Oped

Diversity in workplace

  • Inclusive environment is an important driver of growth that is often overlooked
- MAINA DHITAL

Jun 22, 2018-The term diversity and inclusion (D&I) has been overly used in Nepal in recent decades, especially in the political context. But the reality is that it is yet to be translated into practice. And more so in the private sector. Diversity in Nepal’s workplace also needs to be viewed beyond the political agenda to influence the power of individual differences. Here is why.

Globally, increasing number of companies have been focusing on diversity to enhance the organisational performance. For instance, American firms try to maintain diversity in three ways: first during the hiring process;  second, as a partnership with the suppliers who are committed to diversity; third, by providing scholarships to enhance diversity and inclusion.

Every year, DiversityInc publishes a list of top 50 companies for diversity and inclusion management. This year, DiversityInc named Johnson and Johnson, Marriott International, AT&T, Mastercard, and ADP, Eli Lilly and Co., Comcast NBCUniversal, KPMG, Accenture, and Hilton as the top 10 companies respectively for diversity and inclusion management. According to DiversityInc, this ranking is mainly based on the “initiatives to hire, retain and promote women, minorities (race/ethnicity), people with disabilities, LGBT and veterans”.

These top 10 companies possess approximately 37 percent of women in senior management--which is 7 percent higher than the national average. Similarly, the percentage of women working in the overall managerial positions (47 percent) of these companies also surpass the national average (38 percent).  In terms of Black, Latino, and Asian employees, about 22 percent work at senior management level and 31 percent at the overall managerial level of these top 10 companies. The average number of other big US companies stand only at 13 percent at senior and 21 percent at overall managerial level.

Driving Forces

Key motivation of workplace diversity in the corporate sectors is associated more with the benefits of the organisation, mainly with creativity and innovation.  The teamwork of cultures, ideas, and diverse perspectives are now viewed as a company’s assets.  Diversity helps to achieve organisation’s strategic goals and objectives, reduce the cost of employee turnover as well as productivity resulted from absenteeism. As Nancy Lockwood states in her book Workplace Diversity: Leveraging the Power of Difference for Competitive Advantage, diversity and inclusion increases the return on investment, generates better revenue and profit, along with helping in achieving and maintaining a greater market share through various customer base.

By enhancing diversity, organisations form a culture that creates a unique approach to products and services. As per McKinsey report 2015, the ethnically diverse organisations are 35 percent more likely to outperform the average national industries. The same report indicates that the companies having more female employees are 15 percent more likely to have better financial yields.

Nepali context

Though there are some practices of inclusion and reservation mostly in government institutions, diversity is not well maintained. The reservation policy executed by the Government of Nepal since 2007 has contributed to increased inclusion and diversity in public and civil service sector, though there is a long way to go. Among the 80 thousand civil servants, only 15 percent are women. In terms of race and ethnicity, 56 percent Brahmins, 14 percent Chhetris, 15 percent Janajatis, 8 percent Madhesis, and 5 percent Dalits are employed in the civil service.  

Ironically, the development sector which emphasises inclusion and diversity also lacks the maintainance of a significant level of diversity in their respective organisations. The number of women from marginalised communities is even lower. For instance, only 1.6 percent of women workforce belongs to Madesh/Terai community. Moreover, the “leaking pipeline” problem remains at all the sectors of the employment.

The story of the private sector is more depressing. There is lack of statistics regarding the workforce diversity in the private sector. . Most of the corporate houses in Nepal are run by male family members (dominated by Marwadi and Newar). A look at top corporate houses of Nepal reveals that the outlook of workforce diversity is bleak. In fact, the investment in human resource and organisational development is overlooked by most of the organisations. For the first time in Nepal’s banking history, a woman has been appointed as a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a bank. Mega Bank recently appointed Anupama Khunjeli as the CEO. In 2016, the state-owned Nepal Telecom appointed Kamini Rajbhandari as a managing director of the company. Most probably these are the only two women currently leading the big private and public sector organisations. If these appointments could inspire other institutions and companies in terms of maintaining diversity, it would significantly change the landscape of workforce in Nepal.

Unfortunately, the term diversity and inclusion in Nepal often has been confined to the right based approach versus quality of the work. Still, many employers have a misconception that diversity impairs performance, who feel hiring women and people from the underserved group will affect the quality and the output of the organisation. But research has proved these dogmas are wrong. Big organisations are hiring more female staff given their interpersonal skills. Women are also known to be good listeners, and make great team players among others.

The way forward

The workforce diversity can be created through a pool of human resources with a mixture of individual differences. Diversity is not associated only in terms of race, sex, age, disabilities. Among others, it is also associated with the intrinsically diverse perspective and thinking styles. Diversity enhances not only the performance of an organisation but also helps the excluded social groups by providing job opportunities.

Corporate firms need to develop “diverse talent pipelines” so they don’t face a shortage of diverse workforce at management level in future. Similarly companies should address the development needs such as supplementary skills enhancements, leadership trainings, and secondary education support for the excluded employees. Organisations should provide training on “cultural sensitivity” and identify “unconscious bias” in order to avoid the prejudice. Maintaining diversity should not be viewed merely as a political agenda. In fact, it is a smart way to scale up the growth in today’s challenging, complex and competitive business environment.

Dhital is a US-based freelance journalist

Published: 22-06-2018 08:43

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