It was year 2005 and my first job. A hustling garage with cars going in and out, sound of compressors, horns honking and you could smell engine oil, grease in every nook and corner. Around me were mostly men from customers to workers. Best part of my job was that I was mostly away from prying eyes as I had a closed cabin, a computer (those big ones) and that’s how I learnt to work. A couple of my colleagues were very protective towards me, they won’t let me step out for any reason. After spending 3 months like this, things changed. I walked in one morning and saw a lady sitting in my chair. She had just come back from Maternity leave, my manager. The first thing she did was sit me down and ask questions. I was not able to answer much, and I started shaking. She consoled me and said , “ You are going to learn one new thing every day for next two weeks. Today you learn how to make a job order”. She gave me a blue book and brought me out of my cabin, left me there. I am looking around. That was the first encounter I had with real fear. After struggling with it for a few days and returning empty handed, I finally took a leap and approached a parked car and finally did it. Now when I look back, she was my role model. She was my leader, she showed me how taking risks is important for growing in life.
As human beings we are threatened by anything we do not understand. It is a deeply embedded instinct, a limbic response. We either fight or run away from things that threaten us. At that age and time, DEI was not a thing, respect was limited to certain roles and industries and comfort was a priority. We are in 2023, a different world. What does it mean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion? How is my story relatable to this? Did that in any way make me more inclusive? We will try and address these in the next few minutes..
Retention: We all agree that retention goals are directly tied to DEI. Retention is today’s day and age is a concern for most organization. I was reading about a new phenomenon ‘Loud quitting’ when employees are disengaged from the job and a not afraid to show it. The report also mentioned that 1 out of every 5 employees is actively disengaged. Are they disengaged from the job or is there more to it? Well, the said it is because of poor management. But those managing are also people. People managing people, how can it ever go wrong? The answer is ‘Diversity’. Diversity is not the problem, lack of understanding of it is. In India , attrition rate has surged from 6% in 2020 to 20% in 2022 and the number for IT sector is 25%, ecommerce at 29%. It is not enough to simply look at the calculated numbers to determine whether employee attrition poses a risk to your company. It is critical to recognize the type of attrition and comprehend its causes. Are your employees leaving for the right reasons? One of my Mentors once said, “If you are leaving this company for something bigger and better, I won’t stop you. I would be happy that I have enable your wings and if you are leaving because you are unhappy here, I would be sad because I failed you” No one is married to any organization. The measure of success for an employee and employee relations comes from the value they have added to each other while working together.
There are two sides of each coin: One is what organizations doing to be more inclusive
Other : What people are doing to become more inclusive.
Inclusion is not a policy, neither it can be a compliance. It has to be a skill, a behavior. One has to be inclusive in every aspect of their lives, every relationship 24 hrs a day. How can I be inclusive as a Manager and not as a wife, how can you be inclusive as a recruiter and not as a brother or a friend.
Going back to the pandemic days, we saw the real struggle of work-life balance. Especially for women in employment. The responsibility of household, dealing with patriarchy, job responsibilities and taking care of children. As a result more and more women experienced continuous burnout leading to a number of resignations. If inclusion was really a skill, all those women would have had less to deal with at home because their partners would have been inclusive every day from kitchen to laundry. I remember seeing fewer women in their balconies each noon as they would pre pandemic chat and laugh with cup of tea in their hands. Sharing recipes, tips and stories about their children. Most of them were busy the entire day and had no social life anymore. It was a hard time for everyone so we decided to change, embrace diversity at work. There is no denial that the trend is changing but are we changing at the right pace. We see more women in leadership but are there enough? We see organizations opening their doors for LGBTQIA+ and different abled people but are we all doing it? Or all seeing what can be called as an “Umbrella” , a generalization under which some are doing a lot and others nothing.
There are three stages to every change: Willingness, awareness and skill
We must look at how we are incorporating these in our employee life cycle and sustainable efforts to reinforce it because the devil of conditioning keeps waking up. That behavior change you want should be constant and permanent, that’s the goal.
A world problem
To become more inclusive, organizations today are reviewing and re-writing policies to be more equitable and gain cadence in their DEI efforts. Enforcing those policies is a different ballgame. With more and more diversity of workforce, everyone should be aware of their responsibility in creating a safe work environment. The question is how are we preparing them?
Most of us as hiring managers are hyper focused on Gender Diversity or Visible diversity. What we need is Diversity of thought, it could be due to any contributing variance. Socio economic, Mental/physical abilities, Culture, ethnicity, Education, to name a few. Our discussions should also be centered on the ability to recognize and acknowledge it.
I have 100 examples of courses that teach people about Diversity Equity and inclusion. I invite you to take one and talk about what changes you see in your behavior after 10 days. Diversity plays a vital role in the success and failure of these training initiatives. Yes, we do consider that when designing modules, don’t we? Gen Y, Gen Z, attention span and so on….. What about the WIIFM factor, the practical aspects, the skills?
Two years ago, I was delivering a Posh training to a group of employees and we were discussing scenarios. After that discussion, a group of women came to me and shared their experience. How those ‘incidents’ have happened and they did not realize it was not ok. They did not think of filing complaints.
When we spoke to respondents, somebody made a strange remark, “If laughing at a joke is wrong then you should ban joking in the policies or create separate teams for women”. Where did this remark come from? It was 2021 and the world has started waking up yet here we have a 25 year old talking like this in an IT firm in a metropolitan city.
I will go back to my point of ‘Willingness’ so when we train our employees, are they willing to change? Or they are doing it because they ‘HAVE’ to. If not why? Have we taken the time to understand their motivation? The problem is if we let this person go without understanding, we are not solving the problem we are just transferring it to another workplace. Inclusion is never an organization’s problem, it is a world problem and a human rights issue. So we are all accountable, aren’t we?
The people side
Shifting a culture is always a top-down activity. There is a heavy burden on Csuite and executive leadership of driving DEI. Leaders are expected to have conversations with their people regularly to bring the change. Yes, culture is always top down and here is what we must consider: Are their own perspectives and influences impacting the message? Are their actions aligned with the message? Do they use inclusive language (including para language) at all times? Have we enabled them or entrusted them just because they are the Leaders? The example I gave earlier is just one of many. Changing unconscious behaviors take time and continuous efforts. People often deem ‘inclusion’ of one as ‘exclusion’ of another, it is an inference based on our conditioning.
Human brain is fascinating and we are still working on fully understanding it. What we have understood is that beliefs and perspectives take shape in formative years of our life In an employee lifecycle, the starting days are very much like the formative years and here is why: When we enter a new environment our mind is working hard to associate new information and if given the right education & environment, that association could be very positive. And do not take me wrong here, I am not talking about those courses of LMS systems here, those are one piece of the puzzle. I am referring to the right role models, right messaging, right rewards and most of all right alignment. One glove doesn’t fit all so being deliberately custom here is the key.
I invite you to think about the following questions as we move forward. When we are attempting inclusion:
Who is your audience? What are the diversity variables here?
Are your employees aware of the organization’s vision about DEI?
What do we as people gain by being inclusive? Your associates, your managers, your leaders and your temp staff.
How clear is the message? How are we clarifying behaviors aligned with the message?
Are we providing a test environment for learners to apply their knowledge?
Do we have a plan to reinforce behaviors sustainably?
Are your people leaving for the right reasons?
Are we gathering empirical evidence or relying on BI?
Going back to my story, my manager pushed me out of my comfort, she empowered me to confront my demons, showed me what steps I have to take if I expect to be included and acknowledged . I had a notion that being one of the two women in male dominated sector is not a good thing. People are ready to take advantage of my vulnerability. But it was not entirely true. Mind you I was only 15 yeah. She gave me the skills that brought me here today in front of you. Someone did it for here and she saw through me, she realized what will work for me and made me take the first steps. Diversity is the reality of nature, inclusion is our goal and equity is the tool with which we can achieve it, belonging is a result of inclusion. We need to watch ourselves, scrutinize ourselves and model the behaviors we want those around us to adopt. Everyone has to do their bit, every day in every way. The day we start breathing inclusion is the day we will stop talking about it, fighting about it and worrying about it.