Point of View

Leaders: Is diversity really on your agenda?

August 12, 2021

At the HFS OneOffice™ Digital Symposium in June 2021, Nischala Murthy Kaushik, HFS Chief Marketing Officer, shared her thoughts on diversity—a super-hot topic gaining traction in every industry worldwide. But what is it? And what do you need to do about it, beyond pasting a colorful banner across your website homepage? It has a far-reaching definition that considers different genders, (dis)abilities, backgrounds, sexual orientation, race, and so much more. Based on her personal experiences and interactions with girls and women around her, Nischala highlighted why it is so important for you to understand the different nuances of diversity and learn what you can do to make a difference for the case and cause of diversity.

Girls have dreams too, but society is not equipped to support them

Nischala introduced us to her two beautiful daughters—both curious, independent, and aspirational girls with beautiful dreams for the future. One wants to own her own design company, while the other dreams of being an actor, singer, or talk-show host (in Nischala’s words, a content creator). However, Nischala wonders what the workplace would be like for them in the future. The global pandemic has resulted in a “shecession,” which describes the pandemic’s negative impact on women’s workplace gains over the past 12 to 18 months. Working from home has not meant the same for men and women. On average, women spent 7.7 hours a week than men on unpaid domestic and childcare responsibilities, forcing many women to quit their jobs. Moreover, a World Economic Forum report highlights that progress toward gender equality at work would not begin to recover until 2022.

Exhibit 1: It’s important to understand the nuances of diversity

Source: HFS Digital Symposium, June 8-9, 2021

We can’t just sit around and wait for things to change. We all need to think about what we can do to make a difference. Nischala decided to act to make a positive difference in her sphere of influence. She actively explored opportunities for writing, speaking, and mentorship on the topic of women at work. Over the last decade, Nischala has written 150 articles in global and regional forums, mentored 50+ women and young professionals, and spoken at 30+ conferences. Moreover, she has created, nurtured, invested, and participated in women-only network communities focused on professional growth and leadership. Nischala’s experience has shown her that diversity as a subject is complex, layered, and multi-dimensional.

According to a range of sources, including the UK’s Royal Society, Forbes, and McKinsey, not only does diversity fuel creativity and innovation by bringing a range of ideas to cross-pollinate, but it also plays a positive part in financial performance. We see more enterprises taking it seriously and more innovative solutions supporting the diversity agenda. For example, Finnish-headquartered Basware added diversity data to its supplier management solution. HFS analyst Josh Matthews highlighted the importance of focusing your diversity efforts on both retention and hiring to hold onto the best talent. HFS CEO Phil Fersht also declared, “I look forward to a day when a company lost business because of how they handle diversity.” As Nischala points out, it’s about time you, as leaders, became aware of issues and proactively did something about them to make a real difference.

Consider these four thought-starters to advance women in your workplace

Nischala has identified four thought-starters for advancing women in the workplace:

  1. Be aware of diversity and the nuances of diversity around you. Nischala continued with the format of personal storytelling and introduced us to her 11-year-old twin nephew and niece. Both were to participate in a skating competition at school. Unfortunately, both kids forgot their skates and helmets—essential equipment for entering the competition. Interestingly, Nischala’s nephew borrowed the equipment from a friend and took part. Her niece did not.This story highlighted the stark difference between a boy’s outlook and a girl’s approach to problems. They are fundamentally different.
  1. Use your voice to influence diversity positively in everyday life. Nischala reached out to 20 girls in her close social circle to gauge their ambitions and dreams for the future. The answers were far-ranging: an IS Officer, a CEO, an artist, to have freedom and independence. Intelligent young women who all can make a marked contribution to our society. They will likely end up in all different fields, from IT to government and from the arts to healthcare. But will they have enough guides, mentors, role models, and sounding boards to help them navigate their career and life choices?At Nischala’s high school reunion, women who had navigated long-term careers had at least one mentor or career guide who helped them, especially when they were at a crossroads in their career journeys.So, could you be that one guide or influencer for someone?
  1. Be involved in the diversity agenda in your company. Nischala champions the diversity charter at HFS, which included the launch of the Shero Diaries on International Women’s Day in March 2021. This was a series of podcasts in which Nischala spoke with influential and powerful women in our industry who had made it to the top:
    • Eva Sage-Gavin, Senior MD, Talent & Organization Human Potential Practice, Accenture
    • Allison Sagraves, Senior Vice President, The New Normal, M&T Bank
    • Anita Mahon, Executive Vice President & Chief Growth and Strategy Officer, EXL
    • Stacy Simpson, CMO & Global Leader of Corporate Responsibility and diversity, equity, and inclusion, Genpact
    • Marie Myers, Chief Financial Officer, HP Inc.

On their podcast, these corporate leaders shared their personal life and career journeys, the choices and decisions that influenced them, and reflections from these experiences. Common insights that stood out for Nischala included:

  • Commitment from the top is critical. For meaningful, long-term change on diversity, it has to be a priority for the board or C-suite. There must be an investment and commitment to the diversity charter, ideally including a dedicated leader to run the charter, having a clear goal for the future, and a solid plan and governance mechanism to track progress.
  • Implement a well-laid out focus on hiring to enable access to opportunities for diverse candidates.This is to build the internal pipeline for talent and for bringing talent from outside the organization. Nischalahighlighted that HFS is looking at the diversity policy of organizations as part of our OneOffice Top 10 research in 2021. As per data from April 2021, women’s representation for entry-level jobs at IT service providers ranges from 35% to 50%. However, for senior posts, this is significantly lower, at 7% to 20%. The good news is that there is a serious commitment from across the board to increase the latter in the next two years. However, leaders must keep diversity at the top of the agenda to make this happen.
  1. Enable that one opportunity for growth or visibility in the context of diversity. HFS has a unique opportunity to put the spotlight on causes we believe in. For all events at HFS, we actively and consciously identify women who can be invited to speak based on their experience and expertise. It takes time and effort, but it is a cause that is important to us. We’ve seen that when the opportunity presents itself, women lap it up! Moving the dot on diversity in the workplace is our collective responsibility, which can start with one thought and one action. At this HFS OneOffice™ Digital Symposium, Nischala shared the stage with 16 women leaders from around the world. The key is to identify how you can actively champion the cause of diversity as part of your role as a leader or as company.
The Bottom Line: Leaders: Call out diversity as a company-wide priority, and make it non-negotiable.
Watch the Diversity session

You can read other POVs and a comprehensive ebook about the Symposium, plus watch video highlights of the two-day event, here.

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