04 August 2016 15:33:37 IST

Diversity and inclusion make a workplace vibrant, productive

Every person brings a different perspective to the table that could enhance output

There is a high possibility that we are in the midst of the fourth wave of feminism. The fight for the basic rights of minority communities is, in all likelihood, at its fiercest. In the corporate sector, among various others, there is a call for more diversity on a company’s board of directors, especially since the stock market crash of September 2008.


“Boards are now being held more accountable and special care is being taken while choosing members. They need to have more women so as to get a variety of perspectives and to arrive at better solutions,” said Subha Barry, Vice-President and General Manager, Working Mother Media, in a conversation with BusinessLine on Campus .

An expert in Diversity and Inclusion consulting, she says diversity at the workplace is important “as no two people have the same life experiences. When you bring people with different experiences together, you get different inputs into how to solve a problem. And if you have a variety of viewpoints on how you approach a problem, you are likely to end up with a better solution.”

Contrary to this, she says, if there a narrow view on how to solve a problem, even if it is a good solution, “you have not mitigated the risks”.


Talking about the importance of diversity, especially at the workplace, Barry said that women should be encouraged by the company to continue working, no matter what.

“Companies need to do a better job and find out how to keep women engaged so that the stepping back (from one’s career) — whether it is to get married, have children or go for higher studies — doesn’t happen. And even if it does happen, it is for a brief period. They need to have programmes that bridge the gaps and help make it easier for women to get back to work following their break; be it by offering classes or programmes to update skills or offering services to help take of a child, such as nurseries. In the US, many companies, like Deloitte or IBM, have many programmes to keep women engaged when they are in their childbearing or childrearing years,” she said.

She added that companies need to start to focus on things such as flexi-work, or part-time work, that would allow women the choice of working while raising children or studying.

Speaking about rules in India helping women in such cases, such as the one in the Companies Act 2013 which mandates that companies need to have at least one woman on their board, or the Women’s Reservation Bill (which is still stuck in the Lok Sabha), Barry said the US was still struggling in that area.

“There is often a misconception that only former (women) CEOs are qualified to be a part of the Board. While consulting on diversity on corporate boards, we suggest maybe looking at women who are one or two levels away from becoming CEOs, and also those in non-traditional areas such as non-profit organisations or NGOs. They have skills, it is just a matter of time before they reach that post. They can be a part of the Board too. They are competent and qualified,” Barry said.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

On the political climate in the US, in the context of the current Presidential elections, Barry said the opposition and resistance faced by Hillary Clinton should be “looked at in two ways”.

“On one side there is some inherent bias in the system, I don’t think we can deny that. People often say that maybe we’re not ready for a woman President. Women are 50 per cent of the population, they are 50 per cent of the workforce at the entry level, they make 80 per cent of all the buying decisions on behalf of the family. Women are very much a part of what has made America great and successful. So, yes, there is a bias; but there is also another strike, so to speak, against Hillary. She is a great administrator, she is very experienced and skilled. She is passionate and her heart is focused on all the right things.

“And yet, there is an element of being a politician that is all about how you communicate and how you connect with people. There are some people who do this better than others — Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, for instance. You may dislike Obama for many reasons, but you cannot deny that he is a powerful orator. I think Bill Clinton could sell ice to an Eskimo. Hillary does not have that gift. She might be a great administrator, but she tends to project an image of a strict mom; that is something she needs to soften. So I think that’s what’s happening there.

“Donald Trump, on the other hand, is an excellent communicator. And he appeals to a part of the population that believes him when he says ‘I can make America great again’ or ‘Look at me, I’m so successful. I can make you just as successful’.”

Begin at the roots

Barry is also an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where she teaches gender policy. “There are two things that should be taught today, in courses such as an MBA: the need for integrity in the workplace and diversity and inclusion — how can you build inclusive leaders right from the time they’re in college? How can you make people understand the importance of having a diverse workplace, how can one emphasise the importance of having a gender partnership model, where men and women work together in solving a problem, because each of them approaches it from a different perspective,” she said.

She added that, “In the US, we have started to include universities in our diversity and inclusion organisations, which usually feature the HR departments of Fortune 500 companies, and we cross-pollinate our practices. For the first time, we have reached out to universities — Rice University is a member, Kellogg is a member and we are bringing on Columbia Business School too. So we are very excited to bring in the academic side and teach them how important it is for students to start developing a mindset that is inclusive.”

Pay equity

On discrimination against women in the workplace, Barry said that the general practice of women being asked in job interviews whether they plan on getting married soon or starting a family, should end.

She then touched upon the issue of pay equity, which has been receiving a lot of attention of late, as more women speak up against it. “This week, Massachusetts passed a law which states that no one can be asked how much they are making; because that’s where the discrimination starts. At present, for every dollar that a man makes, women make just 79 cents. She has to work till mid-April to make what a man would until December; she’s essentially working for free for three-and-a-half months! Pay equity is same pay for the same amount of work,” Barry said.

It may seem like a lot needs to change, in terms of diversity at the workplace, but Barry has a lot of hope for this generation of millennials as “they have a very solid sense of what is right and wrong, and what is fair”.

She said that a culture needs to be cultivated at workplaces where people are encouraged to not only be good at their jobs but also be excellent leaders and decent human beings. Barry ended the interaction by saying, “Women need to speak about these issues. There is strength in numbers!”