When organizations strive for equality over equity, they evaluate the entire workforce from the same lens without considering their unique needs owing to religious affiliations, socio-economic status and other demographics. These practices can backfire and give rise to an unfair work environment. In my previous article, I talked about different challenges organizations face to achieve their equitable goals. Before I start talking about what measures organizations can take to resolve those and be an all inclusive workplace, let’s look at a case case study about Fabindia elaborating how it has dealt with such challenges and drives its strategies based on its strong ideology and a top down approach:
“Fabindia has articulated a set of seven core values, which include honesty, transparency and fairness in intent, based on the feedback and experience of the employees. Besides reinforcing these core values during induction, the HR team along with the functional supervisor revisit these values on the shop floor every six months. The values are also included as a key result area in every employee’s appraisal. Fabindia lives its ideology; it is a part of its DNA. The perception of the brand and organisation is strengthened by the consistency with which the company conducts itself, amongst its employees, customers and the artisans. Its core culture has not seen a dilution even though the environment has changed. Despite rapid growth, every employee is made to feel connected and is able to recognise his or her role in the company’s success story” – SHRM India, 2012
The concept of equity at work applies to this case on several levels. First of all, employees at Fabindia do not feel a discrepancy when comparing their organization’s vision and its cultural reality. They were empowered by their employers which in turn motivated them to achieve great results. Most importantly, Fabindia does not follow a traditional linear approach, it reflects on its core values, aligns strategies according to their vision and ensures that their HR policies reinforce their foundational values. The first strategy I propose represents a similar mind-set towards achieving equity at work.
Follow a top-down approach to solve the equity problem. Just like Fabindia, a strong organisational culture driven by core values aligned to its strategies is the key to foster inclusion. As a first step, many organizations stick to traditional approaches such as identifying disparities in relation to pay equity, conducting workshops for reducing unconscious bias, creating policies such as paid maternity leave, establishing Internal Committees for Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH). While these policies are essential, following a linear approach alone may not solve the equity problem. A systematic strategy is also required for truly inclusive cultures that go beyond training and enforcing policies. In a similar survey conducted by SHRM, 55% of respondents say their organizations “strongly promote” Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). However, in reality, if leaders in these organizations do not commit to policies to promote D&I, then it will be a futile activity.Consequently it would involve genuinely understanding what are the challenges to implementing D&I and how can organizations become more aware of them to achieve true inclusion. Instead of imposing “policies” without macro-level considerations, organizations need to create an ecosystem that make inclusion and everyday practice:
“Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) conducted enterprise wide surveys and focus groups to ensure inclusion in the process and also widely communicated progress to all employees, soliciting their input at every major juncture. BCBSM’s top-down bottom-up approach has ensured a critical mass of competent diversity advocates are seeding inclusion principles throughout the organization.” – The Inclusion Solution, 2013
The above is a great example of how internal culture of an organization manifests in HR and other administrative practices and how it goes beyond basic recruiting policies around D&I. These practices make leadership accountable for ensuring that employees are tuned into D&I initiatives and address how that impacts their day to day work life. In the end it’s a simple concept of laying the foundation before investing in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs.
Check for early signs of backlash towards Inclusion
However well intentioned diversity policies and practices can meet with backlash (Apfelbaum et al., 2010). On the surface, it seems like having all the top diversity promoting policies in place would be enough, but organizations need to be careful about what is happening right below the surface. When questions such as ‘whether the new women were hired for merit or simply because of their gender’ arise, it’s an evidence that something might be wrong with the overall D&I atmosphere. As I mentioned in my previous article, even these newly hired women do not want a seat at the table as a favor owing to their gender. As a matter of fact they might feel the burden to work extra hard to prove themselves in such organizations. To make the situation even worse, when these initiatives are not implemented in the right way, it can create a feeling of resentment in the majority group as well. They may feel ignored and may even begin to accuse employers of reverse-discrimination.
Leaders must assume the responsibility to guard their organizations against diversity backlash as it is a critical step towards becoming more inclusive. Organizations such as Fabindia create a strong value system and culture and aim to continually improve in the face of challenges. It helps to encourage expression from all the members in how the organization is shaped, and not just from the under-represented employees. Leaders should also emphasize that diversity initiatives are not just to help a certain minority, they are there to help every employee and build a diverse workforce without alienating anyone. Without an inclusive tone at the top, organizations may struggle to move the needle forward. To further keep a check on backlash effects, organizations can leverage diagnostic audit tools that review readiness for D&I practices at structural level.
Foster internal inclusive systems to support employee development
Let’s revisit our Fabindia’s case example: Fabindia has proven to be an equal opportunity employer with 1.78:1 men to women ratio across the organisation. Further, to encourage employee’s growth within their organization, Fabindia has an ‘Internal Job Postings programme’, which offers growth opportunities to all staff. This program helps employees prepare for the next role and is considerate of individual needs, especially in cases where relocations are required.
“The HR system at Fabindia relies heavily on a framework of behavioural and technical competencies required to deliver each role. The company also helps specialise generalist skills by using functional and behavioural competencies for every position. Development needs are assessed biannually through multisource feedback. There is a strong alignment between the Learning and Development curriculum and competencies” – SHRM India, 2012
Fostering inclusive growth has become more important now than ever. Especially in this dynamic post-pandemic world where job roles are rapidly changing and our current key performance indicators are turning redundant, employees will have to upskill themselves to stay relevant. However, they cannot do so in absence of inclusive growth opportunities by their employers. An indication of inclusive employee development systems is assumed when leaders understand and put equitable weight on an individual’s capability beyond his/her past experience and education to gauge growth potential. PayPal India’s Recharge initiative is one such example. ‘Recharge’ is designed as a ‘back-to-work initiative’ for women. The six-week program focuses on equipping female technologists with skills to resume their careers after a personal or professional break.
It is imperative that organisations understand what each employee values and how that can be aligned to their development needs and then create growth opportunities for them. The intent should be simple-whatever you do, go that extra mile to ensure that employees flourish in their whole lives, not just their work. As a result, organizations can create a vision that is broad enough to attract the best talent from all backgrounds, every religion and other demographics.
Strengthening Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in the Post-pandemic World
As the workforce begins to return to their physical workplaces, nothing will be exactly the same as it was before the pandemic. Organizations now need new ways on how to collaborate and work with asynchronous communication channels, how to signal strength and be true to their values. Innovation is key to defeat COVID-19 and navigate this unprecedented economic heart attack. Thus, to conquer this battle, DEI efforts have become fundamental for organizations to survive. It will require a new way of thinking and operating and this is exactly where diversity comes into picture. Although, some may argue that there are other pressing issues to be addressed but recognizing the importance of diversity when employees start returning to workplaces will directly impact a company’s bottom line. It is definitely not the time to abandon DEI efforts altogether:
“In this challenging context, the task of fostering inclusion and diversity (I&D) could easily take a back seat—and the painstaking progress made by many firms in recent years could be reversed. As this report shows, however, I&D is a powerful enabler of business performance. Companies whose leaders welcome diverse talents and include multiple perspectives are likely to emerge from the crisis stronger. As the CEO of a European consumer-goods company told us: “I know we have to deal with COVID-19, but inclusion and diversity is a topic too important to put onto the back burner.” – McKinsey & Company, 2020
The strategies developed to navigate the post pandemic workplace will have to target the very core of social interaction. Leaders in such times must display empathy and support, lend an ear to listen and assess impact on their emotional and mental health. The way managers hold their meetings will have to change strategically. Managers must allow employees to have voice and express their feelings by creating open channels of communication. While running virtual calls, managers have an increased responsibility to ensure no single person gets to dominate the conversation and level the playing field in such conversations. Organizations should be cognizant of COVID-induced emotional, physical and psychological issues that might impact their transition to physical workspace. Check for early warning signs for stress among employees, prepare resources to help them out, create a conducive environment for each employee and be vocal to make sure employees are not feeling burnout. These practices will reinforce how employee well-being is of utmost importance to the company.
All and all, we can definitely say that meaningful questions are arising in the post pandemic, new normal world. It could be a blessing in disguise for those who resisted change, could now see that a new normal is actually possible, remote work has challenged the inflexible mindsets and shook up the inertia. However, achieving equity will remain a work in progress.The efforts must continue. Organizations should keep checking temperature at regular intervals and measure their growth towards achieving an all-inclusive culture.
Useful Resources for Organizations:
- Working Through COVID-19: Guidance for Organizations and Professionals
- EY Employee health and wellbeing: COVID-19 enterprise resilience checklist
- SHRM: Checklist of Diversity Assessment Tools and Metrics relevant to India
- Facebook Coronavirus Info Portal
- Mind Share Partners: Workplace Mental Health Resources During The Pandemic
- Forbes: 5 Ways to support employee mental health
- The Employer Role: Mental Health During COVID-19
At Serein we believe that diversity and inclusion are the pillars of a good society. Issues of inclusion, diversity, unconscious bias and mental health can affect home and the workplace in many ways.
Having worked on gender and with many other forms of diversity we have come to realise that an empathetic approach to all builds inclusion. It also builds a trusting environment in society as well as the workplace. If you would like to learn more about diversity and inclusion, inclusive leadership or how to speak about empathy, emotional/mental health issues do check out www.serein.in.
If you would like to conduct – gender awareness training – diversity and inclusion training – unconscious bias training – mental and emotional wellbeing trainings in the workplace do drop us a line at email@example.com