HDFC Life’s CHRO On Thinking DEI Beyond Gender Diversity

Highlighting the critical need for sync in the company’s promises and actions, Vibhash Naik, Chief Human Resources Officer, HDFC Life emphasises on seamless implementation of people policies and said, “Walk the talk–if you are talking inclusion, let people recognise that your policies support it. Redraft, recreate, and re-launch policies that have clear communication on inclusion and diversity”


Q1. Despite so much talk around D&I, don't you think, companies are still lagging behind? Why?

The fundamental cause for this feebleness is the fact that the whole ‘Diversity, Equality & Inclusion' (DEI) agenda is mostly dialogue and not followed by concrete action that would change the organization's DNA.

In most situations, it is the Human Resources (HR) department that holds the fort for DEI. There's no sincere sponsorship from the top management. While HR in most organizations is working to establish an ecosystem through recruitment and reputation management, there's nothing beyond that. Other high-impact things, such as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), are seen as a cost by the management and hence not explored.

Another significant roadblock also is the minimal or insignificant representation of the diverse groups in the organization. While companies argue being inclusive, their ecosystems do not show enough openness or representation of the diverse group. DEI, for most companies, means women.

The need of the hour is to think of DEI beyond gender diversity and create a culture where everybody walks the talk.

Q2. In order to establish an inclusive culture and to count on the D&I agenda, companies include differently abled employees but are they being recognized?

Are they disabled or differently-abled? The distinction in these two words describes the distance organizations need to traverse to include specially or differently-abled people in the teams.

HDFC Life’s Talent on Demand is the initiative that encourages hiring professionals from all walks of life and with different skill-sets. One can work from wherever they are, rather than committing to a specific location and work hours.

While we understand, not all roles may entice these people, and we consciously promote positions that can be flexible, considering their strengths and capacities.

Q3. According to you, how important is it to have an inclusive work ecosystem for an organisation? What changes have you made considering the shift in the workplace?

For organizations to achieve higher levels of productivity and engagement, their employees must feel welcomed and included. This inclusion has become imperative given the current business scenario where everybody is operating from a different place, in an unfamiliar environment, with a unique working arrangement.

HDFC Life has taken a multi-pronged approach to strengthen its inclusive culture. We have made all our policies inclusive of all genders and abilities. Procedures such as adoption leave, gender transformation, and parental leave are all gender-agnostic and employ all gender preferences. Our unique learning ecosystem provides diverse learning offerings for employees with different learning styles. Our extraordinary work contracts welcome all kinds of professionals–such a full-time, part-time, gig workers, etc. People can work on their terms related to work timings, place, nature of work, etc., at HDFC Life.

Besides these systemic enablements, we are consciously building sensibilities among employees, where inclusion is seen as a way of working or a code of conduct for HDFC Life. Frequent communication campaigns, learning interventions are the mechanisms we rely upon to contribute to this culture shift.

Q7. According to you what are the three major keys to address to attain success and build a sustainable inclusive culture of an organization?

Top Management Sponsorship and belief in DEI: Let this not be a tick-mark activity. People can see through things if it's only lip service. Alignment of the Senior Management to the DEI vision is absolutely essential for it be a success. One needs to have the conviction in building an inclusive culture. Their sponsorship guarantees a remarkable level of agreement across levels.

Seamless Implementation: Walk the talk–if you are talking inclusion, let people recognize that your policies support it. Redraft, recreate, and re-launch policies that have clear communication on inclusion and diversity.

Strong governance and Sustenance: This cannot be a one-off initiative that you talk and forget about. One has to keep on communicating and reinforcing the organization's lack of tolerance for any behavior that is against the basic principles of DEI. A strong governance mechanism needs to be set up to track progress and check whether the organization is on the right path to achieve its DEI vision.

Q4. What HDFC Life is doing differently in order to stand out when it comes to the Diversity, Equality, Inclusion (DEI) mission?

HDFC Life’s DEI journey is two years old. We have taken a disciplined approach to lay a reliable foundation that builds a powerful brand and introduces the right DNA fundamental to sustain DEI.

HDFC Life yearns to live and breathe inclusion and cherishes every uniqueness/difference our employees bring. We want people to re-understand the word ‘different’ as ‘unique’. We want to ‘Celebrate YOU’ - and that is the brand of our DEI journey. Our team recognizes this pursuit is personal and cognitive, and we are doing our best to ensure this gets entrenched in the operations.

Q5. What is that one particular DEI initiative that you are running and you feel immensely passionate about and why?

We choose to celebrate every uniqueness, and this needs to start from the top. To help these top leaders better realize their convictions about inclusion, we recently conducted a 360 degrees feedback on inclusive leadership.

We will follow this 360 degrees feedback with comprehensive 1:1 feedback by inclusion coaches and workshops on embedding DEI into the organization.

While we have several initiatives running, this one is dear to my heart because I know a self-reflection has magical outcomes and can guide many conscious attempts on inclusion by the top management.

That’s when the agenda will ultimately shift from HR to the business, and all of us will collectively work to make HDFC Life the most inclusive of all.

Q6 On DE&I Front, what are HDFC LIFE's goals to accomplish in 2021 and how far have you come?

Our 2021 goals are to ensure the entire organization acknowledges that we are serious about diversity and inclusion. We are not just lecturing about it but also investing in people skills and systemic strength to promote this cultural transformation.

During this year, we have introduced new inclusive policies. We are also on track for the physiological shift we want to start among our leaders! We have launched specific training programs to make employees aware of unconscious biases. A DEI council has been formed that monitors the organization's progress on the DEI plan. While a lot has been done already, we are geared up to drive it to the next level.

I am hoping for the best!


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