With factors such as rise of private enterprise, broadening of the reach of education, melting of age-old social barriers and the emergence of the IT revolution, workplaces are no longer homogeneous spaces. Shrinking of space means more and more people overcoming the barriers of distance and travelling to non-native places to work; it also means more people from diverse backgrounds making it to hitherto unheard of professions.
At a recent conclave of business leaders and entrepreneurs at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, the question of inclusion and diversity in business and workplaces came up as a recurrent theme. Do India’s workplaces represent the diverse composition of its population? Are women, people from smaller towns, cultural, religious and caste diversities adequately represented in the corporate world? More importantly, do people from diverse backgrounds feel ‘at home’ in alien social conditions?
This brings us to the all-important theme of inclusion at workplaces, something that is being discussed and debated with fervour across the world. It is pertinent to note that the world has, in recent years, become more porous and heterogeneous with migration of talent and increasingly diverse populations, making inclusion an important aspect of workplace policy.
Twenty years ago when India was yet to embrace the concept of startups, entrepreneurship was not for everyone and businesses adhered to traditional ways of working, diversity and inclusion were not among the key issues facing business managers. However, for business and human resource managers of today, it pays to have a workplace that honours and values diversity, and ensures that heterogeneity of backgrounds and sensibilities doesn’t impede teamwork. Ensuring this is what inclusion is all about.
In a world of free flow of people and brain, no work community can be a monolith, and without doubt diversity that people of multiple origins bring to an organisation is immensely enriching. Not just race, colour, gender, caste or sexual preferences, even individual personality traits add to the diversity of an organisation. Some employees may be more adventurous in their attitude and advocate risk-taking, while others may believe more in playing safe. Some may be brilliant in ideation, others may be finer executors. Some may be mavericks in their approach, others may be conformists. Effectively, it is a combination of all kinds of people that lends strength to an organisation.
On a macro level, when considered for a country like India, adequate representation and assimilation of all groups and subgroups in the economy will ensure better streamlining of the country’s potential and would boost innovation and free thinking.
The moral responsibility of an organisation is to make sure the workplace has a fine balance of multiple and diverse people, and that none is discriminated against because of their origins. An organisation’s work culture should be cultivated to ensure complete assimilation and acceptance. For example, in a north Indian organisation of 100 people, even if there are three non-Hindi speakers, it is imperative for the managers to ensure that all communication is delivered to them with sincerity and that they do not feel out-of-place because of their linguistic difference. Women employees should not feel sidelined because men occupy all decision-making powers. Similarly, an organisational culture should ensure that a homosexual employee is not differentiated, discriminated or ridiculed for being different. It is the moral responsibility of an organisation is to make sure each individual is respected for his or her abilities and not discriminated against for any reason.
Inclusive organisations are those that cultivate cultures which encourage engagement, respect diversity, induce higher productivity and innovation, as well as retention. An environment of greater involvement, respect and connection among peers helps generate greater sense of belonging among employees and ensures higher rates of success for a business.
Richness of backgrounds and ethnicities bring with it richness of ideas, perspectives and abilities which together creates higher business values. The organisations of the 21st century need inclusive diversity to succeed.
On a global level too, the question of diversity is a case in point. The US, which has traditionally been a heterogeneous society, finds it relatively easier to ensure inclusion of diversity as compared to the more homogeneous European nations. In fact, in recent years, several European countries—such as France, Greece and Italy, which have witnessed an influx of migrants—have witnessed tensions over the question of assimilation.
While India is not new to diversity, yet often our behaviour displays undesirable, even xenophobic tendencies. The experiences of people from Northeast India in Delhi as well as those from African nations reflects our problem with assimilation.
A workplace is in some ways a microscopic representation of a nation where good assimilation policies automatically translate into a better society and ensure a sense of belongingness. Having a diversity-friendly setup helps enhance the productivity of individual employees and the entire organisation.
From there, the world on a macro level as well as business organisations on a micro level will only grow more diverse. Making diversity acceptable and putting it into practice is what managers trained in inclusion need to do.
By Surajit Mitra
The author is director, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade