The modern world was built on fundamentals of individual liberty and mutual respect, yet, inherent bias towards caste, race, gender, class, etc. has always been an intrinsic part of the global social fabric. Propagators of inclusivity and advocates of diversity have often been perceived as working for societal benefits. However, such perceptions have changed in recent years.
In a data-driven world, where everything is empirical and tangible, D&I has obtained a new meaning. A McKinsey & Company report titled “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters” shows that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than peer companies in the fourth quartile. A multitude of such studies and practical results have led the global corporate honchos to accept that advocating and inculcating D&I within the organization, can foster innovation, build a positive work culture and boost growth.
In the current disruptive environment, when Indian companies are realigning their business models, processes, and priorities; promoting a culture welcoming of D&I can be critical in reshaping organizations, and exponentially grow business equity. The 2021 ET Diversity & Inclusion Summit aimed to achieve that through power-packed panel discussions and enlightening keynotes featuring an eclectic panel of industry luminaries and extraordinary leaders.
The summit was opened with a keynote session by the iconic Kiran Bedi, former DG, and Founder of India Vision & Navjyoti India Foundation, reiterating a quote by Mother Teresa “You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” Bedi asserted that the key to growth is inclusivity. When everyone is included, everyone wins. She urged business leaders to focus on acquiring the right talent instead of recruiting people based on their background, status, educational institution, or gender. She also stressed the role of leaders in inculcating the culture of D&I as they alone have the power to set the right tone and drive this change at all levels.
Highlighting the role of government in driving D&I, Anju Bhalla, Joint Secretary Admin, Dept of Science & Technology, Managing Director, BIRAC opined that the government and its institutions should not just be equal opportunity employers, but also build regulations to provide equal opportunities.
Taking the discourse to a new direction, S Sunil Kumar, President, Henkel – India, pointed out that India is a land of diversity where the social fabric changes every 50-100 kilometers and in recent times the acceptance of D&I has increased progressively. In the corporate context, he added that creating the right environment and providing the right training can drive D&I initiatives to success.
Drawing attention to a pertinent point, Shreyasi Singh, Founder & CEO, Harappa, highlighted that diversity has multiple facets like cognitive diversity, equitable and logical demographic diversity, gender diversity, age diversity, etc. Organizations must think consciously and create a D&I strategy that can help in achieving the company goals and drive growth.
Reaffirming Singh’s perceptions, Divya Gokulnath, Co-Founder, BYJUS, concurred that diversity brings different perceptions to a product or service, enabling it to address multiple needs and solve many problems. Maintaining diversity in the core team of a company is a key facet of inculcating organizational D&I. Empathetic leadership can make a significant difference and being cognizant of the D&I agenda since inception can drive desirable results.
Providing a logical roadmap to propagate this thought, Dipali Goenka, CEO & Joint Managing Director, Welspun India, stated “diverse and inclusive workforce is integral to good business practice. I believe businesses have the power to become catalysts for transformation and usher in an era of inclusion. Diversity doesn’t just mean increasing the representation of underrepresented identity groups but also tapping the identity-related knowledge and experiences.”
Turning the spotlight on the cost of not promoting D&I, Rajendra Mehta, President & CHRO, Welspun India, said that data shows startling pay gaps exist due to gender bias where women are paid 17.5% less than men. This results in an economic loss affecting the GDP negatively. He avers that when we are not pushing women to join the workforce and lead, the economic loss is not just national but also global.
So, the key question is, how can organizations effectively inculcate D&I? Dilip Pattanayak, President & CHRO-Steel and Corporate, JSW, asserted that a mindset shift and strong sponsorship from leaders is crucial, while Neerja Birla, Founder & Chairperson, Aditya Birla Education Trust, opined that companies must create a discourse around their recruitment policy, leadership diversity, sufficient women representation in leadership positions, etc. Alongside, employers must create psychologically safe, gender-neutral and unbiased work environments, where every employee is equally valued.
Overall, the summit reaffirmed the business importance of D&I initiatives, in the current milieu, where the conscious consumers, too, favor the brands with a pertinent purpose.