The father was agitated. His son had the marks, had cleared the tests and had reported as requested on the company’s premises. The young man had adhered to the corporate dress code and donned the full-sleeved shirt and tie on the required days. Yet the organization had a problem with his son’s corporate etiquette and style.
The manager on the premises had even warned his son to shape up or ship out, or in this case shave up or ship out since offending the corporate etiquette seemed to be the little tuft of hair on his head—the classic kudumi, as they call it in the south. The act seemed blasphemous to the father and so the tussle began. And, as this particular corporate life story plays out, I wonder, what place inclusion in today’s corporate world?
Binding factor: Inclusivity must be 24x7
To be truly inclusive, organizations need to look at diversity holistically. Diversity is a rainbow coalition of several dimensions: age, gender, ethnicity, religious tolerances... Truly inclusive organizations are those cognizant of these myriad perspectives and sensitive to them.
If 8 March, the Women’s Day, is any indication of what’s on the organizational radar, gender seems to have a clear head start with newspaper pull-outs, panel discussions and organizational events. The front-runner sectors of information technology (IT), IT-enabled services and financial services were clear winners. But what is more heartening for me are the celebrations in traditional “old economy” organizations where the tender shoots of the Women’s Support Networks are emerging.
Business imperatives rather than affirmative action have provided the biggest impetus for these initiatives. It makes economic sense to tap into a wider pool—whether it is labour, markets or vendors. And so, shrewd business sense lies at the heart of successful customer, supplier and employee diversity. This rationale should underpin all inclusivity initiatives.
My favourite analogy of the key levers for a successful inclusivity programme is the Four-Leaf Clover: a strong role model, robust policies, capability building initiatives and finally an enabling culture.
Success stories among the minority are great role models. But more critical are leaders who walk the talk. Inclusivity has to be the CEO’s agenda. Visible monitoring by a CEO is essential. An industry veteran once said: “A leader should be seen to practise inclusivity at home and in society; else he or she is not walking the talk. Inclusivity must be 24x7.” Inclusivity is not a coat that you don when you come into office. It should straddle all aspects of life. Organizations take cues from every subtle action of the corner office. I acknowledge the CEO who saw candidate after candidate in a male-dominated industry and function, with the clear mandate that the search wouldn’t stop until a truly meritorious woman leader was identified.
There is need for strong policies and enabling infrastructure as well. Great research coming out of diverse forums shows the correlation between fostering inclusivity and workplace policies, provision of childcare, prevention of harassment, including its more ignored cousin “bullying” at the workplace, facilities for the differently abled and, most importantly, a performance evaluation system that neutralizes the subtle biases in the organization when policies such as parental leave or flexible work arrangements are utilized.
Capability building is equally critical. For inclusivity initiatives to be truly pervasive and breach the hard interior of the vast majority of organizations, sensitivity and skill training for both the managed and the managers is critical. A successful intervention is the “reverse mentoring” process, where a diversity group member is encouraged to mentor a senior executive, specifically on how to address minority concerns.
Finally, culture. It is important to create a culture where individual differences are acknowledged and valued and where, more importantly, the virtuous circle of productivity flourishes because people feel comfortable to be at a workplace which celebrates individuality.A successful CEO, who had embraced the diversity dimension of the visually challenged, highlighted that as he tried to assimilate the group into the organization, he learnt the importance of creating a critical mass of the minority.
Remember that diversity is just a statistic. It is inclusivity that is the mindset. And it is this mindset that organizations must embrace if they are to foster a workplace which is truly diverse in letter and spirit. As a wise lady once said, “You can build a ramp to get anyone into a building, but if the people inside the building don’t see the value of the individual and don’t want them there, then true inclusion does not happen.”
Hema Ravichandar is an independent human resources consultant, who is on the board of Titan Industries Ltd and Marico Ltd. She was formerly global head of HR at Infosys Technologies Ltd.
Write to Hema at firstname.lastname@example.org