Diversifying Inclusion in the Workplace

Striking a balance between “survival of the fittest” and “equal opportunities for all” is definitely a challenge in this capitalistic economy of ours. In board rooms dominated by discussions of profit margins and growth trajectories, the space for bringing in ideas and strategies that do not contribute such topics is indeed limited. However, over the past decade, “diversity” and “inclusion” have received considerable focus. Beyond being simply buzzwords, they have found their way into companies’ mission statement and have deeply benefited the work culture of organisations.

From minorities and women to people with disabilities, under-represented segments of the society now have a platform to prove themselves as organisations seek to make themselves more diverse. The last shoe I bought at a large retail chain was billed by a man who had a placard on the counter that read: “This counter is being served by an individual who is deaf and dumb”. PayPal hosts an annual program specifically geared towards recruiting women seeking to enter the workforce post a career break. Microsoft has been running an Autism Hiring Program since 2015, with the aim of opening its door to autistically challenged yet capable individuals.

The initiative simply does not stop at the hiring stage, but rather starts there. Events, workshops, discussions on promoting a more inclusive workplace further support employees in adjusting to a shifting work culture. Speaker series geared toward “Women in Tech” or workshops aimed at helping managers incorporate an “inclusive” approach in their leadership skills are commendable steps being taken to enhance the quality of experience and fairness in the work culture. While the leadership teams and the task-force on ground should be lauded for their tremendous work in shifting age-old ideologies, there are still some segments that are left behind.

If I ask you to recall the face of the cleaning staff you passed on the way to the washroom yesterday, or the name of the person who takes care of the pantry and your snacking needs, would you be able to muster an answer? Despite the fact that the support staff of any organisation forms such an integral unit of defining our workplace experience, we hardly ever acknowledge their presence. Most often, they are found lurking in a corner trying to be invisible as we go about our daily activities. As we work at our ergonomically friendly chairs and desk, you might find a housekeeping staff member constantly standing in attention near the washroom or the cafeteria, ready to serve to your every need while striving to ensure that you get the best of every facility. If tomorrow they were to be replaced by robot, would you even notice the difference?

However much we fight it, class differences are still deeply entrenched in the society. Of the many societal battles that we are fighting today, sadly, this is currently not the priority. The irony is: you may be acting in support of it and still be oblivious of it! Jog your memory a decade or so back: was your household help asked to sit on the floor and had a separate plate and glass to herself, which no one else in the household used? Were you specifically asked not to play with her children? Did she ever know about the concept of “weekends” or “competitive pay”?

At times, some values become a part of us without us even realising their presence. The manner in which we treat our superiors and our peers might influence our career growth, while simply acknowledging or appreciating the work of a staff member might not fetch you anything (other than a hidden pack of biscuits, maybe). But its not always a give and take world, it can also be a “lets appreciate what we’ve got!” world.

Remember how it felt when your boss appreciated the efforts that you put in, or when a fellow team member gave you great feedback on your performance? Exhilarating, right? How about paying it forward and thanking the official from the transport desk for ensuring everyday that you get back home safe, or letting the security guard know that you appreciate the hours he puts in the scorching sun, or simply thanking the cleaning lady in the washroom for keeping the area tidy? Lets start building a more inclusive workplace together!

An Indian by nationality, an engineer by profession and a tinkerer by habit, Asra aspires to explore the world beyond its confines and come up with solutions that can drive change, thereby promoting better quality of life for all. A Bachelors in Technology specializing in Computer Science & Engineering, Asra has worked for a leading Bay Area company for two years before taking up the AIF Clinton Fellowship. With the goal of applying technology and analytics to the field of developmental policy, Asra is seeking to answer some of the pertinent challenges faced by India's development sector. During her tenure as a Fellow, Asra will be working with IFMR LEAD in the domain of data science for public policy. When she is not mulling over life and its intricacies, you might find her engrossed in a book or enjoying an engaging conversation.

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