diversityThe IT-BPO industry in India, which established the country firmly on the global map with its outsourcing and offshoring capabilities, is also the largest employer of women in the corporate sector in the country. Of its total pool of around three million direct employees, 30% are women. Pointing this out at the recent Diversity and Inclusion Summit 2013 organized in Bangalore by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), industry leaders and other speakers stressed the business imperative for companies to ensure a fair and equitable environment for their women employees.

At the same time, they were also emphatic that the concept of diversity needs to be all-inclusive and move beyond gender to aspects like differences in physical capabilities, culture, lifestyle, age, religion, economic status and sexual orientation. “We started with a focus on gender inclusion in a formal way in 2007, and much of our attention is still on gender diversity because a lot more still needs to be done on this front. But we are now also focusing on the many other aspects of inclusivity because we realize that a diverse customer base cannot possibly be served well by homogenous organizations,” said Som Mittal, president of Nasscom.

According to Therace Risch, vice president, delivery services technology at Target Corporation, there are two key reasons to drive diversity and inclusiveness in any organization. “One, when an organization has a diverse workforce, it understands the needs of its customers better and makes better decisions for them. Two, when people feel included in their organizations, they produce better results.”

Avinash Vashistha, chairman and manager of Accenture India, pointed out that it is important that organizations put in specific metrics to measure the outcomes of various inclusivity initiatives. “Measurements,” he suggested, “are important because they help us to know what is working.” Target’s Risch, however, added a note of caution. She pointed out that mindset and cultural changes take many years to create a visible impact, and sometimes leaders are disappointed if the results are not quick enough. “There is then a danger that the initiative may get neglected.”

N. Krishnakumar, co-founder, CEO and managing director of consulting firm MindTree, noted: “Organizations must take care that they don’t end up recruiting certain candidates only to meet their diversity targets. At the end of the day, what is important is to assess the potential of every employee and create an enabling environment for them to deliver their best.” Padmaja Alaganandan, executive director, people and change at PricewaterhouseCoopers, added another perspective. She pointed out that it was critical that any measures towards inclusivity should not be misunderstood as preferential treatment. “It is important for [a] business to get the most suitable person for a specific job. What is needed is a performance-based inclusive workplace.”