Organisations must approach their DE&I efforts by first aligning at a scope of diversity that is real, achievable, measurable and meaningful to the time, culture, geography they are in
Say hello to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion - the latest buzzwords in business. The use of the term buzzword is deliberate. Because despite all the dialogue and dazzle around DE&I inaction, confusion and a general sense of ambiguity surrounds the topic. It is not entirely unimaginable to be met with answers like, ‘it’s about recruiting more women at work’, or closer to the season of pride we are in, ‘paying homage to the LGBTIQ+ community, being proud of our LGBTIQ+ colleagues’ when people at large are asked what DE&I means!
Not entirely wrong answers. But inaccurate, incomplete and perhaps a tad insincere. Not only because there is superficial appreciation and rudimentary understanding that most people in the corporate world have about DE&I but more importantly, because in most places DE&I is seen as a ‘nice to have’ initiative, a side hustle that often finds a place on the outermost periphery of corporate agendas.
If only organisations recognised that DE&I is not a fad but is fundamental to growth. If building capability is foundational to an organisation’s growth strategy, then immediate and urgent attention to diversity, equity and inclusion is the only and only way to close the capability gap by harnessing DE&I direct impact on innovation, reputation - leading to better recruitment, engagement and retention of talent.
But despite this recognition of its business impact, organisations are tentative at best, floundering at worst with their commitment and more so, tangible action.
Diversity teams and committees are set up, without clearly defined meaning, scope and goals. Arguably, to define something which, by its very nature defines existing definitions of human potential is ironic, difficult, yet crucial.
A good point to start is by defining which aspects of diversity are important to the organisation. Diversity is a wide, exhaustive topic with an array of tropes. Organisations must approach their DE&I efforts by first aligning at a scope of diversity that is real, achievable, measurable and meaningful to the time, culture, geography they are in.
In this context, it is not implausible to fall under the trap of what one calls ‘the darlings of diversity, at least in India - gender, and off late, sexual orientation! Notwithstanding their criticality or status as the forebearers and flagbearers of diversity, if organisations pay deeper attention, they’d recognise other pillars that can be a part of their charter as well. Racism, casteism, ageism are prime candidates.
But whichever pillar of diversity or inclusion they chose to focus on, organisations must recognize the nuances, intricacies and complexity of that pillar to be able to make tangible, meaningful difference.
Take the LGBTIQ+ community and its increasing ‘buzz’ in the diversity debate. Organisations need to understand the issue and the community sincerely, intimately and accurately. They need to move beyond the Bollywood stereotypes that paint the community with a single brushstroke. They need to learn and recognise the nuances of the L - G-B- T- I- Q + spectrum. Understand that gay is different from lesbian is different from bi-sexual is different from Intersex is different from transgender is different from trans-sexual is different from Queer. And that these differences are not trivial. That they originate from unique spaces of physical or mental identity markers.
Investing in awareness programs that educate the organisation about these differences and intricacies is a great start. Organisations are often quick to pick the poster children of the LGBTIQ+ community - the cis gender gay man or the cis gender lesbian woman. Because they present a picture that is relatively easier to understand and assimilate. But move towards the non-binary, non-heteronormative end of the LGBTIQ+ spectrum and you realise that organisations shy or smirk. Because they don’t have the basic understanding and framework through which to process these people. Education and awareness will go a long way in recognising that some sub-communities in this spectrum are way more discriminated and disadvantaged than others! There is a sizeable and increasingly employable transgender community in India. Most organisations are reluctant to focus on them. Why? Let’s admit it, because the challenges are greater, the investments are greater. But organisations that have a sincere commitment to the LGBTIQ community don’t hesitate to embrace the LGBTIQ+ community in its entirety, including the most marginalised on the spectrum- the trans community.
In my mind, the paradigm shift that needs to take place with regards to the LGBTIQ community is that organisations need to shift their stance from passive acceptance of the community to active invitation.
What does this mean? It means not just recognising and rewarding people from the community who are already a part of the organisation but actively seeking more people from the community. That you actively look for resources, partners who can create a recruitment pool of people from the community.
It also means investing in an LGBTIQ+ friendly workplace and policies from the point of view of the entire LGBTIQ+ spectrum - creating mental and physical infrastructure - understanding and usage of correct pronouns, gender neutral toilets, same sex partner insurance, gender reassignment surgery insurance, medical leave for gender reassignment surgery and associated complications, therapy!
But most importantly, it means not waiting for a minimum threshold of “out” LGBTIQ+ people in your organisation to put all this in place. But doing all this even if there is only one. Doing it even if there is none.
And especially, because there is none.
The author is Amit Kekre, National Strategy Head, DDB Mudra Group
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