Beyond the Rainbow Sky!

“It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse races.” Mark Twain


 Mid-June in India is a time when the seasons are doing their handshake from summers to a soothing shower of rain. In a midst of all external changes something within the office was also at the cusp of transformation. It was one such morning where the office was light-up with the colours of the rainbow. My everyday tea got served in a cup which proudly held the flag for the pride month. I sipped the tea and to my surprise it tasted just the same. Just like any other day. Perhaps what had only changed was the way it was packaged on that day. For a moment I wondered, how would the tea be feeling about this? When all essentials remained the same and the only emphasis of change was in the external paraphernalia. The rains intensified as we steeped into July and the rainbow cups were neatly bubbled wrapped and secured for its utility in the next season. 

Yes, I know rainbows are often found in the rains. But there is no reason for it to wait for all seasons to show up its complete light. For most corporates too the June is a month to bring up the rainbow, celebrate pride and more importantly talk about all the happenings in diversity and inclusions. These intents soon get bubble wrapped along with cups as the energy of the June tapers down.

Real change happens not when we click the colours of the rainbow and post them on social media expressing our support, but work on ourselves and others to create a more equitable world. The opportunities are even larger now when organizations are diligently working towards the Future of Work. If the future is being global then diversity is an inseparable part of it. You cannot be global without the globe being represented in your organization. For that to happen the organization needs to go a step beyond the aspects of tokenisms and range of habitual symbolic efforts. These are moments when change goes beyond celebrations to truly brining in better psychological safety, systemic inclusion, ally relationships, tapering fears, working on past hurt / grief and more importantly self-level commitment to be the change agent for institution building. You are doing it not because someone is watching you, but because you truly believe you have the potential to bring to life a more equitable organization. That power is with each person in the organization, how often to do organizations tap into that power of change?

Yes! There are two paths. One which is easy and tops the list of most popular things to do in D&I and then there is the other path. Which perhaps takes more time, demands higher will and effort, requires collective investment and desire to build the change path inch by inch each day. There is nothing wrong in which path an organization selects, as every organization has a different starting point. But if you have all the resourcefulness to make the change happen then I would truly nudge you to take the second. Be the trailblazer, more organizations need more such examples and role models.

Any suggestion of change often comes with an inquiry, what’s in it for me as an organization? The conclusions are sometimes overtly simple, if there is no great value than I rather stick to the bare minimal as an organization. Allow me a moment to dwell a little deeper on the aspect of ROI. For more B2C (Business-to-Customer) organizations (P&G, CocaCola, Unilever, etc), the values and principles directly reach, or I would rather say get consumed by their customers. Hence large part of their diversity and inclusion agendas gets targeted to the diverse customer segments they are in business for. When you search for top companies that support LGBTQ+ community. It comes as no surprise that most organizations are from B2C space. Building for diversity has a very clear value proposition for these businesses. It directly impacts their brand value and profitability.

It is not the same or not that easy for B2B (Business-to-Business) organizations. B2B’s do not have a human on the other side directly using their products and instantly sharing what they feel about the organization. So, the best inputs they get on being a preferred brand is from their own people, and it becomes even more important to have the best things in store for them. Creating a safe space to heal and thrive for every unique individual within the organization becomes the new value proposition for these organizations. The question is what should organizations do differently to make this happen?

While many future-fit policies are getting discussed in the space of LGBTQ+ inclusion. Some of them range towards, new hiring strategies, digital support to reduce biases, Policies and benefits which are designed keeping in mind the individual’s needs, purposeful communication and conscious inclusion. Not marking out things as separate but making it an integral part of the whole organization ecosystem. Where minority is not a sperate entity but a well amalgamated part of an organization. The biggest showstopper for meaningful change effort is the question on ROI. These initiatives are often chained to the aspect of ROI. A classic example of an inquiry is on how to manage absence if a new Dad/parent/ same sex partners goes on 3 months paid paternity/adoption leave. To start with the lack of empirical data that points towards ROI is because the bold move has not yet been made! There are numerous reasons of such moves not being taken, be it the skewed socio-economic norms we have defined as a society, “Men are bread-winners, and women should look after the house”, or our lack of maturity as a society to look at same-sex parents as the same as heterogenous couples and reserve the same parenting rights for them. In all cases the damage has been done to all gender types, Men losing on the joy of sharing parenting responsibilities, women losing on careers, other genders’ losing their representation.  

The world at large will take many years to become a much more progressive place for every kind of identity, gender, race, religion, ability, etc. During this movement of change the real “Change makers” are those organizations who truly understand that in order to stay competitive they have to attract diverse talent, in order to sell to diverse consumers.  Minimum effort zone exists in degrees with many organizations, the number of diverse individuals being inversely proportional to degree of tokenism. The adverse effect it brings about in the employees of under-served groups are loneliness, performance anxiety and sometimes a feeling that they are not talented enough but got through the interview due to the D&I policy of the company. That feeling is worse than rejection. Tokenism arises out of policies and practices in fact. When the policies or the Diversity mix in the hiring KPI’s indicate that it is important to hire certain type of individuals, we unintentionally are lowering cognitive benchmarks, while handling a much demanding job of talent acquisition. The intention here should be to drive healthy competition, but where has competition ever been healthy. So, the vicious cycle of imbalance in population and policies supporting gender minorities would continue, but what becomes important for organizations is the realization of the tokenism trap. Let’s not just hire 1 woman or 1 representative of LGBTQI+, not wait for that 1 female leader, rather nurture and develop the minorities to become future leaders, create enough agency for them to expand their communities within the organization and outside, involve them in the decision making and make them the brand ambassadors of organizational change. 

Successful policy making would come with taking in the preferences of minority groups in order to create meaningful employment relations rather than just treating D&I initiatives as a tick in the box.

Drifting away from Tokenism, discovering beyond the rainbow sky

The methods to see beyond tokenism can be many and can be developed over time. The simplest way to look at this can be to ensure the ways of financial returns so that D&I initiatives have a non-threatened existence within the company. A simple framework which can support returns is about ensuring enough cognitive diversity which outlines the ultimate goals of the organization. Implementing ways for bringing in identity diversity arising out of cognitive diversity, which speaks of essential steps to ensure stronger establishment of inclusion, and finally building a culture that supports both cognitive and identity diversity.

I would like to bring to you the story of “Hidden Figures” which speaks about how 3 women from the black community in the premise of World War 2 were hired for temporary jobs by NASA, because there were not enough men left to do the computational work, and they went on to make great discoveries still fundamental to present day astronomy. Diversifying the talent pool can create wonders when people are given the right opportunity. The question still remains, is your organization ready to take that risk?

Perhaps next time you have a moment where you can go beyond the rainbow sky, you will still have the two paths to choose from. Hope you choose the one that creates more value. Be the trailblazer and share your stories of the path you are building for yourself and others.

(The above article has been curated by Nikita Panchal, Vice President, Global Head Talent, OD and D & I, ACG World, solely for BW People publication)

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