people’s confidence levels and the need for “positive discrimination” to bring in equality.

Also, where physical infrastructure is an inhibitor to accommodate PWDs, many companies have embraced the concept of “universal design,” which is based on designing products and infrastructure for use by everyone irrespective of age or ability. Capgemini has been providing, and is committed to, accessible workplace solutions for ensuring that the employee community with disabilities thrives fully and equally.

It’s true a lot still needs to be done in the area of PWD assimilation at the workplace. But the tide is turning, especially with strict government legislations outlining the treatment and assimilation of PWDs at the workplace. I am proud that the corporate world has done a fair bit of work here.

LGBT+ rights – a question of Pride

When Godrej Culture Lab showed Ek Madhavbaug, a play about a mother reading her gay son’s diary, many mothers claimed it struck an emotional chord with them and made them want to embrace their own sons. Just like the play, Godrej Culture Lab – an initiative of the Godrej group of companies – has played a powerful role in changing mindsets about LGBT+ people. As an experimental space that picks up social currents ahead of time, the hub is worthy of emulation across.

A strong employee connect goes a long way in addressing LGBT+ discrimination. Microsoft’s GLEAM is the company’s people resource group, where members connect via events like the ‘Ignite’ talks, network with LGBT+ groups, raise funds, interact with community leaders on gender and sexuality, and host sports and culture activities.

In many companies, the formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and same-sex partner benefits have instilled tremendous confidence and become a game-changer in the LGBT+ journey. The coverage of gender reconstruction surgery under corporate medical insurance is a case in point. India Inc. has played a critical role in making LGBT+ groups a part of the mainstream workplace culture.

Capgemini’s LGBT+ network OUTfront does all this, and more! On September 6, the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to decriminalize all forms of sexual behavior among consenting adults, we renewed our commitment to bring together diverse viewpoints to build an equal world. Activities included publicizing the 377 judgement on the intranet; organizing panel discussions with LGBT+ members and amplifying LGBT+ voices through a podcast; enacting a skit to highlight discrimination against LGBT+ colleagues; and holding a pride march in our campus.

D&I is more than an industry punchline

From frugal medical insurance to today covering gender reconstruction surgeries, from aversion to maternity leaves to granting leaves for “First Day of Period,” and from cold shouldering PWDs to having regular audits on their progress, the journey towards an equitable workplace has been tough, but worth it.

When companies create an inclusive environment, they aren’t merely strengthening their reputation and their brand. In a world of acute competition, that’s the need of the hour. And in terms of fairness, it’s simply the right thing to do! Indeed, India Inc. is leading the way.