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Are Companies Confusing Diversity With Inclusion?

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By Rajkanya Mahapatra

In the post-Industrial society, formal workplaces around the world were established and managed by men for decades before political developments mandated for women and other marginalised groups to be included in the workforce. With time, workplaces have grown to accommodate people of different identities and backgrounds. That said, up until the last decade companies were known to hire people from different backgrounds to tick ‘diversity’ off the checklist while heterosexual, able-bodied men of the dominant race/religion (depending on the socio-cultural context) continued to call the shots at the workplace.

What Has Changed?

Hiring priorities have undergone a transformation in the recent past and businesses, especially, multinational corporations have now begun to prioritise and actively address the issue of diversity and inclusion (D&I) at the workplace. A 2018 report by McKinsey and Company, attests to this shift in priority, the report states, “Many successful companies regard I&D as a source of competitive advantage.”

The report also claims companies with a more diverse workforce were seen to be making more profit than their not-so-diverse competitors. Having a diverse workforce, undoubtedly, also makes for good PR as companies appear attuned to changing societal expectations and realities.

Representational image.

Is Diversity = Inclusion?

Do companies think they’re being inclusive by hiring people from varied demographies? They’re not because diversity and inclusion are two distinct processes.

Simply put, diversity is about ‘who’ makes the workforce – people who belong to different age groups, gender, sexuality, caste, religion, disabilities, and more. Inclusion, according to a 2018 Gallup report, is about “a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging. It can be assessed as the extent to which employees are valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in the organisation.”

Companies risk executing tokenism for diversity. Hiring a few people each for every different demographic marker to make the annual report look good is not D&I. The benefits of a diverse workforce are realised when the company makes systematic systemic changes to counter bias, reform review and hiring mechanisms, allow opportunities and decision-making to be more evenly distributed among the workforce, to name a few.

So, it’s not enough to hire more women, trans, and non-binary people or people across caste and class lines. It’s definitely a start but the competitive advantage that companies are vying for will only be unlocked when they invest in inclusion. A company will succeed on their D&I agenda when a person from a marginalised group/identity feels like they truly belong in that workspace, have a certain amount of psychological safety to be able to put their best foot forward and a real shot at succeeding within that organisation.

A case in point on ‘how to think of inclusion’ would be Google HR’s efforts to understand what makes a team effective. They led with the assumption that a dream team would need a mix of “individual traits and skills” in “one Rhodes scholar, two extroverts, one engineer who rocks at Angular JS, and a PhD.” What they found was the exact opposite.

The success lies not in people but in the dynamics within a team. So, you could have a diverse team but if the power dynamics within that team are skewed not only will the team not be efficient, it would also aggravate a marginalised person’s troubles at work.

An effective team should provide psychological safety to its members, ensure dependability, have clarity about goals, know if the work is of significance to those in the team, and the perceived impact of the work for all members. Efforts at inclusion would also require proportionate and enthusiastic participation from those in the workforce who occupy the more dominant social position. Inclusion has to work on a ‘by all – for all’ principle.

What Are Indian Companies Doing?

Lately, Indian companies have begun to mention that they are an ‘equal opportunity employer’ implying that they prioritise diversity and are looking to hire people of diverse identities and backgrounds.

Companies, most notably, Tata Steel, Infosys, Godrej Properties, IBM, Goldman Sachs have turned to recruit experts to help them hire better. Recruiting startups like Avtar, and Vividhataa who are helping India Inc. say that companies understand the benefits of having a diverse team (better problem solving and innovation). But that’s again only half the job done. Indian companies have taken noteworthy steps to hire and include more women at the workplace but it’s debatable if that counts for D&I. Getting more women onboard is simply expanding the workplace to accommodate another singular homogeneous social category. Little is known about the sub-identities of the women who have been hired.

Indian companies have taken noteworthy steps to hire and include more women at the workplace but it’s debatable if that counts for D&I. Getting more women onboard is simply expanding the workplace to accommodate another singular homogeneous social category.

That said, Cummins India, the manufacturer of diesel and natural gas engines, has been leading by example. They have not just been hiring better but have also taken active steps to work on inclusion. The company prioritises on hiring women, folks from the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities apart from also focusing on regional representation. The company conducts sensitisation workshops for all new employees and have dedicated ‘Employee Resource Groups’ to work on inclusion initiatives. The company boasts of accessible infrastructure, mental health support for employees and a crèche provision for all parents, among other things.

It might take Indian companies a while to get diversity and inclusion right. It’s a good thing that a lot of them have acknowledged the need to focus on D&I and are working on it. Nevertheless for true D&I, it is a long road ahead.

About the author: At Ungender, Rajkanya writes about the many ways modern workplaces can become inclusive. As a graduate student, she’s exploring the location of gender in issues of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and violent extremism. She’s currently the Editor of Ungender Insights.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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