Understanding the New Diversity in the Workplace 13th June 2017


Organizations are learning how to tap into an increasingly diverse workplace, one that’s varied not only gender or race but age, culture and even geography.

You are in office, working on the new project on your laptop. The new 20-something-year-old employee is working on his smartphone and somehow seems to be making more progress. Curious, you ask him about the apps he is using for the project. This is a case of reverse mentoring, where the junior person is sharing knowledge with his senior. With a diverse population working in the same company, organizations are learning how to tap into this workforce.

Diversity, as understood a few years ago, was often limited to gender or race but today the definition has become broader. It now includes education, age, cultural and even geographically different ways of working.

While a diverse workforce may not always be easy to handle, more and more firms are finding out that it does have its benefits.

The age factor

Last year, generation Z or the post-millennials entered the workforce for the first time. Presently the workplace has a mix of all ages, including digital natives (people born after 1980), post-millennials (born between mid-1990 and early 2000’s), and digital immigrants (people born before the advent of digital technology, which includes the generation X and baby boomers).

Kestone, an integrated marketing services provider, has a management trainee programme to make the generation Z more aware of their work culture. “We also use reverse mentoring for those who have been working for over 15-20 years. A management trainee teaches the mentor, typically at least 15-20 years his senior, in areas they have a stronger hold on, like social media, smartphone apps for business development, etc.,” says Alok Kumar, head of human resources (HR), Kestone.

Engaging with a new generation can be a challenge but HR teams are finding a way around it.

R. Mahalakshmi, director, HR, consumer goods company Mondelēz India, says, “Mondelēz International is a fairly young organization with at least three generations at work. The organization uses many collaboration platforms (such as communities like Mdlz Millennial Network and MdlzDigital on social networking site Yammer) to co-create policies and plans.”

The HR team at Mondelēz India actively listens to employees who participate in the internal social groups to keep abreast of what the younger generations are talking about, and plan employee engagement and team- building strategies.

Regional influence

For the creative, marketing and hospitality industry, it is important to know about the nuances of each region within a country. For example, a marketing firm might want to hire people representing different regions so that they have an understanding of their client needs.

“We have an apprenticeship programme where we invite interns from all the world metros and about 10-15 of them get absorbed each year. We also encourage people from non-metros and other cities to join us because their insights are different. For example, one of our creative minds is from Nepal and there are a few from the North- East. They have all helped us in creating pitches which are more true to the regions, the script, the nuances, etc.,” says Arun Iyer, chairman and chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas.

Diversity from various regions also means coming together of cultures. “Especially in fields where the focus is on cultural behaviour, the knowledge from a regionally diverse workforce can prove to be a great benefit. Sometimes cultural nuances can make a lot of difference, and these might be known only to people who have lived in those regions or have been part of those cultures,” says Shilki Bhatia, head of department for master of business administration at the Delhi Institute of Advanced Studies.

Type of employees

A lot of companies also use contractual workers, freelancers, people on retainers and those already on a third-party payroll. These contracts can range from three months to a year and are usually protected by data privacy agreements, which ensure that information from one company is not passed on by the contract employee to another company.

“We look at getting help from third-party companies when we are working on a complex design or need assistance in something that they specialize in. Talent inclusion, even for a short span of three months, brings in ideas, creativity and leads to knowledge transfer,” says Rajeev Bhardwaj, vice-president, HR, Sun Life Financial Asia Service Center.

Differently-abled

The Rajya Sabha passed the Disabilities Bill in December, increasing job reservation for people with certain disabilities from 3% to 4%.

Business and financial software company Intuit has made diversity and inclusion a “key priority”. It recently hired three interns with special needs (visually impaired) in its HR function. The company has sign language workshops for seamless communication between employees, sensitization workshops for hiring managers, teams and key stakeholders and four-day training in assistive technology and product accessibility.

“While we try to make their work experience comfortable, we are also learning. A lot of our clients will also be specially-abled. With our interns we can ask ourselves the question ‘are we aware of their needs?’, ‘can they use the software code we have created?’, etc. This makes the remaining employees sensitive to needs of others and they can deal with situations better and with more patience,” says Somnath Baishya, director and head of HR at Intuit India.

Office or home

More and more companies are giving employees the opportunity to work from home. Some are experimenting with co-working spaces while some others are sticking to the traditional office space.

“Agile working is becoming a common concept in Indian workspaces today. In order to enhance employee productivity, it is critical to embrace flexible staffing and remote workers,” says Praveen Rawal, managing director, India, Singapore and South East Asia, of global workspace designer Steelcase. According to Steelcase’s 2016 Employee Engagement report, only 69% of companies can accommodate remote workers in the office.

Intuit has tied up with co-working space provider Regus to supply it co-working options at various locations in Bengaluru.

“These offices also provide better technology infrastructure and workplace environment compared to home set-ups. While a significant part of learning in the office is from peers, team, managers, leaders, etc., in a co-working space, it is usually from people who might be facing similar challenges. For example, a co-working space may be shared by two start-ups—one from the retail industry and one from e-commerce. While their industry and core capabilities may be different, they do learn a lot by watching how each team functions, or how they handle their employees etc.,” says Baishya.

There will be more intermixing of talents and skills as we go through more changes in the workplace. Companies which proactively engage with a diverse workforce will be the ones likely to benefit the most in the long run.

This article was first published on livemint.