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December 30, 2013

Diversity - HR Focus and Trends

Diversity continues to remain the Biggest Challenge and Focus for most organizations. So let’s begin with some common questions about Diversity -
What is Diversity? Is it being Politically Correct w.r.t. Gender? Is it having more women as employees, management or board? Is it affirmative action in Corporations?

In one word, diversity is about Pluralism – where more than one idea is accepted. Concept of pluralism (referred as Diversity herein after) is based on strong business logic focused at achieving business goals effectively. To take a leaf out of Jack Welch’s (former Chairman & CEO, General Electric) book,"It makes great business sense to have open and diverse culture because that allows you to look for ideas and talent from a much wider base”.

Unfortunately, like so many other great ideas and thoughts, Diversity has become a metric and number to be reported: So many women in leadership roles, X % of women in workforce, special privileges / policies for women, parenthood etc.

At the cost of sounding politically correct, (people who know me will vouch that being politically incorrect is my default status. Once a woman friend aptly articulated that nothing political is ever correct) I was impressed to hear news of Mary Barra (newly appointed CEO of GM) joining likes of Indira Nooyi, Meg Whitman, Virginia Marie Rometty, Ursula Burns and Merissa Meyers. Most of these admiring women leaders grew and succeeded before current trends of diversity interventions. Common theme would be that they contributed at significantly higher levels in their jobs. Leaders (mostly gentlemen) saw potential and supported an outstanding contributor for business reasons.

Challenge lies in understanding that Diversity is about Organizational Values and creating a value based strong foundation to foster multiplicity of ideas. People at all levels in organizations need to believe and practice Respect for individual, aligning to one solution/approach whilst knowing that there are more than one possible solution to any given situation.

These days everyone talks about having a diverse culture and open environment, how they respect and promote diverse candidates etc, but in reality as long as you are consciously segmenting people based on ethnicity, gender, age, background etc, organization hasn’t embraced the concept in its spirit. Diversity is being forced top down.

During my tenure as HR Manager at Genpact India, we had young women employees taking up smoking (which is uncommon in social environment) because they felt left out. They believed that lot of work gets done in “cozy smoking clubs” during breaks and to grow they need to play the part. Similarly, in each organization there are so many informal groups / sub-culture which put tremendous pressure on people to play the part. It makes impossible for diverse culture to prosper.

This demonstrates how just having great number (% of diverse groups) in work force coupled with great women oriented policies have nothing to do with Diversity or openness. HR and Leadership get comfortable by looking at numbers on reports and miss the whole point.

Point is about creating culture of inclusiveness. It’s not only claiming to be an Equal Opportunity Employer, but hiring people with right values and giving them confidence to be themselves. This is where HR and Leadership play facilitator and liberator. This can’t be done through sitting in meeting rooms and try to create plethora of policies and freebies but needs establishing one on one relationship of equals. Fact remains Organizations don’t make people great but great people make organizations great.

I am sure 2013 was a great year for all of you reading this blog and it brought its share of frustrations, turmoil and challenges. I pray and hope that you enter year 2014 with bigger dreams. May god give you and your loved ones strength and wisdom to fulfill your dreams.

Warm Regards,

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