Building a Diverse Workforce - A Peek into the Future

We often hear about diversity, and usually in the context of gender, race or ethnicity. These certainly are aspects of diversity, but that is not all there is to it. Diversity can also be introduced through several socio-demographic factors like personality, age, disability, sexual orientation, values people bring in, work experience, geographic locations etc. In true sense, it is the diversity of thoughts that is the essence of all of the above and these challenges are more pronounced in a vast country like India. The SHRM India Pune forum acted as a platform to bring together an array of views on the said topic through a panel discussion held at Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies (SIMS), Khadki on July 26, 2013.

It was moderated by Mona Dutta, HR and Gender Diversity Consultant. The discussion panel consisted of Nidhi Dhanju (Principal Consultant Professional Skills Development, Learning & OD, Infosys Ltd), Preeti Mulay (VP Reward, Barclays Technology Centre, India Pvt Ltd) and Dr Vishwanath Lele (Professor of OB & Human Resource Management, NICMAR). The discussion was a personification of diversity in spirit for it ranged from the known to the realm of the unknown and the unexplored. Each panel member shared the policies and practices being followed and/or implemented at his/her organization.

Mona introduced the topic of diversity as a mosaic of people, who bring along variety of backgrounds, styles, perspectives and beliefs as assets to the organization they work for and interact with. The whole idea is about employees bringing their full self to work – their personalities, uniqueness and their opinions.

The importance and context of diversity may vary in different organisations. Sharing the example of Barclays, one of the discussants noted that its global initiatives are customer-focused. The CEO’s vision is to make Barclays the most preferred bank by catering to a variety of people. This was exemplified by UK’s first “Talking” ATM, which was suggested by the company’s differently-abled workforce. In February 2012, Barclays also launched an application called “Pingit” in UK, for mobile transfer of money. Such solutions were delivered only by listening to their customers.

Nidhi added to the discussion mentioning that Infosys has a Diversity office chaired by Mr Murthy himself. The drastic drop in percentage of women employees in the higher ranks (known as Talent leakage) in Infosys India from 35% at the trainee level to only 0.7% at the top management level has shifted their focus to gender diversity. At the same time, it was stressed that managing diversity is not only an HR initiative, it requires proactive efforts of the senior level management.

The flow of discussion moved towards reporting specific diversity functions of various organizations. Infosys has a Diversity Barometer that looks into diversity from a recruitment angle. The diversity office plays a supervisory role whereas the unit-specific champions work in tandem with HR and others. The various initiatives undertaken are not just limited to training programs on diversity, but also encompass the “Rural Reach” and “Campus Connect” programs as well. Dr Lele specified that the context of diversity is important. Shapoorji Pallonji Construction, his last organization, faced a shortfall of civil engineers due to supply issues and high attrition. Moreover civil engineering was stereotyped against women. As part of the new strategy, a target of hiring 20 % female graduates through campus recruitment was initiated. To facilitate the same, women-friendly infrastructure was built onsite thereby increasing retention. Consequently with diversity, they achieved higher productivity and retention.

The conversation steered also towards the different facets of diversity. From Barclays Technologies’ perspective, gender diversity is crucial. As compared to the 25% female engineering graduates in India, the workforce at Barclays India consists of only 14% women. To improve this ratio, a Weekend Diversity Drive for women employees was started. Also, a higher referral incentive was conferred upon the employees and vendors for referring female candidates. The concept of “rural–urban” diversity was proposed by Dr Lele, which he noticed in a manufacturing firm. Even though it hired engineers and trained them in Germany, the attrition rate was more than 35%. The organization switched to deskilling by hiring 12th pass students with less than 60% in finals and trained them for three months extra. As a result, the attrition came down to less than 2%.

The existence of different generations in an organization also poses as a diversity challenge. In most IT organizations the average age of workforce is 27 years. In Infosys, around 6.67 % employees aged 45-47 years, have been with the organization for more than 15 years and are very loyal to the organization. There obviously occurs a barrier between Gen X and Gen Y, because their aspirations do not match much leading to challenge in managing younger workforce. To solve this, programs like buddy system and reverse mentoring have been implemented. The “Voice of Youth” - another initiative by Mr Narayan Murthy, involves the youth of the organization in the decision-making process.

With respect to Gender diversity, the panel discussed that working women have to juggle many responsibilities. They face exclusion from several informal networking platforms because of biases and prejudices running amok in organizations. It is here that the organization has to act as a facilitator between managers and team members through awareness and dialogue.
A survey done at Barclays was also discussed whereby in line with the expectations of the female staff, policy changes relating to career breaks, part-time working, flexi-timing, were made. It was felt that workshops and focused interventions are required for females to increase their visibility in organizations. Mention was made of programs like the Infosys Women's Inclusivity Network (IWIN) and ASPIRE, which are aimed towards creating a gender-sensitive and inclusive work environment for women employees and develop them for managerial and leadership roles.

The discussion proceeded further to examine the facilities provided to the differently-abled employees in different organizations. The 5% recruitment of differently-abled candidates in Infosys’ BPO as well some other initiatives including special laptops, special infrastructure, and work from home once or twice per week within Infosys Ltd. were remarked upon.

Throughout the discussion the audience was enlightened by novel concepts like the Diversity Stock Index (DSI), Talent leakage and few others. Over 5 years, the top 50 companies in the DSI list, were reported to have outperformed those in S&P by 80% and those in Dow Jones by 50%. This proves that organizations can achieve great results by leveraging the best in their people. Therefore, numerous companies in India are adopting policies to employ and sustain a diverse workforce. With the increasing competition in the market and the war for talent, it is imperative for companies to think beyond the conventional. Although the acceptance of diversity is essentially top-driven in an organisation, it needs a radical change of mind-set in India, for real success of diversity initiatives.


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