Doubling Down on Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace: Experts Speak

Geetika Sachdev
·6-min read

The concept of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) at workplaces has been around for decades now; but its implementation is still questionable, even in the biggest of corporates. With the Covid-19 pandemic changing the way we work, it has become even more imperative for employers to be equitable by respecting their employees’ unique needs, perspectives, and potential.

MAKERS India's online discussion during TechSparks 2020: Doubling down on diversity and inclusion in the workplace
MAKERS India's online discussion during TechSparks 2020: Doubling down on diversity and inclusion in the workplace

To discuss the pertinent issue of ‘Doubling down on diversity and inclusion in the workplace,’ MAKERS India hosted an online discussion during TechSparks 2020. The panel featured eminent speakers: Tina Vinod, Head - Diversity, Inclusion & Social Change at ThoughtWorks India; Anannya Parekh, Founder & CEO, Inner Goddess and the Big Sister Program; Sujith Kumar, AVP & HR Business Leader, Infosys Ltd; and Lianna Brinded, Head of Yahoo Finance UK and Global Lead of PACE employee Program, Verizon Media.

Defining Diversity and Inclusion

According to Tina, who started the panel discussion, a workplace is not just another physical space; it is an extension of our lives, where we gather connections, experiences, learnings, and failures.

“While the pandemic has altered our working, it doesn't take away the need to connect, collaborate, and engage as a community. In my opinion, diversity is a societal reality. Even if an organisation says they do not want to focus on inclusion and diversity, it is still there by default. Inclusion is an organisational capability, whether it is your HR systems, policies, equal opportunity initiatives, or the type of training. I feel inclusion is mostly driven top down,” she says, adding that the ‘culture of belonging’ is not often talked about.

Adding to her views, Lianna shared, “Studies have gone on to show that the more diverse and inclusive a company is, they show positive revenue results by over 20-30%. So, it’s not just a social imperative; it is a business imperative.”

Can diversity and inclusion go beyond tokenism?

Sujith believes that when it comes to diversity and inclusion, tokenism is hardly going to disappear, but the idea is to apply that principle through the journey. “Every March we celebrate Women’s Day and all of that, and then in October or November, we talk about National Coming Out Day, so anything which is very symbolic is there. It’s perfectly fine if tokenism is there just to start it, but then it has to move beyond,” he says.

At its outset, diversity and inclusion must include people from all classes, ethnicities and so on, but somewhere companies themselves create a divide without realising its implications.

Giving an example of her firm which focuses on financial literacy among women, Annanya says, “When we speak of financial literacy, that extends to financial independence too. We thought we needed to stop charging these underprivileged communities for sessions, because somewhere it meant we were creating a divide. Only certain people with extremely similar problems are going to attend that session, and that is not necessarily inclusive. That’s why we started a ‘Pay What You Want’ scheme, more based on a gift economy, and it has worked very well for the company.”

Is there a lack of ambition among women?

According to Lianna, women do not have a confidence problem, they just need to be enabled and empowered.

“Years and years ago, a lot of studies and books said women have a confidence problem, that women need to lean in more, be more ambitious; but it’s not that they are more ambitious or empowered in their work, passion or what they want to do. It’s the attitude towards them that is the problem, that’s what studies have gone on to show.

If women get up and speak up, say in a presentation, they say women are over confident; but in the case of men, they are considered authoritative and commanding. But I believe things are changing,” she says.

Tina, too, made a very important point about Impostor Syndrome being more prevalent amongst women. “We feel that our skills are inadequate,” she says, adding, “If we want representation and equity in the workplace, we need to make it a level playing field. Allyship becomes an important part in all this.”

Impact of COVID-19 on Diversity and Inclusion

Tina believes that there are some positive impacts felt with the nation-wide lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which demanded a majority of professionals to work from home.

“The work from anywhere concept will give the opportunity to tap into diverse talent. People with disabilities, homemakers, those from rural areas, LGBTQ communities, those who are unable to commute to work - all have an advantage,” she says.

However, she elaborated on the flipside too. “The way we look at work in the workplace is very different from the way we look at work from home. Domestic violence cases are rising; for many from the LGBTQ community, their home is not their safest place, and there are so many women facing challenges while working from home, so can we stick to the same schedules?” she says.

Adding to this, Sujith said that while ‘work from home’ is definitely a positive change, it needs to be navigated a little differently by women.

“We have the flexibility to work from anywhere, which was otherwise not there. This is particularly advantageous for women and the differently abled.

However, nothing has changed for men at home. That’s why it is better for women to offload some work, maybe to their domestic help. Currently, we are testing several policies right now. I feel post-Covid-19 policies will be more flexible, because it is a hybrid model,” he explains.

For Annanya, diversity and inclusion will manifest in positive ways when it is addressed in a sensitive manner.

“One of the things that helps people in a compromised situation is to navigate the power dynamic. Accepting that power dynamic exists is the first step, realising that you might be enabling it is the second; but then doing something about it is critical,” she says.

Wrapping up the discussion, Lianna – who has experience working with people from across the world – threw light on the intersectionality aspect. It is about listening and understanding the needs for each culture and region. What has been the most effective in my company and all business units, is striking that balance between how the organisational system can become more supportive, and what all can we do at an individual level, especially in a large organisation.” she concludes

(Edited by Athira Nair)

Watch more videos of MAKERS India roundtables at TechSparks 2020 here.

MAKERS India also launched it’s first report titled State of Women in Tech Entrepreneurship in India. The report offers first-of-its kind insights and trends that track the rise, opportunities and challenges for women entrepreneurs in India’s start-up ecosystem. Read and download the report from here.