Guest Interview: Freda Liu and Rajiv Jayaraman on ‘Ensuring workplace positivity through DEI’ — KNOLSKAPE
Having a positive workplace culture in the organization has become an absolute imperative in these times when organizations are grappling with the impact of ‘ The Great Resignation ‘. Over the last two years in particular, conversations are rife around gender diversity, equality, and cultural inclusion in the workplace as some of the most important factors to achieve organizational wellness.
In this interview, we spoke to Freda Liu — a renowned author and speaker, and Rajiv Jayaraman, Founder & CEO, KNOLSKAPE to try and understand their perspectives on what a positive workplace culture entails, and how it can be achieved through DEI. Both Rajiv and Freda have shared insights on how positivity and DEI can be leveraged to enable individuals to develop greater collaboration, settle conflicts with ease, and produce long-term advantages for themselves, their teams, and their businesses.
1. How do we measure positivity, especially in the context of work culture?
Rajiv: There are some very specific ingredients that help define a positive work culture. Positive work culture is one that provides psychological safety — where every person is allowed to be authentic and not judged or discriminated against. Every person feels included and has a sense of belonging. As humans, we are all social animals and we want to feel belonged to the community or organization — making inclusion an essential criterion for workplace positivity. There is also an inherent ability for every person to connect with each other and have a healthy relationship with the managers or leaders of the organization. Besides, how much is the organization able to allow each employee to perform well and become the best version of themselves is what will help measure positivity in the workplace.
Freda: Yes, I agree with Rajiv. Psychology safety is the key when it comes to workplace positivity. Apart from this, organizations need to be flexible. The needs of the employees keep on changing constantly. To measure it, organizations need to perform quarterly employee surveys to understand what has changed, what has not changed, and whether the employees are comfortable in their work. Another key factor to measure positivity is attrition. Most people leave jobs if they lack meaning and tend to move towards something that is more purposeful. If the percentage of people who have left your organization in comparison with other organizations in the industry is higher, then it will give you a glimpse of the workplace culture.
2. Different organizations define Diversity and Inclusion very differently. Is it possible to really benchmark DEI in a workplace? If yes, what standards should organizations pursue?
Rajiv: Provide equal opportunities; many organizations measure the employee’s success based on the outcome. However, there is no level playing field or equal opportunities for candidates of different caste, creeds, or gender. Right from hiring, promotion, or even compensation and benefits, the field is uneven. Hence, to benchmark DEI, one needs to start from the input mechanisms, so that everybody has a fair chance to achieve the same outcome.
Freda: Having worked in several organizations which are very diverse and inclusive, I feel they still have a certain percentage of people hired from different backgrounds. Whether it’s politics or business, there is only about 30 percent women participation globally. To allow diversity and inclusion, one needs to ensure gender equality first and then take it from there when there are enough resources available.
3. Do you think an inclusive and equitable organization is in a position to perform better than its peers, purely from a business point of view? Can we map the correlation?
Rajiv: Now in this digital age, most businesses, banks, and organizations are moving towards a platform model. Once you become a platform, you become an ecosystem. An ecosystem is maintained by building a community around your business. For example, while Apple and Blackberry were competing to dominate the market, Blackberry decided to double down on products whereas Apple created an ecosystem for its app developers. Apple eventually won and we now know that products can be replicated but ecosystem is the superpower. And diversity by default allows you to expand your mindset and integrate all players to create an open platform. Even from the perspective of innovation, design thinking requires you to be user-centric and create products for women, elders, and children alike. There is no one-size-fits-all application, and unless there is diversity in your thought process and company, you won’t get the product right.
Freda: Correct. Only when we realize that one size does not fit all, do we bring about innovation. It is also good for business if we open up to new possibilities and embrace diversity.
4. In your experience working with clients around the world, what are the most common challenges that organizations face in ensuring a positive work culture?
Rajiv: Last 2 years have been extremely difficult as people’s health and well-being were gravely impacted due to the pandemic. Hence, it was a big challenge to establish a positive work culture at this height of stress and anxiety. Even in 2022, while we were hoping for a smoother sail, the geopolitical tension and other external noises have made it tough for leaders to keep reinforcing positivity in the workplace. Also, the establishment of remote culture is making it difficult to establish the connection and support frameworks the employees need. And even if we remove the contextual problems, there are some challenges in organizations that are inherent. We came out of the industrial age where command and control were de facto. We looked at our leaders with respect but today, times have changed. Millennials need autonomy, empowerment, and trust. If you refuse to provide that, they may feel caged and won’t demonstrate their talents. Hence, our mindsets from the past may also hinder us from developing a positive workplace culture.
Freda: Due to the pandemic, it has become all the more important to communicate. Even if we can’t be together, the leader needs to say that we are in this together. It is just as challenging for employees as it is for the leaders and they need to communicate it to their employees. This will lay the foundation for empathy in the organization because if leaders don’t care, it will come across. If they don’t develop empathy or understanding, no matter how many incentives they give it will not lead to the establishment of a positive workplace. Leaders need to develop the right EQ and empathy for people they work with.
5. How can leaders ensure they are aware of the biases when dealing with teams and employees? How can these biases be overcome?
Rajiv: The problem with unconscious biases is that it’s easier to spot when others demonstrate it but it’s difficult to catch ourselves. The reason certain biases are unconscious is because of the genetic wiring and social conditioning which makes certain things normal. For example, somehow having women in tech seems odd to many people. They have difficulty picturing it. Even when we say a nurse, we somehow assume that it is a woman. Many of these assumptions are the elements of conditioning we fall prey to. To overcome them, we need to create a lot of awareness — that is the ultimate antidote. We need to create environments where we can have conversations and call out each other if we demonstrate these biases. Also, for organizations, setting up policies that challenge these biases can go a long way in avoiding them.
Freda: Yes, organizations need to take various measures while hiring; no details such as age, gender, or a name that may reveal the identity of a person are asked to ensure there is no bias. Also, most unconscious biases may arise unintentionally. Many times, people do not realize they are being biased and unintentionally resort to it for making judgments or conclusions. The only way to overcome these biases is to be aware of them, talk about them with different people and catch ourselves in case we do it.
6. Do you see DEI purely as an HR function to maintain, or should it be part of the larger leadership agenda?
Rajiv: Well, I think it is everybody’s responsibility to be inclusive and embrace diversity whether they are freshers or senior-level employees. For example, in a global company, being sensitive to other people’s time zones is of utmost importance and responsibility for each person present. We cannot have just one person standing on the podium, and telling others we need to be inclusive. It is a team effort.
Freda: It is not the work of HR alone, leaders need to come forward and introduce DEI in the company. Some companies have even started doing it, for example, Accenture has set up various panel pledges where the entire organization is encouraged to participate in the discussion. However, if all the panelists are male, then the employees may say that they do not wish to participate as there are no women. This is an excellent example that demonstrates that it is the responsibility of every employee to look out for inclusion even before it becomes a policy.
7. You both are strong believers in the power of training. To what extent do you feel that the right training can help organizations overcome challenges in creating a positive work environment?
Rajiv: I firmly believe that learning is a tool for evolution. We are all learning continuously, but whether we are learning in the right direction or evolving in the right direction is the key question here. Learning is the only way to adapt to changes faster, especially since today’s challenges are very different from what they used to be even 5 years ago. We have all gone digital, issues around mental health have taken the center stage due to many workplace practices and also, the dynamics of leadership and innovation have completely changed in the recent past.
Knowledge is the only superpower that will help us adapt to all these changes and provide clarity about the game to develop greater confidence. It is the most optimum way to build the mindset that we need to adapt to the changing world around us. Even the norms that were established a hundred years ago are slowly becoming obsolete. The digital age is allowing everyone to be empowered and find new communities. We cannot continue to be stuck in the same old ways of working and learning is a great bridge that will take us from the mindsets of the past to the mindsets of the future.
Freda: In organizations, we need soft skills and hard skills but also sharp skills and smart skills. Most of these skills can only be achieved through learning. Even things like diversity, inclusion, positive culture, etc. can only be achieved by actively learning about it, and making it the most essential skill of the future.
If you wish to watch the full interview, please click here.
Originally published at https://knolskape.com on May 30, 2022.