The COVID-19 pandemic may have increased our social distance and, with blurring lines between work and home, has accentuated the importance of human connections. At the same time, the pandemic has had a more profound impact on specific underrepresented groups based on gender, race, sexuality, and socioeconomic status. For instance, women in emerging economies such as India and Brazil are two to three times more likely to report challenges related to increasing workloads compared to their counterparts in developed countries. Other research shows that Hispanic women in the US experienced a 21% decline in employment in the pandemic, compared to 13% for white women and 9% for white men.
Businesses already know that inclusion and diversity (I&D) is critical to sustaining high performance and long-term growth, but they have to rethink pre-pandemic I&D strategies from both policy and broader organizational culture perspectives. A recent conversation with business leaders across North America, EMEA, and APAC revealed some interesting insights into tackling I&D in the new normal. Read on to learn more from our conversation with global leaders in the second of our two-part blog series.
It's the small things that matter: Building I&D into processes and systems
For a long time, I&D has been viewed as a way to comply with regulations. Today, it is a business imperative that trickles down from organizational values and beliefs into operating models, systems, and processes. "While we need a minimum global standard for I&D, it must be woven into the way we work, whether it's dealing with safety or performance management," explains Brendan Harris Chief Human Resources and Commercial Officer at South32. Hiring processes need to change to be more inclusive too. Defining roles differently and offering systems that support remote working can encourage a more diverse candidate pool. Even employee support systems such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), which support mental well-being, must be more sensitive to different societal and cultural contexts. In the context of remote working, organizations need to build a work environment built on trust that supports above-the-line behaviors.
Leaders need to step up: Empowering a diverse workforce
Processes and systems can be successful only if they are cohesive. This requires a top-down leadership approach to support and encourage diverse thinking. "At Roy Hill, we are focused on leadership awareness. It's important for leaders to be aware of unconscious biases that can influence how they build and manage teams," says Chris Eriksen, General Manager - Innovation and Technology at Roy Hill, a mining operation in Western Australia.
Situational leadership will be vital for organizations to foster collaboration in a diverse work environment. It's a more flexible approach that requires leaders to develop empathy toward individuals and help them navigate the complexities of the workplace while optimizing their skill sets.
Leadership awareness must extend to role modeling behaviors that organizations want to reinforce. For instance, leaders can send a strong message to employees down the line about work-life balance and autonomy through their own choices. "We must empower teams to determine what works best for them. I'm really working hard to role model that myself," shares Brendan.
Male leaders need to become allies: Bridging the gender divide
Male leaders have a huge responsibility in bridging the gender divide, especially at the managerial and C-suite levels. Despite advances made in gender equality, 90% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are still white males. It's clear that women need strong male allies at the workplace—leaders who are not just mentors but also passionate advocates for their development and promotion.
"Leaders must encourage others to grow. It's about creating an atmosphere which supports women, gives them the opportunity to rise to the challenge and prove themselves as capable leaders," says Kavita Rajesh, the third woman president of the all-female Hyderabad Management Association.
I&D is about breaking barriers: Addressing industry and region-specific challenges
It is interesting to peek at gender dynamics in specific industries, such as mining. Only 8% to 17% of the global mining workforce is women. "The mining industry has traditionally been engineering-focused, where individual expertise influences how fast people move up," explains Chris. Redefining and expanding traditional roles will be important—no matter the industry. For example, Roy Hill is taking the lead to improve workforce diversity by educating female students from schools across Western Australia. Visits to mining sites offer a first-hand experience of the different career opportunities available to women in a male-dominated industry.
In India, cultural barriers widen the gender gap at work—this has worsened over the course of the pandemic. More than 71% of working women in India say that juggling work and family often comes in the way of career development. The LGBTQ+ community in India also faces several barriers within and outside the workplace. The socio-cultural context is crucial, whether it's recruitment, promotions, performance management, or leadership development programs. Creating support groups to promote mental well-being could be another way to create a safe and nurturing work environment for everyone.
Consistency and follow-through will be vital
I&D will continue to be a learning and growth opportunity for organizations. The success of I&D initiatives depends on execution, implementation, measurement, and equally important, genuine intent. "At Cyient, we believe that conversations around I&D and a commitment to integrating it into the way we work every day are very important," explains Ajay Aggarwal, Executive Director and CFO, Cyient. Capturing data through surveys is one way to understand if I&D initiatives are working. However, a fundamental shift in organizational culture will require clearly defined KPIs so that leaders and managers are committed to consistent value creation across diverse employee groups.