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Saturday 13 February 2016
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The importance of managing diversity within the organisation

Ravi Shankar

It was my first day as a student at one of the prestigious business schools in the northern part of India. My anxiety was quite obvious since I came from a different part of the country, but as I walked into the cafeteria, I was thrilled to hear a group of people talk in my mother tongue, Tamil. I quickly walked towards the group and was welcomed with pleasantries in Tamil.

A while later, Tarun, a tall and a well-built North Indian joined the group introducing himself in English. For sometime our conversation continued in English but gradually some of us transitioned to Tamil. Tarun, being the only non-Tamil-speaking student in the group, reminded the rest of us with a hint of agitation that it is against the rule to speak in any language other than English inside the campus. We were not only displeased by Tarun’s reaction but also perceived him to be aggressive for the rest of our stay at the campus.

This cafeteria incident happened years ago, but it is etched in my memory. I later realised that all this could have been avoided even if one of us at the table was aware that lack of inclusive behaviour within a group can make someone feel ignored or alienated. Over the years I have had many opportunities to work in different parts of the country and work with people from diverse backgrounds.

I have realised that unfortunately Diversity and Inclusion is still a topic of concern in our daily life. As an HR professional, I see organisations, both in India and globally, recognise that managing diversity is crucial but yet rewarding; it brings competitive advantage. Keeping this thought in mind, HR functions are building programmes to encourage women to take up leadership roles and have also created policies to accommodate people who are differently-abled and with different sexual orientation.

The growing importance of managing diversity within organisations is an indicator that both the workforce and our stakeholders are changing in various ways other than race and gender, such as people with disabilities, dual-earner families, single-parent families, employees with babies, ageing workforce, employees caring for elderly parents and gay & lesbian employees. It is imperative to create inclusive behaviour, policies and work culture in which individuals feel like an integral part of the system and organisation.

However, I also believe that most organisations have a long way to go in this journey. Many organisations seem to have policies that are designed to govern mostly the majority of the workforce. For instance, I doubt if the governing teams have gone that extra mile to consult with the female employees in formulating the transportation policy.

In the same vein, are there specific HR policies within an organisation that take care of LGBT employees, abiding with the law that treats them as equal? Are organisation policies and HR systems robust enough to cover individuals with alternate sexual orientation? Does the medical policy of the organisation cover partner rather than spouse? It will be interesting to discover how many companies will get a green signal on these last two questions alone.

Diversity policies should either provision the celebration of religion-neutral festivals such as New Year, Independence Day and so on or ensure that when organisations celebrate religious or community-specific festivals, every individual irrespective of his or her ethnicity and religious background is made to feel a part of the celebration.

In an era of glocalisation, it is imperative to understand and embrace the multicultural world, both at the workplace and the marketplace. While travelling recently, I met a foreign national who had joined an Indian organisation abroad. We were discussing culture at work when he mentioned that he feels like an alien in his office.

He attributes this feeling to the fact that the posters, idols, artifacts and even the languages spoken at his workplace were Indian. He went on to share that only when he steps out of the office does it dawn on him that he is still in his own country and that his office is very different from the other offices in the neighbourhood.

In my experience, I have found that the need to feel part of an organisation is one of the most important aspects that today’s young professionals look for while deciding on a job and hence, inclusive behaviour is the foundation on which a diverse work force can work as a single unit.

As an HR practitioner I aspire to see a day when employees just by prompting key words in the HR system can access all the relevant policies and information making him feel acknowledged and included with the policies centering on diversity and inclusion. Hope we can create a culture where everyone feels like an integral part of the organisation irrespective of the ethnicity and diverse background.

(The writer is Senior Vice-President - Human Resources, HCL Technologies)


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