It is no secret that companies with diverse boards outperform their peers; diverse teams are more innovative and creative and diversity is essential for businesses to remain competitive. But it especially becomes more important with the currently fragmented workplace structure in which most staff is working from home. Emerging from the shadows of the pandemic, how can organizations once again reset the D&I equation and leverage diversity and inclusion practices as a sustainable competitive advantage for business?
In an exclusive interaction with us, Anupam Trehan, Director - People & Communities for India & SAARC at Cisco shares her thoughts on how can leaders tap into the value of inclusivity and diversity networks in these times to build stronger businesses.
What do you feel, are D&I plans slipping down companies' agendas or is it actually popping up, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Inclusion & Diversity is a focus area for most organizations; while some may still be early in the journey, others are in a space where Diversity & Inclusion is at the center of everything they do. There are many studies out there that confirm that having a diverse workforce equals better business. The pandemic and working from home have taught us that work is location agnostic and opens up huge possibilities and opportunities when one starts to think about a diverse workforce. The need of the hour is not just to think about diverse representation in the workforce but also enabling, empowering and engaging diverse teams through an inclusive culture.
The need to have diverse representation in the workplace supported by an inclusive culture is no longer an option but a business imperative across all industries. At Cisco, Inclusion and Collaboration are fundamental to who we are and what we do.
We see inclusion as a bridge to connect diverse perspectives, spark new ideas, explore new possibilities, and inspire innovation.
We know and believe that diverse teams foster better employee engagement, productivity and allow for better problem-solving abilities, as varying perspectives often approach business challenges in a new way. With our purpose of powering an Inclusive Future for all, we have the opportunity to innovate and reimagine the way we work and who we are as a company.
What steps can ensure that your organization has representation from multiple points of view, and can leverage diversity and inclusion practices as a sustainable competitive advantage for your company?
At Cisco, it's all about inclusion and how we develop and optimize the contributions of our workforce who bring diverse life experiences, cultures, talents, and perspectives to the business. Be it in terms of skill-based assessments to reduce the impact of unconscious bias, or diverse interview panels or our 12 Employee Resource Groups / Networks, which include "Early Career Network," "Pride," "Cancer Support Network," "Back2Business" supported by our 'People First' practices.
For example, our benefits philosophy is to design, deliver solutions and experiences that power our culture, and to support our employees through life's triumphs and challenges – be it bringing the discussion of mental health to the table or the call to lead with empathy and understanding. Through innovative talent practices or initiatives like 'Employee resource groups' or 'Men for inclusion,' and 'Multiplier effect,' our focus is on creating a sustainable workplace that holds employee well-being and inclusivity at heart. Through our efforts, Cisco has been recognized as one of the Top 10 best places to work for women in India and has scored 100% on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index as an LGBTQ-inclusive workplace.
How can leaders tap the value of inclusivity, especially with the current fragmented workplace in which more staff work from home?
It starts quite simply by leading with empathy, understanding, authenticity. As leaders, we drive our employees' experience. Today, when one is working and living through a quite uncertain time, a leader's responsibility should be to nurture openness, fairness, respect, and inclusivity across their teams. Diverse teams not only represent the societies in which we live, but they also outperform traditional teams made up of similar backgrounds and opinions.
Work from anywhere or a hybrid work model creates opportunities to hire, include and collaborate with a diverse pool of talent and people – some of them who might not have been able to work traditionally due to geographical boundaries.
With technology at our disposal, we have the tools, and most importantly, the intent, to collaborate, innovate and rebuild a more sustainable, diverse, and inclusive world and workplace.
How can organizations rethink their approach to the public conversation around inclusion and diversity?
As leaders, individuals, and people managers, we have to understand that diversity and inclusion are two different things that need to be addressed separately. Diversity, at first glance, is more easily measurable – but inclusion is not easily measured. It has fewer tangible metrics. While we have made a lot of progress in paygrades and policies, a lot of people, for a variety of reasons, are not very comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work and feel the need to hide their unique traits and points of view.
To truly make a difference, we need to get to the granular level and identify and address those less obvious behaviors rooted in unconscious bias. We need to speak to various communities to build a culture where every employee feels empowered to raise their voice and express their opinions.
What is one idea/ step that you would #ChooseToChallenge to empower your employees at work in 2021 as far as the diversity front is concerned?
As a leader, the most critical part of my role is to encourage behavior across my team that embraces differences, is open to new opinions, and, most importantly, is respectful of other team members.
This is where inclusivity comes into play, where we include every team member in the decision-making process.
This year, we took a powerful step in changing the equation for diversity with Cisco's Multiplier Effect Pledge. It is built on one bold idea – sponsorship. This is more than mentoring, where leaders make a personal commitment to be an advocate for a diverse candidate. It is about asking leaders to step out of their comfort zone and be accountable for the success of someone different from them in race, culture, ability, gender, generation, ethnicity, or orientation. We are committed to multiply diversity for the benefit of tomorrow, and if we all commit to doing this, we truly believe we will change the equation.