"If One Needs To Change The Culture, Inclusion Needs To Be Part Of The CORE"

What can we learn from the pandemic: It has been a real leveller in us appreciating and believing in “flexibility at work” in the real sense.


Gender diversity continues to be an area of focus for many organizations. I have seen the focus on gender diversity being heavily articulated as an opportunity for the last two decades. I have even heard that it is has existed for much longer. While Conversations have changed, Representation has changed, Context has also changed, the foremost question is, has the Culture changed? 

Points of Reflection

Have we considered re-looking at the Job Specifications? Every job has a statement of qualifications, skills and personality traits required to perform the job. Most of the time, we weigh in on the relevant qualification, industry experience and skills which we have been conditioned to assume as critical for the role. For instance, it is assumed that to be a successful business leader, one needs to have a sales background, one should be a go-getter and one should push their team hard to deliver consistent performance. This, to me, is stereotyping. It also takes the form of career stereotyping or typecasting due to societal norms and family pressures. Women are expected to fit well in roles or functions that require the softer approach—teaching, communications, HR, finance, nursing, and so on. Sales, medicine, engineering, defence forces, etc., are said to be a man’s job. Such biases and stereotyping need to be challenged every single day. Every job specification should be evaluated for gender biases, conscious or sub-conscious.

Is it an initiative or is it part of our CORE? An initiative is always additional, it is a stretch. If one needs to change the culture, Inclusion needs to be part of the CORE. At Diageo, Inclusion and Diversity is a part of the Performance Ambition. Business and leaders, at the topmost level, are measured for strengthening the inclusion agenda with specific outcomes and metrics.

Expand the Narrative: For a lot of organizations Inclusion = Gender Diversity. This is a damaging equation. Firstly, by driving focus just on gender diversity, one is building a narrow view of diversity. Diversity should be valued and respected in all forms- focus on the LGBTQ+ community, differently abled people, regional diversity and so on. Secondly, this results in one focusing only on numbers and representation, which is critical, but not all of it. It can lead to alienating men and build an “exclusive” mindset which defeats the purpose. Inclusion represents a holistic view centred around “culture”, ways of working and organizational DNA.

How do we convert non-believers into believers? Don’t push the numbers, start the conversation. Address the “why”, not “what” and “how”. Many companies including Diageo have focused on “Gender sensitivity” trainings. Companies are also exploring a new concept of “reverse mentoring”, wherein senior leaders are mentored by female millennials, bringing in a fresh perspective, and a unique opportunity for leaders to gain valuable insights into the experiences of women workforce. 

Create a community which grows together: At Diageo India, for instance, we offer mentoring and internal networking opportunities through “EKA”, an Inclusion and Diversity Employee Resource Group that is voluntary and cross-functional and aims to accelerate our D&I efforts across the hierarchy. This has enabled our female employees to get a chance to strengthen their belief in their own capabilities and they are exposed to different opportunities within the organization.

Break the nut: Hit the shell, which is the hardest. Most of us may have heard that “Women employees cannot be plant managers, women employees cannot be frontline sales leaders”. Hit this belief. Create “role model women sales leaders”- nurture, invest and develop them. Their success will break the shell. 

Change the conversation from the top: At the peak of pandemic, imagine our “Chief Commercial Officer” who leads the Sales function of a Rs 30,000 crore company, comes on an all-employee call and says that he would not like to be called for a meeting before 10 am, because he needs to support his wife with household chores. This is a game changer. It is a powerful message not just on what menfolk should do more of in our society, but also, what the organization stands for, and expects from its employees.

What can we learn from the pandemic: It has been a real leveller in us appreciating and believing in “flexibility at work” in the real sense. What many of us accomplished during this time working remotely, could not have been imagined in the past. It is an opportunity for us to change the lens we use for hiring and developing people for different jobs, how work can get done and who can do it.  This can help create opportunities for women, who usually play a larger role in managing the family unit.

This world was created equally for men and women. We bring different skills, thinking and emotions to keep our species evolving and moving forward. It is unfortunate that sometimes we close one eye to look at the world narrowly. It is time for us to change. Change starts with “I”.

(This article has been solely written for BW People publication, by Mr. Aarif Aziz, CHRO, Diageo India.)

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