dentsu APAC Team

Dentsu APAC’s Chief Equity Officer, Rashmi Vikram, was featured on the podcast Stories that Shift with Jay Kumar Hariharan and discussed the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI) in the workplace. At dentsu, creating an equitable and inclusive work culture is our moral and business imperative. In our variance lies our strength. To help clients touch millions of lives, we need our people to feel empowered to bring their authentic selves to work and reflect and respect society in its truest form.

After all, a workplace is a microcosm of society. Each chair seats a life with a unique background and perspective. A thriving workplace fosters an environment that respects, encourages, and incorporates these differences. But how can organisations ensure that their efforts are hitting the mark? The DEI approach can guide the arrow.

The essential role of DEI in modern businesses

Diversity comprises various groups, including women, people with disabilities and neurodiversity, LGBTQ+ members, and those from marginalised communities. Within an organisation, it represents the presence of these groups. Equity ensures that individuals receive the support to level the playing field. This can include additional accommodations. Inclusion combines diversity and equity by fostering a sense of belonging and respect. Achieving DEI requires a holistic approach, much like the ingredients of a savoury dish that combine to impart a balanced flavour.

The trickle becomes a movement – the historical context of DEI

As inviting as it may sound, the emergence of DEI took some real work.

It unfolded during the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and was headlined by conversations on women's rights and their influence in public policy decision-making. In India, DEI found expression in the Constitution, with provisions like affirmative action for marginalised communities and disability-related bills. It has been evolving ever since.

DEI discussions, primarily on gender, gained prominence in corporate boardrooms over the past 15 to 20 years. The focus was on leadership and problem-solving skills. In the Indian context, gender was at the forefront of diversity. But conversations without concrete actions seldom lead to lasting change.

All rights deserved - the legislative context of DEI

In recent years, India has witnessed substantial changes in DEI, considering the legislative policies implemented. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code has long challenged the acceptance of homosexuality. It has sparked movements for LGBTQ+, human rights and civil society discussions. In 2014, the transgender community also filed petitions for recognition.

Gender-focused initiatives in corporate circles initially centred around flexible working and parental leave policies. Initially, India offered only three months of maternity leave, causing job loss for many women. However, when the government introduced a six-month leave policy, corporations embraced it. These legislative shifts extended to surrogacy and adoption leave, promoting equity and equal opportunities for all. The inclusion of male employees in these policies further contributed to significant changes in the DEI landscape, which was accelerated by COVID-19. However, this hasn’t been enough to retain the female workforce on the path to success.

What women want – female attrition and retention

The tech industry in Bangalore, India, for example, has seen a rise in female attrition, with challenges like disproportionate project allocation and limited growth opportunities. While this isn't unique to gender, many women consider transitioning to startups or consulting.

The research, What Women Want, which focused on understanding women's career needs across various stages, revealed that career stages were pivotal. Senior professionals were split between those vying for contentment and aspirations for higher roles. The latter can be addressed by offering opportunities and aligning progress with leaders' objectives. Sponsorship programs can actively support career growth, while ‘returnship’ programs can help individuals re-enter the workforce after breaks, addressing resume gaps and skill updates.

Key lessons from global inclusivity initiatives

The bigger the DEI challenge to be addressed, the mightier the potential good. For instance, all-gender restrooms not only aid the LGBTQ+ community but also benefit single parents and their children, showcasing how equity measures can have broader effects. This gives us enough motivation to get creative, even if it means looking far and wide for inspiration.

Examples like Skype's language support, adaptable Xbox controllers, and YouTube's interface adjustments demonstrate that innovation designed for one person can enhance accessibility for diverse identities. The concept of systems thinking highlights how unintended consequences can lead to positive outcomes, challenging the traditional focus on shareholder value in business. This shift toward a more holistic view of business purpose is a significant discussion among CXOs.

The business need for DEI (and personal)

Research indicates that diverse teams boost revenue and foster innovation. Clients increasingly demand DEI commitment in advertising campaigns. DEI isn't merely a topic; it's a necessity to align with diverse customer voices to ensure well-rounded product development. Not embracing it risks losing out on the LGBTQ+ buying power. Beyond potential business loss, DEI is crucial for reputation and compliance, underscoring its value in the business landscape.

On the other hand, individuals may personally champion DEI to ensure a safe space for the next generation. For instance, an employee in a SAP organisation advocated for the potential of autistic coders to find complex bugs. It led the company to pledge 1% of their workforce to autism inclusion. This required adapting the hiring and training process for individuals who might not fit the conventional education and interview process. This illustrates the value of innovation in fostering neurodiversity, encompassing those with unique cognitive abilities like autism, dyslexia, or ADHD – thus driving the future of DEI and guiding how organisations can adapt.

CXOs have an important part to play in this adaptation. In their hands lies the responsibility to make the perception of their organisation and the customer experience DEI-comprehensive. Taking a page out of a DEI practitioner’s book could be an excellent step towards that.

CXOs, please take note…

CXOs can learn from DEI practitioners how to embody the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in decision-making and communication. Key lessons involve embracing authentic leadership through vulnerability, cultivating curiosity to broaden perspectives, and acting with courage and mindfulness for productive conversations. By integrating these, CXOs can champion DEI, nurture leaders, and foster a culture of growth. Staying updated on diversity terminology through expert knowledge is another great way to enhance their efforts.

Holding the reigns of this shift can get overwhelming. Understandably, mental health can flail in the winds of change. Since mental well-being concerns transcend gender and identity, leaders can embrace vulnerability and make mental health discussions more comfortable and widespread.

This article is a summary of the key points covered during the podcast.