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India Inc takes tiny steps in the journey to become diverse and inclusive

Amritha Pillay/ 08 Dec 18 | 09:30 PM

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Information and technology (IT) major Cognizant organised its first conclave, “Importance of diversity and inclusion as a business priority", last month in a clear indication that India Inc is changing its mindset.

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This meet marks a changing trend on how companies in the country feel the need to be both diverse and inclusive. However, the journey between the need to look diverse and indeed be one may be long.

“Over 65 per cent companies with whom we partner have moved beyond just recruitment and started focusing on ways and means by which everyone in the organisation feels included," said Saundarya Rajesh, founder-president, Avtar group.

She added, “But I would say that only about 40 per cent of companies are actually successful in this. It requires a very strong push from the top and a rigorous leadership commitment." Avtar group is a “thought leader" in diversity and inclusion.

While disclosures of a number of Indian companies speak of equal opportunity during hiring and special programmes to ensure women continue to remain in the workforce, others like Ernst & Young (EY) have experimented with other options.

EY runs “women on boards" workshops which provide existing and potential women directors insights on varied aspects of a director’s role and how to effectively discharge duties on the board.

In its EY Women Business Leaders Network, it offers a platform for CXO-level women from Indian companies to come together and benefit from shared insights on their path to leadership. Some would see it as a network for women similar to the “Boys Club" concept for men.

Others like Roche Diagnostics India seem to have taken an inverted-pyramid approach, where employee volunteers from across ranks form committees — one for diversity and inclusion and another for gender and industry. “We believe that our employees are best equipped to build such a culture in the organisation. Hence, we have constituted committees of people who have volunteered to ideate and enhance our diversity and inclusion agenda. The interesting aspect of this committee is that, by design, it does not have leadership presence," said Radha Srivastava, head of human resources (SHE & administration, India & neighbouring markets), Roche Diagnostics India.

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According to Saundarya, when companies hire for diversity, it is only two strands of diversity that they really look at — gender and ability. However, she added, there are initial signs of change in the last few years. “A few organisations have approached us to recruit transgenders for them. This is a nascent phenomenon and a very challenging one," she said.

The historic Supreme Court judgment decriminalising Section 377 of the Indian Penal code (IPC) may also act as a catalyst to make India Inc more inclusive. Cognizant, for instance, allows medical insurance to cover same sex partners and surgeries that cover mastectomy and hysterectomy along with post-surgery counselling. Examples of a similar nature may still be rare for domestic companies.

One may expect that after the recent #MeToo movement and the Supreme Court judgment decriminalising Section 377 in September, more companies would seek to be diverse and inclusive.

However, Saundarya argues the need to “at least look like a diverse organisation" has been felt by companies in India (both Indian and multinational firms) for at least half a decade now, mainly by IT products and services firms, followed by those in banking, financial services, insurance and consulting, since their clients expected it.

She added that the last couple of years have seen more companies acknowledge the need for diversity and inclusion. “However, the larger challenge is not in merely appearing diverse but in being inclusive as well," she added.

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