Diversity adds value to businesses in terms of perspectives, approaches, and performances. Having a diverse panel right from hiring can be a huge step forward in trying to understand the candidates and their experiences. Organizational leaders and diversity champions talk about ‘hiring intentionally’ – to drive dynamic results by locating people in new and unusual places, rather than hiring them just to fill their quota of diversity.
However, upon hiring, if the professionals from underrepresented communities are not included appropriately in the workspace, the pride of being diverse and inclusive turns into tokenism. How can all of us, as allies rooting for inclusion at work, steer clear of tokenism and make professionals from underrepresented communities feel included at work?
The Onlys could be women at work (more so if they are in traditionally male-dominated domains and occupations,) people with disabilities, persons from the LGBTQ+ diaspora, members of underprivileged communities, and others who are vulnerable to unconscious biases and stereotypes.
Heightened visibility as an ‘Only’ can lead to a person becoming the representation of a community. Individual success and failures become the touchstone of what people of the entire community can do.
Onlys those who get engaged for the sake of diversity have to deal with the microscopic scrutiny that pointedly highlights their successes and failures. However, responsible professionals as leaders and colleagues ensure that work skills and experiences act as the common ground on which Onlys can bond with their teams and the organization at large.
Organizations rise when Onlys feel welcome and included at work, given that employee morale and productivity go hand in hand. Here are some ways to enable the same.
Focusing on common grounds among employees
When there’s a new hire in a team, managers need to be careful about how they introduce the new person. Deliberately drawing attention to the hire’s difference as the only woman or person from LGBTQ+ in the team may stir up the dynamics of “‘Us’ vs ‘Them’”, inadvertently othering them – this can be averted by subtle but conscious action and attention to detail. Focussing on the intersections of work that they do, such as previous work experiences is more useful for people from underrepresented communities to connect and mingle with their colleagues more freely in a healthy and inclusive work environment.
Being aware of unconscious biases
An inclusive workplace is one where there is no dire need to fit in. For it to be so, professionals should be made aware of their unconscious biases and be nudged to rise above them. Incremental changes such as using the term ‘partner’ instead of ‘husband/wife’ in personal conversations will secure people to build a healthy camaraderie in the workplace. Mentioning pronouns as a part of introducing oneself also lets people know that they are in a sensitized workspace.
Join the Vaahini network
Accenture Vaahini is a pioneering network working toward women’s inclusion in the workforce and women in leadership.
Diversity in hiring is a wonderful start, but empowered teams led by responsible managers root for diversity in promotion and retention as well. When managers lead by example, by checking their privileges, breaking unconscious bias, and practicing empathy, the teams tend to follow. Exercising the managerial prerogative to enable equitable opportunities for everyone is one of many ways to close the gaps between the Onlys and the others, within teams and beyond. Everybody gets an opportunity to grow, flourish and accomplish, irrespective of their identities and backgrounds.
One step further: The Inclusive Internship Program
Evolved organizations don’t stop with acquiring diverse talent; they continuously seek to grow and retain the recruits by nurturing an equitable, healthy, and inclusive culture. Accenture as an organization works to sustain an environment where professionals listen to each other’s stories and identify the areas that can be worked upon to bring in changes for good. The 6-month-long Accenture Inclusive Internship Program does more than just bring in people with disabilities, transgenders, and women from economically weaker sections into the workforce.
The initiative actively empowers interns with due skills to access opportunities that help them grow in the industry. Interns develop industry-relevant professional and functional skills along with robust communication abilities, among other things. Since 2019, there has been a two-fold increase in interns enrolling in the company’s inclusive internship. The program’s spirit of inclusion is taken to the next level by the people of Accenture who, as active allies, embrace persons with disabilities and transgenders as equitable peers.
Businesses stand to benefit from the unique perspectives that diverse groups bring, but evolved businesses are those that step up with initiatives such as the Inclusive Internship Program. In empowering deserving individuals to progress irrespective of their background, such initiatives power the cycle of inclusive and comprehensive socio-economic growth.