The diversity, equity & inclusion discussion is not just about businesses, productivity, innovation or boardroom decisions. We all have a stake in it at all levels. Each human being is a book we want to read to coexist and work well together.
Businesses do not prioritize DE&I initiatives out of an altruistic sense of fairness — they care most about their bottom line. Their consumers come from a diverse population, and their products and services must appeal to all. The global nature of services requires great teamwork, leading to higher productivity.
If this is so obvious, why have we not reached desired results?
I came to the U.S. 30 years ago from a small town in India. My parents were teachers, so we got higher education, but we lived in a society where girls were not allowed to go to coed schools and work in an environment that was not suitable for women. Women’s careers were not a priority. They were married at an early age and took care of the family. These rules were different for boys, but we never asked why.
When I came to the U.S., there were no such rules, but we still had similar underlined problems. Back then, no one discussed these issues; we were dealing with them. Women faced double standards, higher expectations and a glass ceiling in a man’s world. They entered the workforce, but were set to fail before they even started. Women were repeatedly told what they could not do instead of what they could do. They reached middle management by working hard, but could not leap to break the glass ceiling because they lacked confidence and support.
As data suggests, we are slowly bridging the gender gap. Times cannot be any better for women to rise in the workforce. The question is, will it be sustained? Do we have the correct measures?
We need to understand what got us here. Businesses alone cannot be held responsible for correcting the centuries-old societal issues. They play a bigger role, but home, family and society have a role to play. We need to focus on behavioral changes, leading to an improved mindset that promotes equality and equity:
- Parents need to be mindful of how they raise children without gender biases.
- Educate children about gender biases so they do not become part of the problem; instead, look for solutions.
- Address negative cultural stereotypes to eliminate societal barriers.
- Business leaders must attract, educate, assess and integrate their diverse workforce utilizing systematic measures. If they have nothing to lose, they have no reason to change.
- Boardrooms and investors should require businesses to utilize deeper resources and tools beyond just the numbers to promote diversity in the real sense.
- Finally, we all play a role in educating each other, raising our voices against unfairness, and bringing solutions to address them.
I am a fan of discussing D, diversity, alone without the E and I because talking about equity implies there is inequity; inclusion suggests there is exclusion, thus creating a feeling of a problem rather than an opportunity. Diversity is about bringing variety, innovation and ideas that can come from different races, genders, ethnicity, geographies and economies. Once we focus on these opportunities, I hope we no longer need to discuss inequality and exclusion.
I am focusing on creating a multiplier effect where I help women become the leaders they want to be and cultivate the pay-forward culture to build a better environment for our next-generation leaders.
Varsha Waishampayan is founder and CEO of Wings for Growth.