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winsight 12 A one minute guide to inclusion: CARE and CARE

A one minute guide to inclusion: CARE and CARE
anita cheria and edwin

With ‘inclusive growth’ gaining currency, the focus now is on how to make inclusive growth possible rather than if and why. Experience has proved that inclusive growth is a business imperative rather than a social justice fetish. Inclusion makes economic sense since it enables tapping into a wider pool (labour, markets or vendors) rather than let prejudice restrict or even exclude talent and quality. Diversity not only helps in the management logistics of a company (for instance a religion diversified staff would not all go on holiday at the same time) but also helps an organisation to be ahead on the knowledge curve with regard to cultural sensibilities in the external environment and preventing groupthink.

It is important to understand and always remember that diversity and inclusion are good for the organisation even in monetary terms. Therefore inclusion is not charity, and should not be so considered. A few simple pointers—the ‘CARE and CARE’ principles—help in making the organisation inclusive, and the experience a positive and profitable one for all concerned.

Capacity building
To be inclusive, the capacity of the excluded needs to be increased. Being inclusive and ‘inclusive growth’ it is not to put incompetent people into positions they are ill suited for. That would be adding insult to injury and be unfair on both the organisation and those thus forcibly ‘included’. Enhancing their skill set is a prerequisite for inclusion.
Fortunately, with the spread of education, there is a readily available pool of qualified (and sometimes over–qualified) experts in virtually every knowledge stream from every social section.

Affirmative action
The practice of exclusion has become so normative that we are unconscious of it, and oftentimes it becomes exclusion by default rather than by conscious individual design. The presence of qualified persons from the excluded sections in the general talent pool and their absence in formal spaces needs to be corrected by policy and practice of conscious affirmative action. If these persons are not included at the appropriate skill and responsibility levels, then they become frustrated or discouraged (if over–promoted), just like anyone else.

The policies and practice need to be ‘SMART TRADE’: Simple, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic Time–bound, Transparent Responsibility, Accountability, Dignity, Execute. It needs to be clear how much diversity, how soon, who is responsible and what the accountability be for ensuring dignity and execution. Execution with dignity are very important to move beyond words and tokenism. Without dignity, attrition rates would defeat all success of recruitment.

Role models
Role models are an imperative for the success of inclusion. Once a barrier is broken, then more people can follow suit. Many people thought—and scientific evidence ‘proved’—the human body could not run a sub–four minute mile. Once it was done, it has become a regular feature.

Role models are needed both ways. Within the organisation, it could be the CEO so that the majority has a good role model on how to be inclusive. CEO needs to lead from the front and take active interest—a CEO’s policy and an organisational policy, and a part of ‘life’

For the excluded communities role models are needed so that they know that they too can excel. These role models work best as peers—meaning when the role models are from the excluded communities themselves—but any kind of commonality when sensitively forefronted would work. For instance, a woman role model could work with all women, provided the ‘woman’ identity is stressed.

Enabling culture and infrastructure
Diversity is a statistic, inclusion is a mindset. There must be zero tolerance for bigotry. There are many ways in which bias plays out. Some of them come from genuine beliefs, some even from genuine concern (for instance ‘those who get in through reservations have lowered self–esteem). However, the organisation must foster a genuinely welcoming culture and an enabling ethos so that the excluded can have the confidence that they are really welcome. Only then can they deliver on their promise and potential.

This mental infrastructure needs to be complemented with physical infrastructure and assistive technologies such as ramps, separate spaces and common spaces, crèches etc.

Action
Many organisations have good policies and good intentions. That is insufficient. There must be time–bound action on measurable ‘SMART TRADE’ targets. If not heads must roll.

While an internal staff structure that replicates the larger external demographics is ideal, organisations should ensure that it has at least 50% of the diversity in the larger society if it is to be even remotely competitive in the evolving world. For instance, since women are about half the population, organisations with less than 25% women (50% of 50%) would be disadvantaged. In an interesting case, where all the product managers, engineers, sales and marketing staff and the advertising company were selling appliances made for women by men and sold by men, an interesting ‘insight’ was ‘the consumer is not a moron—she is your wife’, hardly rocket–science, but necessary since there were no women in the team. Similarly those with less than 5% people with disabilities, or less than 10% religious minorities…. In redressing the balance for extreme cases of exclusion, such as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, they might need to be encouraged in proportion to their presence in the population rather than 50%.

Non–negotiables
Make it clear to everyone that there is no going back. Diversity, inclusion and justice are part of the ‘new normal’. The acceptable standards of behaviour needs to be clear, especially what is taboo. Treating everyone with dignity at all times is important. Zero tolerance for racist, ethnic, caste or gender comments should be particularly enforced. Most often the most painful behaviour is condoned because ‘it was only a joke’ and ‘everybody does it’. Be prepared for obstructive behaviour from unexpected quarters. Deal with it compassionately but firmly.

Disaggregated data
Disaggregated data is essential for tracking the diversity profile, and hence inclusion, of any organisation. In many of the credit cooperatives run by NGOs, they claim to have 100% women, with the implicit assumption (and sometime vocal assertion) that they cover the most vulnerable. Disaggregated data will show that most of the women are in the 20—45 age group, seldom from the socially excluded sections or single women (deserted or widowed).
Disaggregated data helps reveal our blind–spots so that we can take remedial action. It goes back to a favourite saying of managers: ‘what is measured gets managed’.

Critical mass of the excluded
The number of the excluded needs to be sufficiently high to prevent isolation and tokenism. Just one or two would be intimidated and drowned out, or even at times become targets of office bullying and victimisation. Inclusion needs to be beyond tokenism if it is to succeed. Having ‘trophy’ or ‘symbolic’ representatives increases anger and frustration, let alone foster loyalty or gratitude.

This critical mass needs to be encouraged them to develop their own support networks, which may or may not have people from the majority.

Audit performance
Start with your objectives. Get the data. Analyse to make sense of it. Ensure that there is visible monitoring that neutralises the subtle biases (maternity leave, flexi–time etc). Conduct periodic Social Equity Audits at all levels of the organisation and for different stakeholders.

Reverse mentor
‘There are no paths, paths are made by walking’. This African saying holds true for inclusion, which would be a new terrain for the managers. It is certainly not taught in business school. Teach the managers how to address exclusion concerns—and who better to do so than the excluded themselves.

Encourage and empower
The excluded need an equal opportunity. They can carry the same responsibilities as anyone else, and when they are given the chance, they can deliver. For that they need to be given progressively more responsibilities, not mollycoddled, and with practice and experience, they will deliver. As the level of confidence rises, delegate more responsibility. Treat them as high-fliers, and they will be.

Missteps are bound to be many in this journey, most of them at the initial stages, but it could strike at any time. Even ‘mature organisations’ with decades of experience in inclusive practice could trip. But an atmosphere of encouragement would make everyone feel wanted and valued. This empowering feeling would help avoid the minefield of recriminations.

Do not patronise them. Always remember, inclusion is not charity.

A good article on inclusion by Hema Ravichandar, hrmatters@livemint.com is available online at http://www.livemint.com/2010/03/28203627/A–place–to–belong.html?h=B
It came out when we were working on this, and enriched this note. For instance, the term 'reverse mentor' is from there. Do check it out.