Research supports that Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is a fundamental differentiator for businesses and key to driving innovation and powering the growth of customers and the ecosystem.
With technology permeating through societies, across industries and the broader economic spectrum, it has become crucial for tech companies to ensure representation resulting in inclusive products and services.
Organisations with diverse voices are able to innovate holistic solutions to business and societal challenges, encourage creative thinking and win success with customers.
However, despite the undeniable value of fostering workplace diversity, these resources remain under-represented. According to a study conducted by Intel-Zinnov, though women comprise 48% of India's population, a huge gender disparity continues to exist in Indian workplaces, with 31% and 26% representation in non-technical and technical roles, respectively.
There is a critical need for careful and sustained nurturing as well as a conscious cultural shift for organisations to reap the full benefits of D&I. In doing so, talent leaders need to look beyond the basic and challenge underlying assumptions around D&I, focusing on transforming the corporate culture to deliver positive change.
A deeper understanding of workforce diversity
It is commonplace for tech companies to have gender-balance targets today, giving people from various walks of life the opportunity to express their own ideas, experiences and perspectives.
However, as the business environment grows more complex, interconnected and diverse, an organisation has to think about D&I efforts not just based on gender, race, and ethnicity, but delve deeper into cultural constructs, such as religious and political beliefs, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic backgrounds and people with disabilities (PWD).
For true value creation, it is imperative that people of all backgrounds, perspectives, and abilities have equal access to opportunity and feel confident to participate in organisational processes.
The case of using intelligent technologies such as AI and Machine Learning (ML) presents a compelling scenario. Although these technologies are changing the way we live and work, real positive impact can only be achieved when solutions are created, refined and applied by a diverse pool of innovators and developers coming from different backgrounds.
For technology products to be inclusive, the building blocks for these innovations need to be informed by diverse perspectives in order to avoid conscious or unconscious bias.
The richer the data sets at the heart of these solutions, the better the product performance, ultimately leading to higher market competitiveness and enhanced usability.
Improving accessibility and inclusion
In the absence of inclusion, diversity adds little value to the larger business picture. Whether employees are part of the LGBTQ+ community or other minority groups compared to the larger workforce, inclusion is essential.
Fostering an inclusive environment that accepts and celebrates social and cultural differences among employees is a long-term commitment.
It requires a continuous cultural transformation within the organisation, including a deep-dive into work structures, job designs and a keen understanding of how these factors reflect in the internal and external communications of the organisation.
This necessitates sustained behavioural changes at the leadership level, which would serve as a role model for the organisations at large. Here, leaders and talent managers can work collaboratively in initiating and sustaining efforts towards creating an empowering environment where a diverse workforce feels valued, respected and accepted for their unique perspectives.
Starting with company-wide sensitisation programs and leading up to training programs on unconscious bias and establishing behavioral standards can go a long way in setting the scene for inclusion. Inclusive workplaces also attract and retain the brightest of individuals from a diverse talent pool.
The winds of change
In 2020, it will be imperative for companies to go beyond the 'wait-and-watch' phase of D&I and focus on accountability, advancement, benefits and impact.
A diverse environment built on the foundation of flexibility and versatility is key to success at both the individual as well as organisational level.
It is predicted that by the year 2025, 75% of the global workforce will constitute millennials and that too in positions of leadership; a demographic that prioritises D&I above most parameters (including salary).
A culture of togetherness and empowerment can only thrive when there is inclusive leadership. A Harvard Business Review research found that teams led by inclusive leaders are 20% more likely to make high-quality decisions and 29% more likely to engage collaboratively.
Some key considerations when adopting a holistic approach to become D&I leaders include:
- Developing long-term D&I plans and monitoring them by setting realistic and measurable objectives in the short term.
- Implementing programs and initiatives across hiring, talent development, and retention, training, operations, and policies that are focused internally as well as externally to accelerate D&I in the ecosystem.
- Promoting the business case for D&I by increasing awareness about the concept through leaders and employees, both within and beyond the organisation.
- Ensuring that your workforce reflects the diversity of your current and potential customer and partner base and encouraging industry collaboration towards finding solutions to D&I challenges.
In order to maintain and nurture these initiatives into transforming work environments, it is necessary to cultivate an empathetic leadership.
When leaders embody these values individually and collectively, only then an organisation is able to go beyond structural forms of bias and into addressing the issue holistically. This is where the transformation of corporate culture begins, eventually leading to a truly diverse, inclusive and vibrant organisation.
(The author is Director - HR, Intel India)