Priya Vasudevan

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) – the difference that makes a Difference | Priya Vasudevan | President – Human Resources & Enterprise Services | Liberty General Insurance

Priya VasudevanIn today’s rapidly evolving world, organizations are recognizing the importance of fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the workplace. Couple of decades back, the tone of DEI promotions was to contribute to a more harmonious and innovative work environment or strengthening the organization’s ability to attract and retain Talent. DEI was often led by CHROs. Today we see many CEOs and other Function leaders becoming the face and heart of DEI efforts in organisations.

From deep experience of championing DEI across various sectors and phases, this articles outlines some nuances that helped me shape the DEI journey of Organisation fairly successfully :

1. Answer the ‘Why’ question – thoughtfully: We need to put deep thought into ‘Why the DEI journey is important for the Organisation?’ – and go beyond the cliched or ‘feel good’ responses. Examine your customer demographic, skill set and talent pool availability, business expansion strategy – and within all these metrics you will find the need to ‘mirror society’ to stay relevant in Business. We like to do business/work with ‘people like us’ – so are we enabling a ‘people like us’ experience to all customer/talent segments? Any leader who has had a diverse team member realizes the power of innovation – a confident and comfortably diverse team member brings in. Deep dive into business metrics and start putting together a data set that answers the ‘Why’. Then from the highest office of the Organisation – let this answer be socialized in an engaging, simple and cogent manner – steadily over years. Employees absorb and assimilate these narratives and prioritise their actions accordingly.

2. Talent acquisition mandates increase Diversity but dilutes Inclusion eventually: I have experimented with both – a strong cascade of Diversity hiring mandates and being a fierce defendant of ‘not having’ Diversity hiring mandates. The more, for eg, a gender diversity hiring mandate is set in KRAs of Leaders and Managers – the more divide it creates and ultimately ‘othering’ of the DEI agenda. There are several arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’ – but I am in favour of having Diversity metric at Organisation level or Functional level, constant ‘mirroring of the data’ and discussions around how the metrics can shift. Yes, this approach atleast initially drains energy and seems stagnant – but I have witnessed these conversations shifting Leaders’ emotions to a gentle and sustained ownership of DEI in their teams.

3. Attract Diversity through Diversity: The best Employee Value Proposition (EVP) pitch to a diverse candidate is another one – successful and happily employed within the organization. Showcase your diverse employees sensitively, let them share experiences of ‘how they feel’ and ‘how they thrive’ in the workplace. Social media tools and platforms have made such showcasing and reach easy and inexpensive.

4. Allyship is the key to a sustainable DEI journey: One of the initiatives which is yet to take root strongly in Corporate India is that of ‘Allyship’ – the ‘contra’ to the diversity dimension you are pursuing. Eg gender diversity – Men as Allies, Able as allies, Neurotypical as allies. One should stay away from labelling but do promote Allyship. This, is perhaps, the strongest approach in converting the DEI journey into a Movement – where the majority population stands in solidarity with their diverse colleagues. Allyship is seeded into councils, initiatives, and processes – thus making DEI more participating and truly inclusive

5. Nurture the Diverse talent through the Leadership pipeline – it is interesting to see the tone and texture of the Leadership table evolving – as it becomes more diverse. Leaders start experiencing their own Equity and Inclusion, struggles and successes. From this emerges a renewed conviction and shift in their mindsets towards DEI.

We all know about the leaking Talent pipeline, especially when it come to Women. Use analytics to identify the points at which this happens and the reasons attributed – then brainstorm and have reflective conversations with Leadership on how to remedy. Often it is simply a case of providing spotlight and noticing women talent – and that awareness itself brings forth other actions. Some time the action could be designing structured development journeys or providing flexibility around policies. Do what it takes!

6. Make DEI participative and democratic – I am sure most of you have DEI councils and many have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) as well. It is important for membership to be voluntary and independent of their roles. Stoke the energies of those who are willing – provide guidance through Executive sponsorship and spotlight their efforts constantly. Renew the membership every year or two years – enabling new members to come in and existing ones to exit gracefully. If you have many applicants – form a small committee from within existing DEI council to select members!

7. Come together as a Sector: One is amused at the multitude of Councils and Committees that are formed for every topic where captains of the Sector co-operate and collaborate. Haven’t heard one on – DEI yet!!. Isn’t it time for us to take leadership and nudge our fellow CHROs to come together beyond their Organisaitonal boundaries to begin conversations on DEI and hopefully inspire and support each other.

Like any journey DEI too has its own trials and tribulations – and yet, it is deeply satisfying to be part of Organisational memories for making a meaningful difference. It is time to reflect on the thought- provoking question ‘As a leader – what are you lending your Leadership to?’