Going Beyond The Definitions…

Going Beyond The Definitions…

The business case for bringing diversity to organisations is established, but reaping those benefits comes from nurturing cognitive diversity.


When I first read the book ‘Lean In’ in 2013, gifted by my then manager, I realised that the challenges women face at the workplace have a universal reality. Of course, they may differ in context, intensity, socio-economic background, or cultural connotation. However, the fact is that many women will still be able to relate to the book’s examples. We are on this continuous journey of creating a more equitable and inclusive workforce, and while it is going to take us many decades to reach where we genuinely want to be, I feel that the mainstream awareness about DEI in the last ten years has improved.


In the initial days of the lockdown, many videos emerged on social media highlighting how we belittled homemakers’ work. Some also encouraged the sharing of load at home, and partnership between all home members became stronger. While this is true, the other bitter truth is that the pandemic has made it more difficult for women to balance the demands of work, home, and children – the primary role of caregiving still rests with women. There is little doubt that the blurring of lines between home and work causes stress on everyone, but the fact is that it is more challenging for women to handle these blurred boundaries. This stretch has made balancing the demands difficult and the thought of giving up or compromising easier to embrace.


Reflecting on Flexibility


Many progressive and employeecentric organisations make “flexibility” a part of their employee value proposition to attract and retain talent. While this is great for the most part, many employees also describe this as a Catch-22 situation, especially with the traditional lens of performance evaluation still being so prevalent in these systems. One leads to the other and adds the problem of leaking pipelines at all levels, due to which not enough women get promoted to senior positions. And sadly, this continues as a vicious circle. I do not think any woman wants to achieve success in their career as a “diversity” candidate!


Our organisations reflect the society we live in, and so, this year’s IWD campaign theme of #BreakTheBias is about breaking the bias in our home, community, workplace, and education. We have a duty towards our children as they are the future leaders and managers in workplaces, governments, education, etc. Organisations that are investing in programmes and initiatives to raise awareness in the workplace have taken up the challenging task of penetrating beliefs and biases that have been cemented for years – thinking passed down for generations that have become norms in our lives. These programmes are not about finding someone or something to blame and then fixing it but about realising that the space of impact is complicated with layers of intersectionality. I want to encourage all such organisations to continue their efforts – we need to keep at it to move the needle.


A Foundation for Diversity


I would like to share a couple of personal examples that made me realise that all actions, however small, are significant in building a foundation. My 4-year-old daughter came crying to me because her doll’s legs came off and would not go back in. I could not fix it either, and then my daughter did not want that doll, saying she had no legs.


I immediately realised how our attitude shapes up early in our lives and decided to see if I could help her view it differently. So, I explained to her through pictures about persons with disability, about equity, and how she and her other dolls needed to embrace the one with no legs. In my heart, I did not know whether the trainer in me was at the forefront of this conversation or if my 4-yearold would really understand what I was saying! To my surprise, she understood so easily and even asked me to get a wheelchair for her doll!


This, for me, became an example of bringing home the awareness and knowledge that I got from my workplace. Another example would be when she was doing her online class, and I overheard this conversation between her and her teacher. It was the first period, and while the teacher was waiting for other kids to join, she asked my daughter, “What did your mom cook for breakfast?” My daughter, instantly, without a thought, replied, “My father prepares the breakfast, and my mom cooks dinner.” My daughters don’t know otherwise as they see both their parents working and picking up household chores depending on who can pick up what!


This is an example of what I would like to take to my workplace and work on my performance or attribution bias. This is also where we could bring more awareness to be an ally in the workplace. It does not just have to be men being allies to women. I do not undermine that at all - in fact, the impact men can create by being allies is significant. However, I would like to highlight that we all need allies in our lives, and if we are sensitive, we will find many opportunities to be an ally to someone.


The Next Steps in Inclusion


The business case for bringing diversity to organisations is established but reaping those benefits comes from nurturing cognitive diversity - and organisations cannot achieve this without inclusion. Inclusion means taking the action of involving and providing the right conditions for all to realise their full potential. We must focus on measuring inclusion more proactively than just reporting diversity numbers. What could be the lead indicators in the context of your organisation? We need to go beyond just defining what DEI is! It is about collectively appealing to our ethics, emotions, and logic to open minds and systems to inclusion. That’s when we can create a level playing field!

Geetanjali Wheeler is a seasoned L&OD professional passionate about building a culture that promotes learning agility at all levels in the organization. With an experience of about 17 years in varied verticals like Telecom, Airline & E-commerce, Geetanjali has spearheaded both global and national roles. Before moving on to her current role of leading L&D for a global financial services group in India, she worked for a large Telecom company.


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