Companies must reinvent their way of working to become more inclusive
Diversity and inclusion have become the new buzzwords in the business space, but the pandemic struck as companies took small steps towards it. How have organisations worked around the challenges and continued to create an environment suitable for people with different needs?
This is one of the crucial questions put forth on Day 3 of TechSparks 2021, Asia's largest and most influential startup-tech conference hosted by YourStory Media.
One of the panels, a part of the Diversity Agenda track, centred on, ‘Making today’s virtual workplace more inclusive: Why it matters.’
The panel discussion featured Vinaya Chinnappa, Program Manager, EnAble India, Suman Gopalan, Chief Human Resources Officer, Freshworks Inc, Vishnu Iruvanti, Head of HR, Clear and Bhavya Misra, Director and Head HR, Lenovo. They shared their insights and perspectives on how organisations can make virtual workplaces more inclusive.
Bhavya revealed that the pandemic served as a reflection point for Lenovo.
She said, “The pandemic pushed all organisations, including Lenovo, to see every area you haven’t looked at for remote working, like sales, for example.” She pointed out that the company had to relook its policies to ensure they were in line with new expectations and responsibilities as people worked from home.
Looking at employees’ physical, emotional, and mental health needs, Lenovo provided infrastructural support to enable them to work remotely.
Recognising and navigating diverse needs
Just two weeks before the pandemic struck,went public with a pledge to increase gender diversity. With a timeline of 12 months, it looked forward to ensuring that at least one-third of its global workforce comprised women. “Gone are the days of being in a physical workplace; the new normal has opened up possibilities on who you can hire and where you can hire,” Suman added. She reiterated that the pandemic has acted as a catalyst to enable the company to be more diverse.
She noted that the pandemic had been a double-edged sword because different people have responsibilities that include caregiving and childcare. Freshworks’ focus was on how to support these workers to be productive and not experience burnout.
Clear has formulated new policies to ensure smoother workflows and performance. “The entire organisation takes a break around a particular time with fixed lunch breaks,” Vishnu said. He added that the company has invested in training leaders to show more empathy towards employees during these trying times.
Making inclusion sustainable
Diversity and inclusion must go beyond being gender-inclusive and open avenues to include and retain talent from various perspectives.
Suman shared that at Freshworks, they have often hired people without college degrees and some who may not have the “right qualifications” on paper because they believed in people’s passions, intelligence, and the right attitude.
“Bringing in people from diverse backgrounds ensures an inclusive culture. With everyone working remotely, the challenge lies in creating opportunities and providing access to resources, information, and people,” he added.
Several companies have also sought the help of organisations like EnAble India to help them in making their work environment more inclusive. EnAble conducts employability programmes for people with disabilities and works with governments, private and public sector companies to utilise the full potential of employees with disabilities.
Vinaya pointed out that when remoting working became the norm, the organisation had to understand the gaps that needed to be fixed. From sending out chairs to people’s residences to accessibility software, a multi-pronged approach was necessary. She observed that although there was some initial resistance, several companies took this time as an opportunity to consider other categories of diversity that hadn’t been looked into earlier.
“The organisation decides to say, ‘yes, we want to do it.’ Once the intent is in place, the rest happens,”
With female participation in the labour force down to 16 per cent last year and the number of employed disabled individuals still abysmally low, it is a long road ahead for companies to make their workplaces more balanced and inclusive.
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