Careers in diversity, equity and inclusion

Last Updated : 03 February 2022, 07:57 IST
Last Updated : 03 February 2022, 07:57 IST

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The past decade has seen a significant change in the Human Resource practices within an organisation.

An increasingly vast body of research shows that companies with a higher diversity in their workforce, especially at leadership levels, offers a competitive advantage to businesses.

This has prompted companies to include more women, persons with disabilities and many other diverse groups in their workforce.

Diversity was earlier relegated to the HR and became a subset of the HR function, however, organisations have started to recognise that just increasing the diversity does not translate to the competitive advantages that they seek.

On the one hand, there is an increased realisation that it is only in creating the climate for inclusivity — where employees have a sense of belonging as well as offering sustainable careers — that the desired results will be achieved.

On the other hand, there has been an increased push by the historically excluded groups for more equality and acceptance, as well as for their human rights to be protected.

The recent years have seen women demanding better policies and support during the maternity phase, increased safety at work (which was amplified by the #MeToo movement) and a push for non-discriminatory workplaces by the LGBTQ+ community, persons with disabilities asking for better accessibility.

Government policies have also responded with laws and acts to bring about more equality. The Maternity Benefits Act, the Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of women Act, the abrogation of Sec 377, are some laws that have changed in the recent past.

Understand lived experience

“It is critical that employers appreciate the biases and feelings of exclusion and the constant experience of being discriminated against at various stages of one’s career. This means that they have to go beyond the surface level and deeply understand the daily lived experience of the community," says Deepa Agarwal, who has two decades of experience in the field of Diversity and Inclusion and whose work has been recognised by the women economic forum.

"Research has also proven that organisations with evolved Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practices and higher diversity, were able to respond better to the Covid situation,” she adds.

It is becoming increasingly clear that traditional HR competencies alone will not suffice and that a more specialised knowledge is required, making DEI an emerging field.

“If handled well, not only will it impact organisational performance but create more equitable societies,” says Deepa, who has worked and consulted with large organisations, especially in the FMCG sector.

What does DEI involve?

A DEI person’s specific tasks may vary from organisation to organisation, but some of the common denominators it includes are a review of employee policies from the equity standpoint for fairness and justness.

Conducting an assessment of the current systems and talent processes, to see if they are hindering or supporting the diversity and inclusion goals, building a business case to get a buy-in and developing communication plans are some activities that are taken up.

The plan also includes sensitising and educating employees and leaders on various diverse groups and training leaders of inclusivity.

For a fresher aspiring to build a career as a DEI professional, a postgraduate degree in Human Resources and / or MBA is a good start. A knowledge of Labour laws, organisational culture and change management is important.

HR professionals should build a proficiency in understanding core DEI concepts: Business acumen to enable building a business case, facilitation and influencing skills for dialogues with the community and leaders, identifying and overcoming resistance, ability to build inclusion and equity into culture and employee surveys, strategies to overcome biases — their own as well as that of leaders — are must-haves.

Short-term certification programmes can also be considered for skill building in this subject.

In order to get a career advantage, especially in the field of Human Resources, skill building in DEI cannot be ignored. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a field that is here to stay and early adopters will stand to gain to move up the hierarchical order.

(The author explores niche career options in the emerging field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion)

Published 01 February 2022, 19:04 IST

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