Advancing workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)

In today’s rapidly evolving world, organisations face the imperative of embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to thrive and remain competitive. The concept of DEI encompasses more than just increasing representation; it involves cultivating an environment where all individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, experiences, or identities, feel valued, respected, and empowered. In a conversation with Uma R. Krishnan, Managing Director – India, Optum Global Solutions (India) Pvt. Ltd., she shared with us insights on how Optum Global Solutions implements DE&I policy in the operating of their organisation.

1. What does DEI stand for at Optum, and how do you ensure that it is an integral part of your organisation’s culture and way of working?

At Optum, we emphasise a shared understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean: diversity is a rich mix of differences; equity is driving fairness; and inclusion is fostering a keen sense of belonging for all. Together, DEI creates the culture of innovation and performance we need to achieve our mission of helping people live healthier lives and making the health system work better for everyone. For our teams, DEI is by everyone and for everyone, which means we think comprehensively about DEI, considering all the people we touch and inviting action from all corners of our organisation.

We are focused on five main objectives:

  1. Increasing the diversity of our workforce, especially at the leadership level,
  2. Understanding the lived experiences of our employees, particularly where there are differences, so that we can learn how to better support their work experience
  3. Providing continuous education for our leaders and teams on how to create and contribute to an inclusive environment
  4. Increasing psychological safety by ensuring our leaders’ and employees’ behaviours align with our company’s core values and organisational policies, processes, and systems in order to advance equity, belonging, and connection
  5. Engaging employees to get involved and advance an innovative and inclusive culture to help us win in the market

All this work is overseen by our Global DEI Office and the Advancing Equity Globally Board, which includes a cross-section of leaders from across the enterprise who help us drive accountability and strategy around our DEI efforts.

 2. How do you ensure diversity in hiring at Optum India?

Hiring diverse talent groups is an integral part of our talent acquisition strategy. Through multiple diversity hiring initiatives, we are trying to build a workplace that is truly reflective of the communities where we operate and serve. Our talent acquisition teams, business champions, and leaders together build a customised diversity hiring approach for each line of business.

In addition, we also run specific hiring programmes such as the veterans’ programme and the disability inclusion programme. The second careers programme is targeted at professionals who want to join the workforce after a career break.

As part of the veteran’s programme, we have also signed an MOU with the Indian Navy in 2021 to enable our servicemen to explore relevant career opportunities. Through this programme, we have onboarded ex-servicemen in various positions within our organisation.

As part of our disability inclusion programme, we have launched pilots for locomotive and speech and hearing disabilities.

3. There is a gender gap in STEM fields, especially in leadership roles, across the world. As a company that has consistently been ranked as one of the best places to work for women, what initiatives have helped you bridge this gap? (T&D Initiatives)

At Optum, we have programmes designed to help build professional networks and provide training, mentoring, and professional guidance to women pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. We make significant investments in building a gender-diverse leadership pipeline by upskilling internal talent through domain, functional, and leadership readiness trainings. These include:

  • United Women Leading in Technology (UWLiT) forum, which connects leaders and employees around the globe to learn about career journeys, celebrate successes, overcome adversity, and build professional networks.
  • The UHG Invention Programme gives inventors at Optum end-to-end support to patent their work. This includes helping to identify potentially patentable ideas and filing a patent application. UHG Women Invent, a part of this programme, aims to enhance patent diversity.
  • Women in Product (WiP) aims to inspire and engage women product professionals and to create a close-knit support system to encourage sharing, learning, and overall career development in product management.

In addition, we have employee resource groups that are voluntary and typically based upon a shared characteristic, demographic, or life experience that helps in creating allyship. Niche and tailored programmes, such as Targeted Leader Career Pathing, are also helping develop female colleagues into successful leaders.

4.  Unintentional or unconscious gender bias is an obstacle to gender equality in the workplace. How do you address this at Optum?

Reducing the impact of unconscious bias is a key priority of our Enterprise DEI Leader Advisory Councils, and we have established strategies across the employee lifecycle to reduce its impact.

To address any form of bias in recruitment, there are training sessions, guidebooks, and practises to ensure inclusive interviewing and hiring processes.

We also encourage employees’ learning about DEI through participation in various forums, both internal and external, to discuss topics such as gender equality, overcoming resistance, and unconscious bias and its impact on women’s journey to leadership.

Our diversity, equity, and inclusion learning system serves as a self-service resource designed to build inclusive leadership behaviours, develop personal awareness, examine bias, promote allyship, and grow resilience and resourcefulness.

5.  What initiatives, policies, or programmes at Optum ensure that employees, especially women who often tend to be the primary caretakers, have the necessary support to maintain work-life balance and their overall well-being?

We believe work-life balance affects every employee’s job satisfaction, performance, health, and well-being. Through our award-winning employee wellness programme, LiveWell, we engage, support, and empower our employees and provide them with an all-encompassing wellbeing ecosystem.

Specifically for our female colleagues, we have developed programmes such as Care-Nine and Care-Nine Beyond, which help them through their maternity journey with continuous offerings of consultations, therapies, and sessions to maintain a work-life balance. To further ensure their safety, we run a special transportation programme by providing door-to-door transport facilities throughout their pregnancy period.

In addition, programmes such as the daycare benefit and the gender-agnostic parental leave policy give them the support they need to balance their work and personal lives. Women professionals and working mothers’ shoulder multiple responsibilities and often find it difficult to invest time and effort in their own health. Therefore, we offer all our colleagues flexible work schedules along with access to web- and mobile-enabled infrastructure. We also extend leave (3–12 months) without pay to help employees lead a balanced personal and professional life.

For all these best practises, Optum has been recognised as one of the ‘Economic Times Best Organisations for Women 2023’. We have also been recognised as one of the Avtar Best 100 Companies for Women in India 2022 for the fifth year in a row.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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