Moving forward with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Workplaces

How do you make an impression when no one’s paying attention? You stand up for something and in some cases, you kneel. Nike kneeled with Colin Kaepernick, and Gillette took a stand against toxic masculinity, they did this not because it was the right thing to do, but also because it just made sense for the bottom line. Indian companies and workplaces have been moving towards Diversity, Equity and Inclusion but is it enough?

In Today's Edition:

  • What exactly is DEI?
  • How to be a better Ally?
  • 1:1 with Bianca D' Costa on everything DE&I

What exactly is DEI?

Lily Zheng’s DEI Deconstructed tries to define the terms:

Equity is the measured experience of individual, interpersonal, and organizational success and well-being across all stakeholder populations and the absence of discrimination, mistreatment, or abuse for all. Equity is achieved by eliminating structural barriers resulting from historical and present-day inequities and meeting individuals', groups', and organizations' unique needs.

Diversity is the workforce composition that all stakeholders, especially underserved and marginalized populations, trust to be representative and accountable. Diversity is achieved through actions that explicitly counter present-day and historical inequities and meet the unique needs of all populations.

Inclusion is the achievement of an environment that all stakeholders, especially underserved and marginalized populations, trust to be respectful and accountable. Inclusion is achieved through actions that explicitly counter present-day and historical inequities and meet the unique needs of all populations.

DEl definitions should be centered on outcomes, not intentions. Aspirational outcomes rooted in intentions are too abstract and vague for shared interpretation or, more importantly, consistent execution to achieve outcomes.

Bianca D’ Costa, Principal: of Diversity and Inclusion at Serein, mentions that “you will have to take the extra steps and put in the time to figure out how you're going to do it, to just say that we want to have diverse candidates is great, but if you're not going to change the way you look at your candidate pool, the way you're looking at your process, nothing is going to change. And then once you hire then how inclusive is your policies and your culture? Because then there's no point in hiring a diverse candidate because if it's not inclusive, they're definitely going to leave. So if you're going to hire them, make sure that your retention plan is also strong enough because otherwise, it's the diversity that is different but does not make a difference.”

Priyansha Mishra, Founder of On Her Way says, “I think there needs to be a conscious effort to also make sure that you see diversity and inclusion. There needs to be inclusion with that diversity that comes in, if there is no inclusion, there is no employee well-being and retention.”

Priyansha also mentions that “I keep talking about this in every conversation around DEI and I feel there is a lot that happens around hiring actively because there are set quotas that come from leadership and everybody's doing that to tick the boxes. But very few are actually working on the other part of the term- diversity and inclusion. Because even when you're hiring, and you're not making sure the environment is inclusive, you're going to lose that person very quickly. For Example -  A male manager can get an all-women team, and keep hiring women. In the next two to three months, almost all of them left, because there was that sense that he was chasing that metric. But once they were on board, he was not able to handle that team or lead that team very well. He would crack sexist jokes, right that he would not be cognizant of right. So those kinds of things would still keep happening because he did not know how to be inclusive after he has hired the diversity. I feel the inclusivity part often gets missed out. And I think that's where really people need to work more actively on.”

How to be a good ALLY? 

Organizations all across the world still struggle with representation on a variety of dimensions, including race and gender as well as age, class, sexual orientation, and religion. Being an effective change-maker does not require you to be an expert in your field. All you need is a basic understanding before you can start learning more

We spend ⅓ of our days at work, and the least minority and marginalised communities can expect is allyship. Allyship does not end at women, it’s for queer folks, it’s for the disabled and minorities.

Inclusive and informed environment - Punita Sobti, Project Manager at Leapskills says, “The biggest issue when it comes to DEI is the lack of information about it and it is due to various issues like generational gaps, values, exposure to different environments etc. A workplace is a place where a person should be respected, regardless of who they are, or how they identify as. It is nobody's business but their own and respect should be a non-negotiable. In a workplace it's important you explain the terminologies and concepts and make it as simple as possible because people think they know the community but they don't” 

A crucial first step in a time when many businesses claim they're attempting to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce is to provide an environment where employees can voice concerns without worrying about facing consequences. Addressing concerns will not only contribute to a more welcoming workplace but will also lessen potential problems and enable the company to hire a more diverse workforce.

Give space, and respect boundaries - Sexuality and gender issues have always been taboo subjects, particularly in the workplace. Even when someone comes out to you as their Manager or HR, Make sure you don't accidentally out employees or cause them to feel uncomfortable with your enthusiasm for supporting queer and trans individuals. If someone has told you anything about their identity, don't reveal it until they specifically want it. Discussing private lives may be frequent among coworkers who afterwards become friends, and refrain from asking them specific questions or make general inquiries.

Pronouns - Lily Zheng says that pronouns should be communicated in a clear, straightforward, and casual way — in the same way, you’d share what region or city you live in. In-person, share them with your basic intro: “Hey! My name is Lily Zheng. I use they/them pronouns, and I’m a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist living on Muwekma Ohlone land in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

If you don’t have the chance for a formal introduction, you can shorten it further. “Hey! I’m Lily, they/them pronouns. You?”

Online and in email signatures, you can include your pronouns, typically in the format of “X/X” or “X/X/X” (e.g. “she/her” or “she/her/hers”), somewhere easy to read.

Read more here: 

Policy changes - If you’re in a position of power, take the time to educate yourself and push for inclusive facilities. If you're not, then let everyone know how you feel so that they know they're not the only ones standing up for it. Policy changes - gender-neutral menstrual leaves, gender-neutral parental leaves, gender-neutral washrooms, gender-neutral language in communications, insurance for live-in and queer couples and much more.

Be open to changes - “The corporate buzzword - Growth Mindset, is super important. A growth mindset is an idea that everyone can continue to learn and grow, regardless of age or experience. Companies should look for ways to facilitate learning between people of all ages and to encourage a mindset of learning and growth. Someone with 24 years of experience comes with more learnings, but I come with adaption to recency and more absorption of information and trends. So, definitely learning exchange that can happen here and I think that probably companies should look at how they can facilitate that in a respectful manner. You know, have that inculcated in both the individuals' minds that there is an opportunity to learn from each other no matter the age, there is definitely value I bring, and there's definitely value you bring. So, there is a way to partner and learn.” says Priyansha Mishra, founder of On her way.

Whistleblowers at the workplace - DEI strategist, Lily Zheng recommends that these DEI whistleblowers should be both thanked and protected. They believe that these whistleblowers should be rewarded for providing an opportunity for an organization to improve its practices.

Zheng suggests that if each DEI issue is addressed as it occurs, then serious harm is likely averted. “But when leaders brush off these issues, or if they haven’t created a psychologically safe environment in their workplace where people feel empowered to share negative feedback, these incidents can pile up with no release — like shaking a can of soda—all without leaders being aware of the bottled-up pressure,” they write.

Every week, we schedule our weekly 1:1 with our readers. Want to be featured in an upcoming edition? Reply to this email to introduce yourself.

This week we’re in conversation with Bianca D’costa, Principal: Diversity and Inclusion at Serein.inabout everything DE&I

Bianca starts with how Serein noticed that data was missing in Global south. “I'm sure that a lot of times when you look at data on diversity and inclusion, you will notice that it exists in the west, or in Europe. There's not a lot of data that looks at the Global South. And especially in India, we don't have a lot of data available. This is why sometimes when you will look to apply strategies or policies that have come up in, say, the US or Canada or in Europe and you try to apply it in India or any other say Asian country, it doesn't always work because the data is very different here. So that's one of the things that we wanted to build the data so that you can build your policies and build your initiatives better”

We've often seen organizations intent to get diversity and inclusion in place, but we do not see an impact happening through it. What do you think is missing?

Sometimes companies I wouldn't say get it wrong, but it doesn't have the impact that they wanted to have. Firstly, We need to find out where the organization is on their inclusion journey - how open is the organization? For example -  you are a startup, but you might still have an audience or you have a team that is open to having this conversation. They might be a few years or a few steps ahead, where you can just start out on having deeper conversations or inclusion and having better say policies. On the other hand, you might have an organization that has been around for 15 years, but it's still very far away from having this conversation. 

So a lot of times companies go in with initiatives without doing a study as to if this is going to be impactful or not. It is important to know where you are in your journey as a company before you move on. Sometimes the policy might not work because people might not even understand why it exists, so they're never going to use it. It might be an amazing policy where you're saying that I'm an equal opportunity employer,  I'm open to people from the LGBTQ community, I'm open to people from the physically disabled community. But then when you look at the workplace or you look at the culture and organization, nobody's open to talking about this so that policy does exist in isolation, and it ends there.

So it's just important to know where you are in your journey. The easiest way to do that is to do a study of the organization, which is something that we do and it is called a diversity index. You can act based on the data and the numbers then. 

How do you think we move forward after this with gender sensitization in workplaces?

Female labor force participation in India has been dropping increasingly, although growth-wise as a country, we are doing well. But female labor force participation is decreasing and that is an anomaly because it is not usual for that to happen and in India, that is actually the reality.

Before Gender sensitisation, you need to start with how safe is the organization to even have women seen in the workplace. Or how safe is it to have people from the LGBTQ in the workplace? When I talk about safety, I'm also talking about the location where your offices are right now. This includes considering the safety of the area, the economic feasibility of the location, and the ability of all employees to access the workplace.

It is then important to have policies and sensitization programs in place to ensure that everyone is held to the same standards. Have uncomfortable conversations that challenge your values and beliefs. But after all the workshops are done, Do you walk the talk? It's going to be difficult, but that is the next step that you have to do. Continuously keep monitoring whether you holding everyone accountable to the same standards. 

Do you think returning to the office is one of the major challenges that people will face when it comes to inclusion and seeing everybody with an equitable lens?

There are two types of people

  •  For a lot of people, working from home is a necessity, Especially, if you're a primary caregiver, whether it is children or seniors. Additionally, persons with disabilities especially those that have either a physical disability or even a cognitive disability, are finding it easier to do a full day shift when they work from home. 
  •  For many people, working from home was a very lonely experience. Their work circle or the people that they work with is their only social connection, so they prefer to come to work. 

So there is a challenge in making this decision. Organisations have to decide what works for them and their people. Organizations are allowing people to make the decision for themselves, they have the option to come to work twice a week, as long as they meet business targets.

We see DEI biases in hiring, salary negotiations, promotions and so on. How do you think this can be noticed and improved?

So, we did a study with an organization of recruitment, promotion and retention programs and processes, and the study revealed a lot of great things about the organization they also learned about the processes that exist worldwide. There's a very interesting statistic about the fact that ‘if you have one female candidate in your entire pool of candidates, she's definitely not going to get hired.’

  • It starts with diversifying your pool your candidate pool and opening up the different channels where you are seeking to look for people who want you want to apply. 
  • JDs usually have a very gendered and ableist language - like ambitious, dynamic etc. There are a lot of free tools on the Internet to check for gendered language (Like Gender Decoder, Textio etc)
    • Avoid including words in your titles like "hacker," "rockstar," "superhero," "guru," and "ninja," and use neutral, descriptive titles like "engineer," "project manager," or "developer."
    • Avoid using superlatives - Women who are more collaborative than competitive may be turned off by the overuse of superlatives like "expert," "outstanding," and "world-class."
    • Have a clear list of “Must haves” and “Nice to have” and be as descriptive as possible. We saw in an organization that a lot of people have come in through referrals, but not through the JDS that they had put out and the reason for that was that the JDs were not clear about what exactly the job was. 
  • Make sure you have diversity in hiring panels at all levels. It is seen If there aren't any female members that are part of the hiring panel, then often women do not negotiate. They will not negotiate their salary so they lose out on that. 

With the intention of hiring a more diverse candidate pool and having a more diverse candidate pool, We need to realize the power that we are coming with and we need to move an extra step. What is that extra step that we can take?

The Boston Symphony Orchestra experimented with blind auditions. When we talk about blind CVs, hiding someone’s name is not enough, we can still get to know their gender, financial background, class, caste etc through other things like their interests and hobbies. If someone has horse riding or golfing as their hobby, it clearly shows how they grew up.

Also, It is important to ensure that questions asked to potential hires are appropriate and non-patronizing and that the same questions are asked to all candidates regardless of background or experience. This will help to ensure that everyone is judged on merit rather than any other human factors that could lead to unconscious bias.

How is DE&I different in India from the west?

People do not like to talk about caste. We do believe that it doesn't exist, but it does. And since we're seeing a lot of the cases happening around caste in the US it's important to start talking about it in a country that has the most. It's also important to talk about the intersectionality of that. So, these are the harder conversations to start having and they aren't going to be easy because you will get a lot of backlash from people but it is important for us to go deeper into our diversity and equity inclusion initiatives. Otherwise, it's just meant to stay surface level and it will not be as impactful as we want. 

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