Transformative Solutions For Inclusive Development At Publicis Sapient

As a people-first organization, Publicis Sapient creates an inclusive environment at work that is comfortable for each and every team member.


December 3 is observed as International Day of Persons with Disabilities (PwD), which aims at promoting an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.

According to United Nations Organizations, this year’s theme is “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fuelling an accessible and equitable world”.

Publicis Sapient’s approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) focuses on building an environment that celebrates and supports a blend of diverse perspectives created by differences in age, educational backgrounds and technical abilities, religious and political beliefs, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, identity, social cultures, disabilities, languages and more. They do so by encouraging inclusive leadership, implementing inclusive practices and fostering an inclusive mindset. Let's talk further with  Vieshaka L Dutta, Director - Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Publicis Sapient and get deeper insights into it.

How would you describe Publicis Sapient's ethos of creating an inclusive environment for team members who are differently abled and being their mindful allies?

At Publicis Sapient, our approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is focused on building an environment that celebrates and supports a blend of diverse perspectives. It is what we believe enables us to create not only a lasting and sustainable impact to society at large, but also fuel our brave pursuit of next.

Our core business ethos is built on the pillars of an equitable environment, systems, and practices that are all aimed at empowering people from diverse talent groups to bring their authentic selves to work.

When it comes to people with disabilities, it is important that we are cognizant of the language we use, as words form perceptions. This is why we insist on person first language as, a person is not defined by their disability. There are many who feel discomfort in using the word disability and yet it is a way of truly accepting a person. The right terminology is to say a “person with disability” where we understand that the person comes first and that some form of disability is another part of their life. These can be visible or non-visible. Calling people ‘specially abled’ and ‘differently abled’ adds pressure on people to demonstrate some form of a special skill which they don’t need to.

In the spirit of providing an equitable environment, our integration processes are curated keeping in view the unique requirements of each talent group, be it women, LGBTQIA+ community, or people with disabilities. We have hired and integrated people who have had disabilities and also supported people who have acquired disabilities over time. This talent group has reverse mentored our leaders and people alike and have been instrumental in fostering an inclusive and accessible workplace.

We have policies that enable our people to thrive and gain a sense of belongingness. And we also believe in building an inclusive environment and mindset. This is crucial to fostering a better understanding amongst our people in terms of how to work with people with disabilities and how to be more accessible overall. When we instill respect for different perspectives and for people from different background and experiences, we believe that’s our shot at making a difference. This is not limited to people working at Publicis Sapient alone, but a philosophy that we extend to our larger ecosystem including our clients, partners, suppliers, our agencies, and everyone we connect with.

Can you elaborate on the recruitment strategy followed by Publicis Sapient to strengthen inclusivity of persons with disabilities team members?

As an organization, we believe inclusion should not be an initiative or a movement, rather a part of our cultural fabric. For us, this begins with our recruitment strategy. For the last three years we have been visiting various campuses to recruit people with disabilities. With that in view, we ensure all our interviewers and not just the recruitment teams, undergo sensitization training so that they are more equipped, confident, and comfortable when interacting people with various disabilities. When we come across a talent with a disability, we ensure that our senior recruitment teams and leaders are involved in a streamlined process to hire them.

On onboarding, our employee affinity group - enABLE Business Resource Groups (BRG) – comes together

to ensure that they provide an equitable experience for people with disabilities – we don’t want them to feel that they are joining us at a disadvantage. There is at least a six-month-long integration program where the talent gets tagged to a buddy or a mentor. They are connected with a cohort of like-minded people with disabilities, within the system, who meet every week to discuss challenges and other issues and ways to get support. While we have vigorous campaigns in place for recruitment, we do so without demarcating roles within specific disabilities. The aim is to let individuals decide whether or not they want to apply for a certain job role.

We also host recruitment events for people with disabilities and other under-represented groups, which allows us to accelerate inclusivity in our organization and provide a level playing field for every applicant.

Any initiatives undertaken to support persons with disabilities during remote work/hybrid work setting?

In May 2022, the World Health Organization released the first ‘Global Report on Assistive Technology’. It focused on technological products – devices, equipment, instruments or software that would enable people with disabilities across functionalities to communicate better. The survey spanned across 70 countries, including India. The findings showed that more than 2.5 billion people need one or more assistive products such as wheelchairs, hearing aids or apps. This essentially means that more than half of the people with disabilities globally do not have access to these products. When working in a hybrid or remote setup, the disparity in equitable accessibility only continues to widen.

At Publicis Sapient we had a flex work policy even before the pandemic and we have been continuously evolving our people experience to build on that flexibility and accessibility. Our overall orientation is to create an environment where everyone can thrive. That requires building programmes and policies that help create a more diverse and inclusive environment. Our Reasonable Accommodation Policy for instance lets our people opt for accommodations or facilities they need to not only work happily, but also grab opportunities to develop and grow their careers with us.

As we dial up our efforts to integrate more people with disabilities into our organization, we realized we needed to evolve and upgrade our facilities. While we have a screen narrator software installed in our systems, we go the extra mile to provide our people with latest solutions or customized systems that will enable them to do their jobs with ease. We work closely with our IT and infrastructure teams to continuously upgrade our legacy systems so that they are accessible. Beyond systems, our global training sessions are also enabled through desktop and mobile screen readers and subtitles so that the content is accessible to people with vision and hearing impairment.

We have a clear roadmap to create an all-inclusive and accessible workplace and while there is some ground to cover, there has been tremendous progress. And this progress is due to the passion and efforts by many of our colleagues who are people with disabilities. Additionally, we lend our expertise when engaging with third parties to help them gain a perspective on being more accessible.

What is the role of leadership in empowering team members and maintaining an inclusive environment?

It is our leadership commitment to set a path for the rest of the organization to follow. When it comes to hiring or even working on different projects, our leaders are instrumental in ‘sponsoring’ people with disabilities. By ‘sponsorship’ we mean providing support not in a monetary form but by adjusting our policies and mindset to be more helpful through learning and training.

Our leaders take on the role of sponsors for various aspects such as enhancing university coaching for people with disabilities, sponsoring learning and development programs, or even providing support to individuals on a case-to-case basis.

For example, team members with a specific disability need to take breaks at certain intervals, work remotely, and have a customized way of working. As sponsors, our leaders ensure that necessary support is provided to individuals so that they can continue to feel purposeful and create impact through the work.

What strategy does Publicis Sapient follow to strengthen disability-inclusive learning and development programs?

Exposure, experience, education and building the work environment are the four pillars of our learning and development programs. What makes Publicis Sapient a truly progressive organization is that we are constantly evolving and learning to enhance our people strategy. To foster a culture of inclusion, we run DEI (Diversity Equity and Inclusion) sensitization trainings for everyone who joins us and more in-depth training sessions on various topics. We also conduct periodic communication accessibility trainings to build disability confidence. For some years now, we also provide sign language classes, with various levels of progression. These programs happen to be quite popular, and we received overwhelming participation every time we conduct these classes. The feedback mechanism allows us to continuously improve these programs.

In another instance, we recently concluded an awareness program on neurodiversity where we educated our people on how to work with and nurture neurodiverse talent. This session was facilitated by an external partner and was sponsored by our data science and engineering leaders who provided insights on how we could improve on our collaboration efforts when it comes to working with this talent group.

Besides investing in the learning and development of our people, we also go the extra mile in sensitizing caregivers of people with disabilities and their families that helps create a support system for our colleagues.

What according to you are the problem areas and challenges for people with disabilities in organizations today?

I believe that one of the biggest challenges that continues to persist for people with disabilities, is accessibility. While we rely on some of the world’s best applications that are designed on the principle of uniform accessibility, most of these are yet to mature in terms of accessibility and there is quite a bit of work that goes into make these applications compliant.

Many of our people continue to face challenges outside the organization. Recently, one of our colleagues with a vision impairment was set to speak at an external conference. While we have provisions in place

to make them feel comfortable within the organization, we wanted to ensure a seamless experience for them outside of the office premises as well. We coordinated with the organizers to assist, attend to, and have certain facilities that would allow for a seamless experience for our colleague. Most times these are added efforts and can be a constraint.

There have been several instances where we get into partnerships where our affiliates may have advanced systems but are not necessarily accessible in an equitable sense. We believe we are in the position to create a domino effect to spread more awareness. To that end, we extend our tech-expertise to our larger ecosystem of vendors, partners, suppliers and agencies so that they can create accessibility within their own systems and processes and help sustain it in the longer run too.

While we continue to educate and sensitize, we are mindful of the way we extend our support. It’s not uncommon for people with disabilities to feel ‘not equal’, with everyone around them trying to constantly ‘help’ and sympathize. Once we understand that the motive is to encourage and empower, we can become better and more informed allies. To work alongside people with disabilities is to essentially offer respect and dignity to empower them.

Tell us about the impact of the initiatives implemented at Publicis Sapient, and how it has helped the people?

As a people-centric organization, we believe our remit is to first transform our people so that they are empowered to create an impact for our clients. One major impact we witnessed is a shift in mindset among people to recognize conscious and unconscious biases with regard to people with disabilities. Through our extensive training and awareness programs, we were able to create a community of allies who actively support and champion people with disabilities and that helps us be more disability confident as an organization.

One of our observations was that most people have no idea how a person with blindness or severe locomotor issues will be able to work. We created a short film named, “Disability is the inability to see people as more” where some of our colleagues with disabilities who lead our enABLE BRG efforts, were showcased in their homes with families and in their workspaces. This was an attempt to help our people gain a perspective on how ‘able’ people can be. This film surprised many as the featured colleagues were performing complex tasks independently.

Besides the programs I mentioned earlier, our annual Accessibility Hackathon serves as a great platform for our people to understand and solve challenges faced by the community by leveraging technology. We have now extended this hackathon globally, where our people across the world come together to design applications and create accessible solutions for real problems of people with disabilities.

We observe Global Accessibility Awareness Day, where we invite speakers with different disabilities to inspire and motivate team members, by sharing their experiences. We also created a series of videos to build a disability confidence movement within the organization.

These efforts are in sync with our belief that when we drive more conversations around this issue, it allows us to raise awareness – it’s our shot at making a real difference.

How is the future of work going to be for people with disabilities at organizations?

According to a report by Unearthinsight, India has almost 3 crore people with disability, of which around 1.3 crore is employable. However, only 34 lakh of them have been employed across the organised sector, unorganised sector, government-led schemes or are self-employed. The statistics are quite alarming and indicates that there is a long journey ahead of us to truly support and empower people with disabilities.

The past two years tested the resilience of remote and hybrid work. We witnessed rapid acceleration of digitization while learning how to scale and sustain. The same lies true for the future of work when we think about people with disabilities.

There is a need to focus on learning, unlearning, and re-learning so that we can evolve and continue to foster an inclusive environment. Individuals with disabilities have the same intellectual capabilities like the rest of us and how we provide the right opportunities and infrastructure is crucial to their success. It’s important for organizations to create accessibility for this community. Creating an inclusive workplace is everyone’s responsibility and companies that are committed to providing an equitable platform for persons with disabilities can lead the way in eliminating stigma or the bias.

That said, I do see things changing and for a good reason. For instance, our clients today insist on accessibility in the solutions we build for them. For me it’s a clear sign of progression. While there is so much more that needs to be done for organizations to become more inclusive and accessible, I believe once you have taken the first steps, it only gets better from there on.

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