With the rise of private enterprise, broadening of the reach of education, melting of age-old social barriers, emergence of the information technology revolution, workplaces are no longer just homogenous spaces. Shrinking of spaces has overcome the barriers of distance and travel to non-native places to work. It also means that people from diverse backgrounds make 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? And more importantly, do people from diverse backgrounds feel at home in a new social conditions?
This brings to the important theme of inclusion at workplaces, something that is being discussed and debated with fervour across the world. 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. Two decades back when India was yet to embrace the concept of start-ups, entrepreneurship was not for everyone, and businesses adhered to traditional ways of working, diversity and inclusion were not among the key issues facing business administrators. However, for human resource managers of today, it pays to have a workplace that ensures heterogeneity of backgrounds and sensibilities doesn’t impede teamwork.
In a world of free flow of people and brain, no work community can be a monolith, and without doubt, 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 a workplace. 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 while others may be finer executors. 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 India&’s potential and would boost innovation and free thinking. An organisation&’s work culture should be cultivated to ensure a complete assimilation and acceptance. For example, in an 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 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 to make sure each individual is respected for the abilities and not discriminated against for any reason.
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. The organistions of the 21st century need inclusive diversity to succeed. On a global level too, the question of diversity is a case in point. While the United States of America, which has traditionally been a heterogeneous society finds it relatively easier to ensure inclusion of diversity as compared to the more homogenous European nations.
In recent years, several European countries such as France, Greece, Italy, which have witnessed an influx of migrants have witnessed tensions over the question of assimilation. India is not new to diversity, yet often our behaviour displays undesirable, even xenophobic tendencies. The experiences of people from the North-east India in Delhi as well as those from African nations reflect 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 ensures a sense of belongingness. Having a diversity-friendly set-up helps to enhance the productivity of individual employees. 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.
The writer is director, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade