We live in an era of great possibilities, and even greater challenges; our capacity for goodness lies in how we overcome the latter to achieve the former. This isn’t easy when we’re constantly reminded of the divisions between us, but I have always believed that there is more that unites than divides us. This is why prioritizing diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a key imperative for all organizations and even more so for global organizations like HCL, that have the ability to make a global impact. This is exactly what I have always held to be a core part of my role in the company – to promote a culture of D&I in meaningful ways.
Recently, I was greatly humbled to be recognized as an “HCL Achiever” for my contribution to our Women Leadership Development Programs and conferred with the “Diversity & Inclusion Mentor Award”. This is an honour I share, not only with the company that has encouraged my way of thinking but those in HCL who have made me a better leader by helping me along the way. This is truly an exception in the grand scheme of things. After all, while 76% of organizations claim to value D&I programmes, only 5% are able to implement them successfully.
The Benefits of Diverse and Inclusive Teams
In my experience over the long-term, teams, especially those that have a diverse workforce, always outperform others. Their varied ideas and approaches foster a fertile environment where some of the most formidable business problems are resolved with relative ease. Given the current state of the world, we need an all hands on deck approach to overcome the personal and organizational challenges that lie ahead.
We need to bring together different thought processes that move beyond traditional and entrenched ways of thinking. This is the only way we can broaden our individual horizons and innovate new solutions that might otherwise be missed. I believe it is one of my most important roles as a leader to create diverse teams. In fact, this is a must for all leaders. It is only by moving outside of the “inner circles” and changing our mind-sets can we truly grasp the nature of this rapidly changing world.
But I must confess, despite the essential needs of the organization and the world, I personally find great joy in this endeavour. My passion for new ideas and thinking are fuelled by the rich variety of people that surround me – each person is exceptional in their own way. And it’s not only their uniqueness of ideas that enriches me but the generosity of spirit, that allows the team I work with to share their dreams and collaborate with me to make them a reality.
Unleashing D&I in the Enterprise
I’m always seeking that “light bulb” moment - when someone’s distinct perspective can shift my entire world view in seconds. Achieving these moments is only possible due to the wide spectrum of diversity and inclusion in the workplace that surrounds me, and I believe that all organizations can achieve this just as we have at HCL.
At HCL, we view D&I as a differentiator. We stand for diversity in skills, beliefs, and behaviors. As our business encompasses multiple countries and cultures, we’re the proud beneficiaries of a global workforce from 155 nationalities. Along with cultural diversity, we also ensure a fair representation of all genders, ages, and differently-abled individuals for a truly holistic implementation of our D&I philosophy. Providing equal opportunity to all, in our hiring process, goes a long way in building a culture that respects diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
According to an article in HBR, a leader’s actions have about a 70% impact on whether or not employees feel included. An employee’s wellbeing allows them to share more, and go the extra mile – which in turn boosts the team’s (and eventually the organizational) performance. Fostering such an inclusive culture is easy to speak about - but difficult to implement. Through my experiences working with a diverse workforce, I can share three key lessons that have guided me along my journey.
- Cultural and Emotional Intelligence
The first lesson is about cultural and emotional intelligence. At HCL, we have a program to help senior hires settle seamlessly into the corporate ecosystem (Senior Hire Integration Program). For instance, in the case of gender inclusivity, it’s interesting to note that a WeForum report says that supporting women within the corporate ecosystem can result in a 15% boost in global GDP or about USD 6 trillion in growth. Organizations need to have programs that encourage women to participation in crucial projects. HCL’s Women Connect program advocates a gender-neutral work environment and encourages women with their work/life priorities with a number of programs, such as life coach support, concierge services, and flexible hours, among others. And just as importantly, HCL’s Feminspiration/iMotivate platform invites women leaders to a common platform that brings in important insights into gender-related matters. Another very important initiative is #SheInspires: The program captures the life stories of women who have blazed a trail in the STEM fields to inspire the next generation of women leaders in STEM. Launched in 2018, the program has featured 60+ HCL employees and customers through videos, Tweetchat discussions, and magazine articles.
It is only by opening up an organization to a diaspora of people can we truly bear the benefits of diversity and inclusion initiatives and make lasting improvements.
The second lesson is about mentoring. Being a leader and mentor has been a rewarding experience for me. I’m certain I’ve learnt more from people I have mentored than they have from me. Each interaction, whether at a group level or on a one-on-one basis has touched me and improved my understanding in subtle ways. Each relationship has been one which has helped me improve myself as a leader (and as a person). On an organizational level, the benefits of mentoring can prove transformative as it not only fosters innovation but also strengthens the path towards future talent growth.
The HCL ASCEND program, for instance, focuses on encouraging an employees’ career progression into their aspired roles. Along with coaching and mentoring by seniors and peers, we use blended learning techniques for technical skill enhancement. HCL Decode is another program, in which we engage with the employee to better understand and help them with their career choices. Apart from these, we also have programs for creating a ready pool of talent for existing open positions within the organization (Prelude), one-on-one mentoring for aspiring women leaders (Women Lead Project), celebrating women’s achievements (Red Ladder), and a career development program for mid-level women employees to help them upskill and break the glass ceiling (Stepping Stones).
- Embrace Conflicts
The third and perhaps most critical lesson I can share is the importance of embracing conflict.
It’s only natural that diverse teams will produce divergent ways of thinking, and this can create complexities and conflict. The tendency some organizations have is to avoid conflict and recede into ‘inside-the-box’ thinking. And while this can be comfortable it is an anathema to the D&I change we need in the future. It is only by learning how to manage these conflicts and mastering empathetic communication can we appreciate the 360-degree viewpoints and potential of our diverse workforce. We all need to make space in our minds for new ideas and points of view.
Unlike like-minded groups, diverse groups may find it difficult to agree on a solution but their eventual outcomes are far more impactful. In technology and business solutions, this is our core focus – to dismantle old systems to build better ones. So, just as we leverage technology to transform organizations into 21st century enterprises, we must use soft skills training and D&I program to mediate conflicts so we can bring out the best solutions for our diverse workforce, our customers’ and society at large.
Finding Partners on this Journey
Nothing great is accomplished alone. Whether it is transforming traditional viewpoints or technology. So just as I’ve had the fortune to find a resonance with HCL with its D&I programs, I’m also equally thrilled to be working with a partner like Microsoft, that shares and inspires much of our thinking and common beliefs.
Microsoft operates with the moto “Inclusive thinking drives our innovation” and not only actively encourages diversity and inclusion at work, but they also collaborate with like-minded partners in promoting a global culture of inclusion. Their innovation pathways and business models bring that goal to life and ensure paradigm shifts in technology are accompanied by those in our culture and society as well.