Two Business Imperatives Driving Next-Level Inclusion

Naveen Keshava

From the outside, it feels like that the deep-seated cultural and business barriers for diversity and inclusion are like a huge rock. This huge rock has been sedimented in people’s belief system for generations, with different layers built in. When you scratch one layer, you get to another layer of challenge.

To try to break this huge rock, we gather different tools (initiatives, policies, KPIs), bring in more resources (employee resource groups, volunteers), gather force (leadership involvement), and hit it as hard as we can at every angle possible, then realize that the more energy we use, the more resistance we encounter.

But the stone must break someday. As H. Jackson Brown Jr. said: “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins, not through strength but by perseverance.”

The relentless stream of diversity and inclusion will find its place one day, and, with the right set of leadership, culture, policies, and most importantly employees, the day will arrive faster than anticipated.

Business imperatives of diversity and inclusion

A small, dipstick survey of the leadership of top multinationals shows that today’s leaders not only understand the usefulness of diversity, but are also thoroughly aware of the opportunity cost of not having diversity in an organization. A good leader knows the financial, cultural, and social cost of not having a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture.

Over the years, the layer of “Why do we need diversity and inclusion?” has been carved out by the relentless stream of appreciation for diversity, and we’ve moved to the layer of “How do we achieve diversity and inclusion?”

Two business imperatives comprise that relentless stream:

1. Build an inclusive mindset

Inclusion is no longer about a company’s central initiatives. It’s now about our everyday culture.

  • This journey of progressive realization starts with leaders using gender-neutral language.
  • Messages must be subtle but plentiful. Two minutes’ mention of inclusive culture in an employee all-hands by the business leader is more meaningful than a two-hour training training on inclusion.
  • Employee resource groups (ERGs) that improve overall inclusion are more fruitful than ones that cater to only a specific gender or community.
  • A company’s proactive policies and facilities help people with different sexual orientations come forward with their identity and be comfortable with who they are.

If inclusion is a company’s culture, then it critical to ensure that inclusion percolates throughout the organization and all its businesses. The game of averages where one business is at 50% diversity while a few others are at 10% won’t work. As Uber has learned, companies will find their reputation at stake if certain business are left out of this inclusive culture.

2. Build a relevant pipeline

When there’s an acute business need, a hiring manager is pressed to hire a suitable candidate as soon as possible. A long-term, diversity and inclusion-focused hiring mindset is balanced with the daily, practical challenges for filling roles quickly.

The solution is to build a relevant, specific, proactive, and credible candidate pipeline, both internally and externally, filled with a diverse selection of talent. What more, this must be achieved without faulting on the meritocracy. An inclusive environment means there’s a level playing field with the same rules for everyone. The differences in skills, viewpoints, and abilities will create the innovative culture we aspire for.

The end game

The end game is not to destroy the rock, rather to help the rock and stream coexist in complete harmony. Inclusion will happen when men and women stop competing and start relishing their differences; when a gay, lesbian, or transgender person can live without fear or humiliation; and when disability is met not with skepticism but optimism. Inclusion will happen when each of us embrace each other’s differences and respect ourselves for who we are.

In fact, inclusivity is not achieved by doing anything. Instead, it’s when we all become comfortable with one another and think “I am okay, you are okay, we are all okay.” Then, inclusion has happened.

Learn more about Why Diversity Is Not A Goal, But It Must Be Our Greatest Strength.


Naveen Keshava

About Naveen Keshava

Naveen Keshava is presently HR Business Partner for the HCM line of business at SAP. He is highly knowledgeable in the areas of HR and People Management with expertise in Organizational Design and Change Management, Coaching, Recruiting, Talent Management, Communications, and Diversity.