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Hiring Diverse Professionals Strengthens the Workplace People with different backgrounds can bring enriching ideas and problem-solving skills to the table

By Rajeev Bhardwaj

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The need for recruiting a diverse workforce and forging an environment that promotes inclusion is no longer the elephant in the room. Corporations around the world are making special efforts to make their organizations places where talented employees from all walks of lives and cultures find acceptance and appreciation. The need for creating inclusive workplaces is today propelled not just by social and moral responsibility but also by the realization that diversity brings long-term benefits. Opening your arms to a wide talent pool brings benefits that often traditional recruiters fail to comprehend. An anecdote here might help to drive home the point. A senior marketing manager interviewing fresher candidates for a sales opening once gave his interviewees a few sheets of paper and asked them about ideas on how to sell them. While someone made a notebook out of them, another turned them into toy boats. One of the candidates who was a formidable athlete during student days pulled out the idea of converting those sheets into a sporty activity book for children by creating interesting puzzles and crossword games! The marketing manager was sold out for the last candidate despite the fact that he had an unremarkable academic career with no other field experience. This is just one example of how people with different backgrounds can bring enriching ideas and problem-solving skills to the table.

In a rapidly changing world where straight-jacketed ideas of work are making way for new professions as well as unconventional ways of working within traditional professions, the ideas of what recruiters look for in their employees are also changing. No more is a sabbatical considered a negative void on your resume; rather interviewers are keen to know how you enriched yourself as an individual during that key break from work. Candidates are actively being asked about what they do outside work as organizations try to drill down to get a better overall perspective on the candidate.

Diversity Beyond Gender

While forging diversity is a hot subject across the corporate world, the emphasis largely is on making workplaces more gender inclusive. However, diversity is a concept that has far-reaching implications and must stretch to all candidates who are "different' from the majority. This includes differently-abled people, ethnic and cultural minorities, as well as candidates from smaller towns and non-urban backgrounds. Promoting diversity not only implies providing a level playing field for all such candidates but also ensuring that they do not face any sort of discrimination at the workplace. The workplace should be free from sexist or racist slurs. Biases are often part of social settings, but an organization as an ethical institution has to ensure that individual employees do not carry such individual attitudes to the workplace.

The need for ensuring gender diversity is a well-recognized concept across the corporate world today. However, increasingly organizations are also making efforts to enrich their talent pool by adding creative voices to it as well as candidates whose core talents may lie outside academics.

Having a Few Mavericks on Board

If you put 10 people with exactly similar backgrounds – urban, male, upper middle class -- on a project, the ideas that emerge from this group are likely to be limited. On the other hand, if you entrust a problem to a group with people from diverse backgrounds – men, women, small towners and people with creative instincts, it is more likely to throw different types of solutions. It all boils down to having different minds at work and access to a wider talent pool.

Globally, organizations are making special efforts to give opportunities to opportunity deprived differently-abled people with autism, down syndrome, speech and hearing defects or those with physical disabilities. Experts believe such employees do not just add a touch of conscious capitalism and social responsibility to organizations but are also much more dedicated, loyal with lower attrition rates. In India, this concept has only now started receiving attention.

A large number of athletes in India play a variety of sports during school and college, some even making to district and state teams. Most of them do not turn pro and drop out of the sport to look for traditional jobs. Their discipline, physical and mental fitness, competitive spirit and dedication to team building makes up for what they lack in the field of academics. A 2014 research at Cornell University in the US found that people who played competitive sports during secondary school displayed better leadership and success rates throughout their careers. Similarly, people from creative arts can bring their own creative approaches to problem-solving which may add vibrancy to an organization.

Making Your Culture Amenable to all

There might be a brilliant computer programmer who is specially-abled and has different needs as an employee. There might be another remarkable data analyst who stammers and finds it hard to impress people with his verbal communication. As an employer, will you let go the services of such talents because they do not fit in? Or will you work to create an environment that is amenable to them and welcomes them into the organizational fold with open arms? This is a vital question that faces organizations today. Undoubtedly, creating more inclusive workplaces requires investment in time, money and effort, but it is worth making the effort.

Apart from removing biases during hiring, it is equally important to sensitize the workforce to be assimilative and appreciative of differences – be it of gender, background or physical ability. The leadership plays a vital role here by leading with example and showcasing the need to value diversity. Acceptance and belief for it flowing from the top makes it much easier for people to adapt.

Respecting each other's opinions and accepting the differences is the only way to create a workplace which is diverse, inclusive and well equipped for current and futuristic developments.

Rajeev Bhardwaj

VP-Human Resource, Sun Life Financial Asia Service Centre, India

Rajeev Bhardwaj, who heads the Human Resource function at Sun Life Asia Service Centre, is a veteran in the field who has spent 25 years contributing to the HR policies of diverse organizations across sectors.

Over the years, Rajeev has been associated with a slew of global organizations such as ABB, Coca Cola, and Intel Technology, among others.

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