Embracing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in India

Vaishnavi Tekumalla

- April 21, 2019

A Zambian, a Kenyan, a Moroccan, a Ghanaian, a Malagasy, an Indian and a Slovak walked into a cafeteria. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but this was what our lunch table often looked like at African Leadership Academy. Every meaningful conversation about diversity takes me back to this special place where I had the opportunity to work for four years. Located in Johannesburg, South Africa, African Leadership Academy (ALA) is an incredibly diverse organization with staff from over 25 countries and students from over 45 African nations.

With an ambitious mission to develop the next generation of African leaders, ALA is a remarkable organization in many ways. But what makes it truly special is how the diverse mix of talented teachers, staff and students who populate its campus embrace each other’s diversity. When I joined, I had waltzed into a cultural melting pot unlike any other I have ever come across and I became part of this open-minded group of people with differences in every possible aspect. With people from so many different backgrounds and cultures, one would assume that cooperation would be challenging. Yet, what I witnessed at ALA was an environment in which people who had little in common set aside their differences and came together because they were bound by the same core values, a superseding common purpose and a strong sense of community.

Over time, I came to understand that this environment had come about because of thoughtful and deliberate practices established to embrace diversity by design. From the beginning, it is made explicitly clear that diversity is one of ALA’s core values. Every student at ALA is part of an advisory family which comprises of five students, one from every region of the continent and two adults from faculty and staff (remember the group that walked into the cafeteria?). The group attends assembly together, meets for lunch weekly and participates in various events and activities together over two years. Students are deliberately paired with roommates from different parts of the continent. At Assembly, the community stands up for every national day in that week as all the members of that nation go up on stage to sing their nation’s anthem with pride. Every major religious festival is celebrated with pomp, including, much to my surprise, Diwali. For my first Diwali in Johannesburg, I helped my Nigerian and Zimbabwean friends wear sarees and worked with Mauritian students on a Rangoli before sharing a home-cooked Indian meal with them – one they had cooked for me! All these practices bring about remarkable effects. They help people understand and celebrate each other’s differences, gradually shed their preconceived notions, build respect for each other, bond and collaborate towards a common goal. Driven by a common mission and vision, we felt a strong sense of community and belonging. In such a setting where open-mindedness is the norm, one feels included and often pays it forward.

I attended one advisory family session in which we explored the difference between acceptance and tolerance. I was in a room with 16-19 year-old students who were spending two hours understanding these concepts on a meta-level, thinking about how to work with diverse people – an exercise that is sure to leave them better prepared to create a more positive working environment throughout life. When diversity is embraced wholeheartedly in this manner, the impact is evident. With diversity of thought, perspective, gender (a whopping 50% at all levels) and nationality among others, ALA has been highly successful in its work towards its mission.

When I came across Serein, I had just returned to India and was delighted to learn about their work in Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). I called Ishani and made an appointment to meet her and Chryslynn immediately and spoke about my experience at ALA. We connected instantly. A few months later when they proposed writing an inclusion handbook for India, I was interested to explore the current scenario in the Indian workplace. Our workforce in India is incredibly diverse – in terms of region, religion, language, work experience, and even our preference for food. But can we say that we host a genuinely inclusive work environment in which people feel respected for their differences because of their diverse perspectives and backgrounds?

As I set out to research and explore this with Serein, I found that the challenges are many. But gone are the days when D&I was delegated to HR and conducted as a checkbox activity with no impact. Organizations in India understand the impact of D&I and are genuinely looking to create, as well as sustain D&I to create value. Yet many do not know how or where to begin. Others battle with long-standing challenges such as unconscious bias which are not yet well-known or accepted concepts in the workplace.

At ALA, the positive work environment came from having a strong culture, driven by the founders and leaders, to be open-minded, accepting and tolerant of others. This culture was developed in keeping with their core values through deliberate design. Drawing on my experience of having worked in highly diverse settings in India, Mauritius, USA and South Africa, I was excited to explore how organizations in India could design and implement strong inclusion practices. The inclusion handbook that follows, shares strategies in recruitment and selection, work culture and career development. These strategies aim to eliminate bias by design, build a community that embraces diversity and make every member of the organization feel included.

With their rich experience working in this field, Serein shared with me practices that are already proven in the Indian setting. These practices are featured throughout the paper to showcase how organizations are focusing on building inclusive workplaces. As I went about my research, I clarified some commonly misunderstood concepts in D&I, which are included in this report as ‘Diversity Principles’. You’ll see these boxes scattered throughout the paper with lighthouses – helping you home in on them quickly.

It is time for us in India to start thinking about D&I more broadly – to accept or tolerate differences even if we do not see eye-to-eye, embrace these differences and build on common values towards common goals.  I believe it is possible for our work environments to resemble the concordant microcosm I experienced in Africa, if we make a conscious attempt. I hope you find these strategies useful, easy to implement and impactful.

The inclusion handbook is available here:

About the Author

Vaishnavi Tekumalla is currently HR Business Partner and Head of HR Communications India at Continental AG. She has 10 years international HR experience in the technology and education sectors, working with highly diverse teams in South Africa, USA, Mauritius and India. Previously a software engineer, Vaishnavi is excited about bringing a data-driven and analytical approach to HR decision-making. Vaishnavi holds an M.S. Degree in Organizational Behaviour, Systems and Analytics from New York University. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion.

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Abhishek Ghattamaneni

Head - Financial Strategies

Abhishek is a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience in finance and corporate governance. With over 15 years of expertise as a qualified Company Secretary, he has made significant contributions to the finance departments of companies within the real estate and startup sectors.
Having worked extensively with organisations operating across multiple countries, Abhishek brings a deep understanding of international taxation to the table. Notably, he achieved an impressive 42nd rank in 12th grade under the AP Education Board, demonstrating a strong academic foundation to complement his professional achievements.

Rhea D’Silva


Rhea is the aesthetic and creative eye behind Serein’s marketing and sales collateral. She manages website content and social media content calendar. She works closely with Serein’s content experts to design catchy invites, toolkits, and company culture reports.

Rhea creates animated content for Serein’s learning platform. She is focused on understanding the user’s need for engagement and learning to create impactful content. 

Rhea holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai where she majored in advertising.

Dr. Ishani Roy

Founder and CEO

Ishani founded Serein to provide a data and research-based approach to solving DEI challenges at the workplace. She advises company leaders, startup founders, and venture capital firms on industry best practices to increase diversity and design a DEI roadmap.

Ishani is a recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award 2023 for the global impact of her work in the DEI space.

Before founding Serein, Ishani was a scientist at GE Research working in the Aerospace Lab. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Brown University on developing mathematical models to solve Astrophysics problems. She did her Post-doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and St. Thomas Hospital in Biomathematics.

Chryslynn D’Costa

Co-founder and CPO |

Chryslynn leads the product development of Serein’s DEI SaaS tool. She designs learning content and strategic insights for companies to measure their DEI growth, and achieve bias-free recruitment and psychological safety.

Chryslynn is a regular columnist with publications like ‘LiveMint’ and ‘The Hindu’ where she writes about unconscious bias, prevention of sexual harassment, and company culture.

Before Serein, she was a Gandhi Fellow working in rural Rajasthan to address educational leadership and gender equity in government schools. She graduated from Azim Premji University in Bangalore with a Master’s in Education where she specialised in gender and sexuality education.

Bianca D’Costa

Head of PoSH: India, Global

Bianca leads the compliance partnerships and workshops on anti-sexual harassment, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. She has 100+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace.

Bianca designs gamified learning modules for a unique and impactful learner experience on topics like gender inclusion, PwD inclusion, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and regional inclusion among others. 

Before Serein, Bianca worked in hospitality for 5 years with Emirates Airlines. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai. She is presently pursuing a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality in Global Politics from SOAS University of London.

Aparna Pandurangan

Head of Operations

Aparna is leading the finance and operations at Serein. She has also been responsible for Serein’s online platform, customer management, and marketing.

She works closely with Serein’s 500+ long-term partners to ensure they are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law. Aparna is a workshop facilitator on topics like the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace in languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.

Aparna Pandurangan holds a degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Anna University, Chennai. 

Faakirah Irfan

Head of Legal

Faakirah is a legal professional and expert facilitator on topics like anti-sexual harassment, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. Faakirah has conducted 100+ training sessions on the prevention of sexual harassment for employees and internal committee members.

She has 150+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace. Her legal research at Serein includes policy analysis, human rights, women’s rights, and document drafting.

Faakirah is an experienced legal professional. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in law with a focus on women’s rights and policy analysis from the University of Kashmir. She holds a Master of Law degree specializing in alternative dispute resolution from O.P Jindal School of Law.

Dr. Ruchika Sharma

Guest Consultant: Gender

Ruchika assists with research and facilitation of sessions on domestic violence, sexual harassment, employee well-being, and women’s leadership. She is a feature writer for Serein’s blogs where she writes about gender, women’s history, domestic violence, and sexual harassment awareness in the workplace.

Ruchika is a published author with books like ‘Concubinage, Race and Law in Early Colonial Bengal: Bequeathing Intimacy, Servicing the Empire’ published by Routledge, Taylor, and Francis publications. She has been teaching History at the University of Delhi for over a decade. She has a Ph.D. in History from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Arathi Kannan

Head of DEI: India, Global

Arathi leads the design and execution of DEI measurement tools for global partners. These include Serein’s Diversity Index, the scope of unconscious bias in recruitment and promotions, and the scope of unconscious bias in external messaging. 

She has also designed a standardized tool to review company policies and products through an inclusion lens. Arathi leads workshops on inclusion, unconscious bias, domestic violence, mental health, and well-being. 

Arathi is a published researcher with Master’s degrees in Applied Psychology and Criminology from Bond University, Australia. Her experience includes working with people from different backgrounds, including refugee groups.

Thejaswini CA

LMS Platform Associate

Thejaswini is responsible for the operations and maintenance of Serein’s in-house e-learning platform. She assists customers to deliver learning content and assess employee engagement through Serein’s tracking system. 

Thejaswini is also engaged with finance and other operations to ensure Serein’s 500+ long-term partners are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law.

Thejaswini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Application from Field Marshal KM Cariappa College, Kodagu.

Bhavini Pant

Safety and PoSH expert

Bhavini serves as a PoSH external member for 30+ companies in industries like education, healthcare, IT, Pharma, and more. She has 70+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace and supporting partner organizations on the legal procedure and best practices for workplace safety.

Before Serein, Bhavini worked as an archivist at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and as an editorial assistant for IIT Bombay’s PR and Alumni Associations department.

She has a Master’s degree in Education from Azim Premji University where she worked extensively with the management on anti-sexual harassment legal implementation. Her work involved the interpretation of the law in a university as a workplace and an educational institution for adults. 

Siri Prasad

Safety and PoSH Expert

Siri Prasad is a Safety and PoSH Expert at Serein and serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients. Her work is not limited to, but includes advising in legal procedures, best practices for safe work cultures, and reviewing of PoSH policies and labor law compliance.

Siri is a Gold Medallist and holds a BBA, LLB (Hons.) from Christ University and a Masters in Science (International Employment Relations) from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she also served as the EDI Officer.

Rishab Prasad

DEI Specialist

Rishab is passionate about creating long-term partnerships with Serein’s customers. He is responsible for marketing, operations, customer onboarding, contract writing, and relationship building. Rishab uses his directing and filmmaking skills to design engaging content for Serein’s social media platforms.

Rishab holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics with Honours from CHRIST University, Bangalore. He has directed more than nine short films on topics like stigmas of menstruation, widowhood, and adoption.

Kirtika N

Safety and PoSH expert

Kirtika is an expert speaker and workshop facilitator on topics like sexual harassment awareness, bystander intervention, and anti-harassment redressal mechanisms. She has developed learning content for investigating committees on topics like witness cooperation in a workplace sexual harassment inquiry proceeding. 

Kirtika serves as a PoSH external member for 30+ companies in fintech, healthcare, business management, gaming, and more. She has 50+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations at the workplace and supporting partner organisations on legal procedure and best practices.

She has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Montfort College, Bengaluru, and has experience working as a trainee counselor.

Sharanya Venkataraghavan

Safety and PoSH expert

Sharanya serves as a PoSH external member for 15+ companies in e-commerce, fintech, healthcare, SaaS, and more. She supports partner organisations on legal procedures and best practices to build safe work cultures.

She has been involved in the review of PoSH policies, labour law compliances, and research regarding the risk of secondary victimisation of complainants under the PoSH Act.

Sharanya graduated with BBA, LLB (Hons.) degree from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She has experience in PoSH and employment law with notable law firms like Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co., J. Sagar and Associates, among others.

Nandini Abraham

Statistical Analyst

Nandini conducts extensive industry-specific research on DEI trends in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. Nandini is responsible for developing statistical models for DEI assessment on Serein’s DEI SaaS Tool. She designs measurement tools for DEI benchmarking, inclusion assessments, and employee experience surveys.

Nandini is passionate about creating engaging and impactful reports, toolkits, and playbooks for Serein’s customers.

Nandini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Mathematics & Statistics from St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

Nithya R

HR and Compliance Lead

Nithya drives operational excellence within the HR function. She ensures that Serein maintains the highest standards of HR practices and ethical conduct. Her role extends beyond traditional HR responsibilities as she also serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients, specialising in preventing workplace harassment through the PoSH vertical.

Nithya has graduated in Commerce from the University of Lucknow and has rich experience in hiring and retaining the best talents in the industry with companies like BukuWarung and

Sri Padmavathi C

Finance Consultant


Sri Padmavathi C specialises in providing accounting consulting services to companies. She helps in assisting & maintaining Serein’s Books of Accounts, GST, TDS, PT filing, financial statements preparation & audit review.
She holds an MBA with Finance Specialisation from Annamalai University, and has also has done CA articleship under CA Tom Joseph’s guidance.

Anisha Debnath

PoSH and DEI Workshops Facilitator

As a PoSH and DEI Workshops Facilitator, Anisha is primarily responsible for conducting sessions and facilitating conversations that enable building of safe and inclusive workplaces for all. Anisha also undertakes in-depth research into various Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues that plague our work cultures today. All of this research goes into designing bespoke sessions and curating interactive learning experiences for several of Serein’s partners. 

Anisha has a background in History, especially in the history of gender and early feminism in colonial South Asia. 

Anisha has a Bachelor’s degree in History (Hons.) from Gargi College, University of Delhi. She has also studied for an MPhil in World History from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Aseem Deuskar

Inclusive Workspace Architect


Aseem is an Inclusive Workspace Architect dedicated to reshaping workplace diversity and accessibility. He is skilled in conducting comprehensive accessibility audits and implementing inclusive design solutions.

Aseem is passionate about creating environments that foster equal opportunities

He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning.


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