Diversity In The Workplace — 5 Indian Companies With Inclusive Hiring Policies

Devleena S. Majumder, Culture Machine
Devleena S. Majumder, Culture Machine

Earlier this year, Culture Machine, a Mumbai based media company, created waves in India and across the world by instituting a “First Day of Period” leave for its female employees. Considering the immense pain a lot of women go through during their periods — stomach cramps, nausea, backaches, this move was widely welcomed. Finally, the monthly discomfort (that’s putting it lightly) many women struggle with had been recognized in a company’s policy. There were some vocal critiques of the policy though — among them, journalist Barkha Dutt, who said, “For women to use the fight against menstrual taboos as an excuse for special treatment is a disservice to the seriousness of feminism. Stop this sexism.”

I can’t say I agree with her at all. To me, the “seriousness of feminism” (?) includes the fight to make workplaces inclusive spaces, to accommodate different identities. After all, as much as it may seem like it, the world isn’t made up only of cis gendered, heterosexual men — companies need to confront this reality, and begin by hiring those who do not fit into the mainstream understanding of gender and sexuality. The first day of period leave is just a small move made in this direction — recognizing that workforces can and should be heterogenous, and the varying needs of this workforce need to be met.

It’s no secret that the LGBTQ community in India has it tough. In 2013, the Supreme Court upheld Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, making illegal sexual activities “against the order of nature”, effectively criminalizing homosexual relationships. While in 2014, the Supreme Court of India legally recognized transgender persons as the “third gender”, it remains difficult for members of the community to find sustained employment- in May this year, Kochi Metro hired 23 transgender persons. However, soon after the news broke, about 10 of these employees quit, due to difficulties in finding suitable accommodation in the city.

However, all is not lost — it’s a gradual process, but there are some companies that have begun recognising the need for diversity and are instituting inclusive policies.

We spoke to five workplaces — ranging from cafes to conglomerates, that are leading the way in making professional spaces both welcoming and safe to a diverse range of employees.

I. Nukkad, The Teafe, Raipur (Café)

The Journey Towards Inclusiveness

We started Nukkad in 2013, with the sole purpose of developing an inspiring place that offers equal opportunities to every individual. We are currently working with the hearing impaired, as well as transgender people. 80% of workforce is made up of hearing impaired employees and trans members, who work at various levels from housekeeping to management, depending on their skill set. Chhattisgarh as a high number of people belonging to the transgender community, as well as high numbers of people who are differently abled — we wanted to break the stigma attached to these identities, and showcase their skill sets.

The journey has been very rewarding — there were challenges in the beginning — people did not understand what we were trying to do, but we have now become a popular café, not just because of the food, but because of our friendly staff that makes all customers feel welcome. Regular customers now even come and celebrate their birthdays with our staff!

On Integrating Openness Into The Workplace

Before joining, all our staff members (specially the Kitchen Operation team) are informed of the work culture and the team that they would be working with. We believe in experiential learning, so we work with our team on behavioural, personal and professional grooming. We have strict policy for our customers, who must treat our staff with respect- or the customer is barred from our café.

(Priyank Patel, Founder, Nukkad Teafe)

II. Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz, Bangalore (Radio Station)

The Journey Towards Inclusiveness

Community Radios are meant to be safe spaces for everyone irrespective of caste, class, gender, race, religion, region, language, sexual preferences, occupations etc. So, when we launched the station in June 2007, it was a natural progression to make a conscious effort to reach out to different communities of interest and geographies within Bangalore.

Inclusive policies boost creativity and innovation, provide opportunities to learn and grow both at the personal and professional level. We took baby steps, the first of which was obviously to unlearn and relearn many concepts like community, participation, access etc. We had an orientation on understanding gender diversity, sexual orientation, common terminology, gender identity, expressions, the use of right pronouns etc. Activisits Manohar Elavarthi and Akkai Padmashali were instrumental in this orientation.

Following this, within the station, we made a conscious effort to document typical micro-aggressions, offensive or inaccurate language, local slangs, and songs in popular or folk media etc and, also have had open discussions during lunch/tea.

Our fear has always been on representational diversity or tokenism. So while it is easy to have members of different community groups work together, we need to ask ourselves constantly -do they feel safe enough to participate and contribute fully? We thus remain mindful that both diversity and inclusion are part of a life-long journey and can never claim that we have arrived.

On Integrating Openness Into The Workplace

The Monday morning meetings, compulsory team lunches are important ground to collectively discuss, debate, and arrive at an understanding. Orientations are an important part for all interns, volunteers and guests too. We also conduct exit interviews to gauge how ex-colleagues feel about the practices. Regular trainings are a constant feature. Cross community-mentorship and coaching have really helped. We also believe in celebrating simple things – birthdays, food, festivals, and SRS surgery – just about anything.

(Pinky Chandran, Co-founder, Radio Active CR 90.4MHz)

III. Godrej Group

The Journey Towards Inclusiveness

Godrej strongly believes that passionate, rounded individuals with diverse interests make better employees. When you can bring your whole self to work, you are able to truly prove your potential. All our HR policies are designed keeping this philosophy in mind. Our health insurance benefit allows our team members to add a ‘partner’ as a beneficiary and not only a ‘spouse’, we offer unlimited sick leave, and flexible timings and work from home policies are for all employees- and we are always tracking our progress with regard to D&I (Diversity and Inclusion), identifying potential areas to deep dive and find relevant solutions.

While the journey of being an inclusive organisation started long ago, over the last few years we have tried to institutionalise this culture through various policies. The intent is simple – whatever we do, we want to go that extra mile to ensure that people flourish in their whole lives, not just their work- the biggest success has not been about numbers, or about policies, but it has been the dialogue that Godrej has been able to establish on D&I related matters. Today we are at a stage where we are discussing things that other organisations still consider taboo.

We are working on extending our D&I initiatives to the most remote locations we operate in. We would like to create the same experience for an employee working at our Godrej One Headquarters in Mumbai and for someone working out of our factories in the North East. But, this is a journey and we are happy that we are on the right track.

On Integrating Openness Into The Workplace

A D&I session is included as part of induction. We also do diversity sensitisation workshops with employees across locations as we believe integrating openness and inclusiveness starts with your people and the place that you work in.

(Mahnaz Shaikh, Head- Diversity and Inclusion, Godrej Industries and Associate Companies Limited, Head, HR (India & SAARC), Godrej Consumer Products Limited)

IV. Culture Machine, Mumbai (Media Company)

The Journey Towards Inclusiveness

At Culture Machine, our workplace ethos thrives on an assemblage of global diverse talent, our very philosophy on diversity emanates from our existing culturally diverse workforce.

Right from our Talent Management Strategy which is firmly based on purely on the competency of an applicant, the organizational and role based competencies, along with our employee’s performance evaluation have been constructed keeping in mind sensitivities to issues of diversity. Our diverse workforce helps us understand and work with varied perspectives which help ultimately strengthen our foundation of the organization’s work culture.

Diversity is ingrained in our system. Culture Machine, in spite having an approximate strength of 200 employees has embraced employees from varied backgrounds, free of biases and respecting individual/personal preferences. In the quest to be more minority friendly, we did face opposition and challenges when we established the First Day of Period leave as part of the leave policy in our organization, but the important takeaway from this journey is that if you wish to be a trend-setter and break social stigmas, you are bound to face opposition. With respect to this policy, some of the questions we faced were whether we were being gender biased, the female employability ratio, the approach being regressive in nature, to state a few. And while the policy was questioned, on the other end it also received an overwhelming support from our own organization and garnered media mileage across top publications.

On Integrating Openness Into The Workplace

We have organized workshops that have thrown some light on aspects of inclusiveness and diversity. One recent example of that would be a ‘Self Defense’ workshop that was organized on Independence Day with the concept of #FreedomFromFear. All employees irrespective of gender were welcomed to participate.

Openness and inclusiveness are integrated right from the beginning of our employee’s journey at the organization, from an orientation to our business philosophy, our performance evaluation processes, people planning strategies, and our employee engagements/ activities.

(Devleena S. Majumder, Chief of Staff, Culture Machine)

V. ThoughtWorks (Technology Consultancy)

The Journey Towards Inclusiveness

At ThoughtWorks, we believe that heterogeneity of thoughts, perspectives, ideas and solutions enhances innovation, and innovation breeds business success. We actively strive to make both ThoughtWorks and our industry more reflective and inclusive of the world we live in. D&I is ingrained in the DNA of the organisation and influences all aspects of our business, be it culture, policy or decision making. We are committed to being a safe and bias free space for women, and to being an ally to the LGBTQIA community.

We have a multi-pronged approach to D&I and there are various initiatives to drive this across all our key functions, from recruiting, HR, training programs to marketing. For example, our initiative Vapasi assists experienced women developers who are looking to re-enter the world of programming after a career break.

On Integrating Openness Into The Workplace

We have many internal events, guest speakers, film screenings and road shows to sensitize our employees. The ThoughtWorks Away Day is an annual event, where employees from all the ThoughtWorks India offices and a few representatives from global offices converge in one place, for a long weekend. The intent is to collectively appreciate and discuss the company’s imperatives. Topics on social and economic justice, privilege, diversity and inclusion are discussed, with expert guest speakers joining in. After the Supreme Court verdict of 2013, Our MDs published an open letter on our website sharing their concerns on Section 377 and the right of every individual to express one’s sexual identity. The next step was hiring trans person, and we worked closely with Solidarity Foundation to make that happen.

(Tina Vinod, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at ThoughtWorks India)

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