In my engineering batch there was precisely one female in the Mechanical stream. And the professors did their best to counsel her to move out. Why? Because in the 90s (and even now) there were so many restrictions for women to work on the shop-floor and in manufacturing facilities. Diversity in the workplace was pretty unheard of.  From there to the all-woman manufacturing facility announced by Ola has been a long journey.

Why Ola’s big news got panned: Big Diversity vs Small Diversity

Surprisingly, Ola’s announcement was not universally greeted with a round of pink champagne. Many posts on LinkedIn dissed this attempt at diversity in the workplace as actually reverse discrimination and even anti-diversity. At the Ola factory level indeed there would be no gender diversity. But, on the other hand, if we look at it in the context of India’s low female labour participation rate which is 20% at best, getting women into organized employment increases diversity in the workplace at the national level. Which is a good thing overall, no? Ola needs to tell the full story, and the Linkeratti need to see the big picture.

The Lady CMO and Affirmative hiring

I often get calls saying, “can you recommend a CMO”. Sure. And then they say, “only lady candidates please”. Why? “Because we think we can hire a female senior executive only in Marketing and HR.” Why is this the case? What is the challenge with increasing diversity in the workplace?  These orgs need to do some analysis to figure out if their problem is a lack of gender diversity in the larger recruitment pool or does the problem lie elsewhere – in their hiring process, for example.

When I was the CMO of Wipro Technologies (2005 – 2010) I removed some obvious barriers to diversity in the workplace in the recruitment process – like personal questions – and that shifted the balance from 30% female to 50% in 3 years. This should be the first step in functions where the talent pool has some diversity.

Should we also have “quotas”? Just so that our exec teams look balanced across nationalities, sexual orientation, race, gender? I think affirmative hiring should be considered to address a historic imbalance that cannot be rectified immediately. Moreover, it should not be limited to just the top job but to the organization as a whole. And vice versa. While I’m totally happy about Ola Electric’s vision of an all-woman manufacturing team, they also need to relook at the diversity of their board. The parent company, ANI Technologies has a similar lack of gender diversity on the board.

Is cognitive diversity the new kid on the block? Will it deliver the benefits of diversity in the workplace?

First of all, a shout out to the Freshworks team on their successful IPO! I think they do very effective marketing and there’s a case study about them in my new book, Marketing Without Money (Bloomsbury, December 2021). Secondly, see how diverse their board looks. It’s impressive.

The reason diversity in the workplace is considered a good thing is that it brings multiple viewpoints and ideas to the table. When your decision makers reflect your target audience it increases the probability that your solutions will address their needs.

Also Read: Is your brand inclusive? 

Deng Xiaoping Cats QuoteZomato cut to the chase when they said that they are looking for “cognitive diversity”. Which brings to mind Deng Xiaoping’s famous pragmatic quote “I don’t care if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.” Cognitive diversity in the workplace would mean you need people of diverse experience, age groups and ways of thinking. However, I’d say that for roles as specialized as the board you would need prior corporate expertise and or functional qualifications, in addition to diverse life experiences. You need a certain type of diversity to get marketing right too, as I discussed in my newsletter on “Do you speak Manga”. (Video version here.)

How can you improve diversity in your teams?

First is to acknowledge that you may have a gap. Then to take a look at your customer base and see whether your top management reflects it in any way – age, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, citizenship, competencies, education…. Then repeat the process for the rest of the organization and decide which attribute will be addressed where.

For example, hiring 100% women on the shopfloor will skew your gender balance numbers favourably, but it really ought to reflect across the board, pun intended. But let’s take baby steps and look at the big picture for now – diversity at any level is good diversity.

Next, identify the base competencies for each segment – as a for-profit enterprise it is important that you get cats that can catch mice. See how difficult it is to get a decent mix for your hiring pool and then decide if affirmative action is required or not. Tata Steel decided to undertake affirmative action for transgender hiring in the mining industry.

Lastly, do some soul-searching to understand why there is a gap in the diversity mix – is it your policies? The ecosystem? Hiring manager questions about family priorities?

Personally, I did not like the “menstrual leave” offered by Zomato, but it certainly is an attempt to address the barriers to women joining their workforce, which are not directly in their control. Toilet availability is a concern for delivery people worldwide, and more crucial for some. At the very least Zomato’s policy choices spark a discussion on hidden barriers to workforce diversity.

In the context of the Lokmat Women’s Summit in 2015, I wrote about why women in the workplace issues are not really women’s issues, but have to be solved for everyone.

Bringing your whole self to work (challenges of diversity in the workplace)

Which Workplace Team Are You?I’m a pawrent and KitKat is always in the background of my Zoom calls. Adopting an Indie has certainly been an interesting experience that makes me a more pawsitive person. But does that mean my doggie has to be welcome in the workplace? That I’m allowed to take her for a walk during work hours? In the Work From Home scenario these situations had easy resolutions. In the traditional office there will be protests from those with allergies, dog-phobias and cat pawrents.

Brands are often the self-appointed drivers of a more equitable society. Whether it is promoting women’s sports in their ads (like Cadbury’s) or questioning age-old rituals (like Manyavaar). But ads are also a platform to promote what we would consider regressive values. One could argue that bringing one’s whole self to work would allow colleagues to share their views on these kind of issues – would that also affect your working relationship? It’s bad enough that we deal with each other’s political affiliations and biriyani choices, but imagine if all of us were strident about all our beliefs. In the past there was a clear delineation between what was personal and what was professional, but the past 2 years have broken those walls down. LinkedIn reflects this – lengthy posts about everyone’s latest inspiration and family achievements. How will all this translate back to working in physical proximity?

As countries and cities open up, there is a hiring frenzy with a huge demand for staff. It is a good opportunity to shape the workplace of the future. For employers to make themselves attractive, and for economic contributors to have their demands and desires addressed. The new normal is hopefully going to be a better world, with a more equal and diverse workplace.

Definition: What is diversity in the workplace

Workforce diversity refers to the individual characteristics employees have that make them unique. These characteristics can include gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, physical abilities and ideologies. Workforce diversity also includes a person’s life experiences, how they solve issues and your company’s overall culture.  This is from Indeed whom I’ve had the pleasure of associating with.

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Jessie Paul is the Founder and CEO of Paul Writer, a firm she founded in early 2010 to raise the bar for marketing in India. Previously, as Chief Marketing Officer of Wipro’s IT business and as Global Brand Manager at Infosys, Jessie has been recognized for her contribution towards putting the Indian IT industry on the global map. With over 18 years in services marketing, including a stint with Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Jessie is considered an expert in brand globalization and has been named one of the most influential business women in the Indian IT industry.


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