Lip Service No More
Till a while ago, diversity hardly figured as a topic of interest at corporate discussions. It has finally grabbed a seat, and eyeballs, at the management table
By Vinita Bhatia
Recently, McKinsey surveyed 366 public companies for its ‘Diversity Matters’ report and it found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Also, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
What this basically means is that organisations that make diversity and inclusivity as one of their leadership goals are more successful than those that don’t. While most companies already have included diversity as one of their mission statements, this is more like offering lip service than taking dedicated action in that direction.
Not the Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL), which owns Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris, though. This is what Praveen Chander Kumar, area director, Pune and Nashik and general manager of Taj Lands End, Mumbai, emphatically stated. And he should know – he has been with the company for 25 years. for instance, he pointed out how over the past four to five years, the organisation has been working towards increasing the percentage of women associates.
The hotel industry is characterised by long working hours, stressful situations and emotional labour, which leads to the high attrition causalities amongst women employees. According to Kumar, the first thing that is required is to sensitise team members about the fact that the needs of a female employee might differ from that of a male. Only when this understanding is established, can a company become truly inclusive.
“When we first decided to recruit more ladies, we wanted to figure out what was stopping them from being a part of our industry, the hurdles they faced and how we could change that?” Kumar recalled. “We understood that we had odd working hours, so we arranged for drops, and even pickup, for lady employees from their homes in certain hotels.”
The second realisation, according to him, was that women with children would worry about their young ones while they were at work. To come up with a solution for this conundrum., Kumar said, “Every hotel has a day care center for employees, where they can leave their kids, and visit them during their breaks.”
Thirdly, there was a need to facilitate the movement of senior women leaders up the value chain so they can then become role models for then next rung of achievers. “We currently have around 5% lady general managers, which is not a very good score compared to international markets, which could be as high as 40%. So, we give them equal rights and we spot the right talent and help them move up the ladder,” Kumar opined. In fact, so serious is IHCL about promoting women leaders that senior managers are given targets on increasing the ratio of the women associates in their team!
A DIVERSE TEAM
The all-encompassing aim of inclusivity is to make sure that all associates feel part of the team — regardless of their gender, race, religion or age. In fact, age diversity is emerging as a big challenge as majority of the staff are millennials, who report to people from a different generation.
“We researched on this young work force and their needs and found that we needed to rework their salary structures. They are not interested about retirement benefits, gratuity and provident fund,” Kumar explained.
He also found that their food habits are different from that of their predecessors. While the staff dining room served Indian-style food, the millennials preferred soup, sandwich or pasta. “So, we changed our menus all over the company, where we ensured salad and sandwich were added to the Indian fare,” Kumar said, a move which was not only good for employee morale, but also for their performance.
In a country as mixed as India, achieving diversity isn’t easy, especially since it is home to many religions. The outlooks of people from differing states will vary so one has to be careful when it comes to amalgamating them in a cohesive work environment. It also occurs when people from different economic strata also work in the same organisation the.
According to Kumar, the trick to making it work is to be patient and payattention to employees’ feelings. That creates a sense of empathy, which goes a long way in creating a sense of belonging.
The success of managing diverse teams ultimately boils down to listening to employees, making them feel as if their opinions matter, acting on their genuine concerns, and leading by example. And of course, unless diversity is a top priority for the company, all of this will fall flat and not matter anyway.