Category Archives: Diversity and Inclusion

The Individual Inclusion Journey

How Inclusive are YOU?

In their quest to create inclusive workplaces, organizations in India are setting in place many policies, practices and processes; the focus primarily is on addressing the differential needs of diverse groups (gender, generation, differently abled, etc) besides unconscious bias training for employees.

And this Organizational Inclusion Journey is important, to counter the unconscious biases in systems & cultures and provide equal opportunities for all groups,

It has resulted in bringing in diversity into the workplaces; but the real business driver behind this, which is harnessing diversity, is still a challenge. To be skilled in leveraging diversity, requires each one of us to consciously work thought the Inclusion Pyramid.. which is primarily an Individual journey; I call this the Individual Inclusion Journey.

How do YOU respond to differences?

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Aware: Do you consciously watch for how others are different from you? I remember one CEO sharing how the style used by one of his team during a tough customer negotiation, was distinctly different from his own: a very soothing and non-confrontational style.

“How are you different from me?”

Accept & Appreciate: What happens to you when someone is thinking differently from you? Has an opinion different from you? Has a different style of decision-making? The VP of a BPO recently was railing against her manager who had a very hands on style of managing people & performance and trusted only the same style. Her own style leaned more towards delegating & empowering, which delivered results too. But the Manager rated only team members who manifested her own style as hi performing! This is not at all an uncommon scenario.

“How does the difference play out?”


I recently rejoined my gym and hired a new trainer, Murli, since my old trainer had left for newer pastures. As I finished my first session with Murli, I was seriously considering replacing him. He seemed very disorganized and unplanned. I was using the template of my old trainer who was very methodical in explaining every week the approach for our workout. This suited my very organized and methodical mind perfectly. Murli was different, he had a plan in his head and would randomly (it seemed to me) work with a variety of equipment & body parts. I invited him for a chat and then understood he had an eclectic approach to working out. But to even invite him for a chat and to listen to his approach, required me to ‘respect’ that perhaps his different approach had value. It requires me to suspend ‘judging’ without waiting for and observing results.

“Is this difference delivering results? How can this difference add value to optimal performance of team?”


Once we are able to the value of the difference, the question now is to identify any challenge or peblem and leverage the differential strengths of the team to solve the problem. The CEO and his report can combine their complementary strengths of confrontation & harmonizing to enable an optimal negotiation;  the VP and her Manager can integrate the best of both their styles to create optimal teams & performance. And I can use my methodical style to complement Murli’s eclectic approach to fitness.

“How can I leverage this differential strength to solve a problem?”

By our very nature, we are uncomfortable with differences (goes back to our primate response). Differences make us feel threatened and out of control. They can also generate mistrust. To be able to leverage diversity, conscious effort and training is required.

I believe there is tremendous opportunity (and an urgent need) in training and coaching leaders & managers through this Individual Inclusion Journey: the ability to appreciate and leverage others’ diversity… of experience, background, perspective, working style.

Inclusion should be (and will soon be) a critical leadership competency.

Diversity initiatives currently seem to focus too much on bringing in diversity and addressing the differential needs of ‘different’ people; and too less on leveraging the differential strengths of ‘different’ people.

Once each one of us is able to respect, appreciate and leverage our differential strengths, a culture of inclusion will prevail and attract diversity. And once we see the value of differences we will also seamlessly adapt to differential needs.

This is true inclusion.

Portrait of a Powerful Woman

In my previous blog I talked about the Male Feminist who is necessary to carry the gender agenda forward.  Let me turn the tables and talk about some of the powerful women I have met and what they are and say….

1. She defines herself beyond and as more than her ‘womanhood’ or ‘motherhood’ while at the same time celebrating it

One of the aspects of my life is being a woman/wife/mother… there are so many other aspects to me and I will take the responsibility to express all of them”

“I love the fact that I am a woman! I can have the best of both (all!!) worlds!”

“In the workplace, I leverage my ‘feminine’ to nurture, empathize & develop people; as well as my ‘masculine’ to drive results and win!”


2. She is unapologetically ambitious and cheerfully influences key stakeholders in her life to achieve her ambition

“I see ambition as being good at whatever I do, to reach for the stars, to work hard for them”

“Work (besides home) is important because it gives me satisfaction, and also because I am able to contribute to the economic activity of the world. That is ambition and I see no reason why I should compromise on that”

“Anyone who is stuck with me is stuck with my ambition too! They had better put up with it!”

3. She shuns being a victim, but not being vulnerable

“I can create my own opportunities!”

“I don’t need someone to ‘help’ and ‘protect’ me; I need understanding and support”

“I know how to get what I want, and have no problem in seeking the support of my stakeholders to get it!”

“Asking for support and leveraging support in no way makes me less independent”

4. She s courageous (not virulent) about challenging gender stereotypes

“I have understood that you have to educate people around you…everywhere I go if someone says you cant do this/that because you are a woman I show it to them that I can”

“If my Manager thinks I can’t work late or travel because I have a baby, I engage in a conversation with her/him… I say, with your support, I can.”

“Once someone asked me why do you work when your husband earns so much; I advised him to think of work as more than a means of earning livelihood!”

5. She is in touch with her strengths and is her best cheerleader

“I have a strong inner critic; this is what makes me a high performer. But that also makes me tough to live with. Now I make it a point to list out my strengths & competencies once a week. “

“I actually pat myself on my back whenever I do a good job of something.”

“I have realized that the system is not trained to praise me for my achievements at work; I have created my own circle of cheerleaders!”

6. She teaches her daughter to aspire & her son to cook (aside from vice versa)

“I encourage my daughter to find her métier in life, not to find a career which will fit into her personal life.”

“Both my son and daughter understand that there is no dichotomy between career and personal life; it is an integrated whole that is necessary for their well being.”

The Spectre of Sexual Harassment


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

In the flurry of activity around implementing the mandates laid down by the Sexual Harassment Bill 2013, I hear some disquieting voices, which could be working against the very intent of the bill.

There is no doubt that this is a much needed bill; a safe and inclusive workplace free of uncomfortable overtures, offensive language, unsolicited propositions, ‘non vegetarian jokes’, (as we like to call them in India) etc, is absolutely essential for employees to thrive and grow in.

Which is the intent behind the 2013 Bill.

However, what we hear on the ground when we work with organizations is disquieting to say the least.

A senior group of managers at an offsite:

“If hiring women means so many hassles, maybe we should re visit our gender diversity agenda!”

A group of leaders who were undergoing a mentoring skills workshop for growing women leaders:

“If I have to work closely with women, give feedback, understand and mentor them, at the back of my mind is the niggling fear always, that they might misunderstand some of my words/gestures.”

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How can we address this fear psychosis, to enable all employees to understand and live the spirit of the law?

  1. Make it a culture agenda not a compliance agenda: The fear is more palpable, in my opinion, when organizations approach this as legal compliance. When it is projected and lived as a culture of respectfulness, it is seen in the overall perspective of inclusive cultures; and we actually begin to see support for the bill, since even many men are uncomfortable around these very same behaviors!
  2. Nip those ‘non veg’ jokes and uncomfortable behaviors in the bud: This is very critical; serious cases of sexual harassment, in most cases, begin with those ‘small’ behaviors, and if they are not nipped can embolden people to cross that line. As usual Managers & Leaders play a critical role here.
  3. Role model respectful behaviors: Of course, the most obvious, but seldom practised. I still remember, I was with some senior leaders finalizing the venue for our next conference and one of them cracked a joke about how the event organizer is ‘your girlfriend, man’ to another leader. Small stuff, big impact.
  4. Your Freedom Ends where Your Nose Ends: I do believe this is perhaps a little cultural. Helping employees understand that respecting each other’s boundaries means ‘Your Freedom End where your nose ends’ hits the nail on the head. Each of us has a different sense of what creates discomfort. The onus of understanding and respecting that vests with each one of us.
  5. Train the women to say no: Difficult one; especially when the unwelcome behaviors are exhibited by senior leaders. Women hesitate to articulate what makes them  uncomfortable, and in the Indian cultural context of gender socialization, it is a double whammy for women. But training helps; teaching them that they can stem this by using non verbals, and when necessary easy words can help.
  6. Make your organizational law inclusive: The law itself protects women; (note that is says Sexual Harassment of Women in Workplace Bill). However, when you make the policy in your organization, including both men and women under its ambit, adds to the spirit of safe and inclusive workplaces! Some organizations have made the bill most inclusive by even including same sex harassment under the ambit of the policy!

People are afraid the sexual harassment bill will be misused; I am afraid that it will derail what it seeks to support: more female talent in the workplaces! Organizations have to tread carefully here to ensure everyone benefits from the intent of the bill!

Behind Every Woman….


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

The key challenge to retaining and developing the female talent pipeline for organizations or engaging women in the global economic activity, has been of women dropping off or slow pedaling their careers.

Many times it is attributed to women not being aspirational or ambitious enough.

I believe that is not at all the case.

Women do aspire, but the pull against their aspirations is their gender identity, ‘The Good Woman’ template, which is defined by society and internalized by women themselves.

In the groups that I run, often there are obvious reflections of this template:

Behind Every Woman


“I love my work and have been promoted twice in the last four years. Recently I have had a baby who is now a year old. Though my current role is exciting and demanding I feel guilty I’m not available for my child”

“Ï am not sure I want to be earning more than my husband or be in a higher position than him”

“My Manager asked me why are you considering that tough role… when my husband earns so much, just take it easy!”

“One of my colleagues was saying how he dislikes ‘all those ambitious’ women’… what does that mean? Is it a crime?”

“I see successful women leaders as very brusque and too direct, and that doesn’t seem very womanly to me.”

“My mother in law thinks I am very selfish to focus on my career so much.”

“If I take the next role, I will have to compromise my family and their needs.”

“My husband says I can work so long as it doesn’t affect our family life or children”

“My mother doesn’t understand why I travel so much or work so hard. Stay at home and relax.”

Gender is the deepest part of our identity which defines how a woman ‘should be’; it is a template that society defines on what it is to be a ‘good woman’.

  • A Good Woman is not Ambitious
  • A Good Woman will Adjust and Compromise
  • A Good woman is supportive of others (not herself)
  • A Good woman puts her family’s needs before hers
  • A Good woman has to be a perfect mother

Etc etc etc…

Women internalize this template, which impacts their everyday behaviors & decisions: to stay in the workplaces or leave; to engage with their careers or lean back; to claim their spaces (both in their professional or personal lives) or play second/third/fourth fiddle. More often than not, this acts as an Internal Glass Ceiling that holds women back from releasing their potential and achieving their aspirations.

If women have to stay, sustain & grow in their careers or engage in the global economic activity, they have to challenge & redefine this template for themselves first.

Needless to say, women who have achieved beyond their homes, (and many have!) have all reinvented this template.

And they are surrounded by people who have reinvented the template too… husbands, mothers, friends, mothers- in-law(!!), managers, organizations.

“I have developed a mechanism through which I just tune out the messages from the environment that don’t support my career aspirations.”

“I have shared my career aspirations with my husband and he agrees that balancing work and family commitments is both our responsibility, not just mine.”

“I work because it is important to me, and I make it a point to convey to my manager that I am ambitious. But certain stages in my life need her/his support, just like anyone else irrespective of gender. But that in no way reduces my commitment to my work.”

“My mother is supportive of my career choices, and helps out in many ways so that I don’t get worked up. She has worked before.”

For, Behind Every Woman….

….is the woman herself, who changes what it means to be a ‘good woman.’

For, Behind Every Woman….

….are all the significant people and systems in her life who have changed what it means to be a ‘good woman’

How many ways have you changed the template for yourself?

How many ways have you changed the template for the women in your life?

Join us for the ‘Behind Every Woman’ Campaign! Click here to share your stories of changing the template.

Five Reasons Gender Diversity Efforts Stumble and What You Can Do About It


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

Most organizations in India today have launched some form or the other of gender diversity initiatives. Primarily driven by the war for talent, they are making consistent efforts to increase their gender diversity ratios. It is clear everyone is on a learning curve, a very steep learning curve at that. But some organizations are getting it more right than the others; I hope to share here the top reasons why gender diversity efforts stumble and what can be done to address them.

Five Reasons Gender Diversity

1) Visible leadership commitment: Every major transformational agenda has to have strong leadership commitment. As far as the Gender Diversity agenda goes, I find leadership commitment is almost always a given. Where I see diversity efforts stumbling is when this commitment is not visible, especially considering gender can evoke potent reactions.

  •  Articulate the intent at different fora
  •  Have senior leaders participate in & support gender diversity initiatives
  •  Rope in senior business leaders into the diversity council
  •  Ensure the sponsor of the initiatives is a senior business leader

2) Middle Managers Buy in: Managers have the biggest role to play in both bringing in diversity and creating inclusion. They are also the hardest to convince. In most cases the mandate comes from the top, and they reluctantly adhere to it. It doesn’t work. From “I have filled my diversity quota”, to “She is a diversity candidate” it only results in working against the very intent of the agenda.

  •  Include them in the diversity journey from the beginning
  •  Create a momentum among Managers by calling for diversity ambassadors, collecting & sharing stories of inclusion, and nominating awards for inclusion
  •  Provide a forum for them to safely surface & air their ‘politically incorrect’ concerns (See my forthcoming blog on ‘Conversations on Gender Inclusion’ which delves into this further.)

3) Culture & Language of inclusion: The MD of a large FMCG major shared how thru consistent diversity efforts they were able to bring in 800 women executives in a year. Within 6 months, however, they lost almost 600 of them. Most organizations in their eagerness to create a diverse organization, fail to understand the importance of the Inclusion journey. Without a culture of inclusion, diversity will just be churned out of the system.

  •  Set policies & processes that support the agenda before the diversity efforts begin
  •  Equip leaders & employees with the right language to create inclusion by facilitating conversations about the value of differences
  •  Enable employees to understand that inclusion manifests in behaviors that each one of them can commit to
  •  Do a culture & policy audit to assess the inclusion climate in your organization

4) Systemic biases: Unconscious biases held in the mindsets of Managers, such as women’s commitment to careers, prevailing paradigms of Leadership Competencies/behaviors, and equating 24/7 availability to commitment, are also critical factors that pull against the inclusion agenda. Most women tend to internalize gender socialization messages, which act as an Internal Glass Ceiling. (See my forthcoming blog on ‘The Good Women’ which delves into this further.)

  •  Sensitize managers on unconscious biases
  •  Audit your leadership competencies to check if they are inclusive of different styles of leadership
  •  Provide self awareness training for women to relook at their mental models & career skills training

5) The myth of ‘Best Practices’: Again, more from an eagerness to get it just right, there is often a scramble to cut and paste what is working well in other organizations. The latest rage is Manager Sensitization workshops; it is not uncommon to have a clueless bunch of managers sitting through the session with little context of why they are there. There are several stages to both the Diversity and Inclusion journeys, each with their own opportunities and challenges. Jumping the stage results in defeating the entire purpose and can have more detrimental effects than not embarking on the journey itself.

  •  Assess your own state of inclusion
  •  Understand and articulate the need & driver for the agenda
  •  Study the steps involved in the journey and pick what is necessary for your context carefully

Gender Diversity & Inclusion journeys are ridden with many pebbles on the path. Tread with care.

The G Word!


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

Gender! I am willing to bet this ranks high on the list of controversial words of our century. And with the UN declaring that we need to rope women into the workplaces if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, it has become increasingly critical and controversial in recent years.

I live bang in the middle of this dichotomy. My work is focused on creating inclusive workplaces. With gender being the biggest inclusion agenda for most organizations, I have been privy to some of the most challenging mindsets surrounding gender, which both men and women have internalized.

The G word!

The Gender division of roles, man as breadwinner and woman as caregiver, is so deeply entrenched in our mindsets, that a whole range of choices & decisions are impacted… in the choices women make about their ‘personal lives’ and ‘professional’ lives; and also in the choices men make available for themselves in their careers.

I come face to face with how these mindsets are limiting for gender-balanced workplaces. But they are so subtle and so nuanced that surfacing and discussing them is challenging.

I am convinced that it is imperative for women to be part of the economic activity of the world. With increasing research, we know now, that gender balanced workplaces make economic sense. Research by Mckinsey, Catalyst and a host of other bodies has shown that “the companies where women are most strongly represented at board or top-management levels are also the companies that perform best.”

India ranks a low 124 out of 136 nations on women’s economic participation. Interestingly, the number of women enrolling in college has grown many times but has not resulted in an equivalent increase in women in the workforce. One study estimates that India’s GDP can grow by more than a quarter if we can bring gender balance into the workplaces. We have to bring and keep women in the workplaces.

And ‘gender’ which defines what a man should be and what a woman should be, has to be de-constructed if this has to happen. IN the hundreds of groups of women and managers (men and woman) that I have worked with, I have come to realize that the work that we do is really about changing mindsets…and changing society.

It is necessary work.

Throughout this blog we will capture and discuss the experiences of men and women in this inclusion journey.

We need to have these conversations if societies, and organizations as microcosms of societies, are to adapt and achieve balanced economic growth.

As we move forward with this blog, are there any topics within gender inclusion that you would like us to pay particular attention to?

What do you believe are the most pertinent issues when discussing gender balanced work places?

Tiptoeing Around Differences


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

Okay lets talk differences…Diversity.

“Differences? Nah! I am more comfortable with similarities. Let me look for how we are similar so that I can build rapport.”

The moment we start talking about differences, there is discomfort. From the change agent who told me he does not like to focus on the differences between humans (“it is divisive”), to the manager who said he is drawn to team members who share his background/age/gender, differences continue to get pushed under the carpet.

What about women and men? Gender differences? “Oh no I don’t see them as different at all. For me, men and women are the same.”

Tiptoeing Around Differences

But the fact remains that I am different from you. My life experiences and the milieu in which I have grown up makes me think differently, take decisions differently, and problem solve differently. At an individual level we are all different, unique beings.

As Tracy Brown put it beautifully ‘Somewhere in the difference between you and me… is WE’.

And when I belong to a group, be it generational/regional/gender, that means I share certain ways of thinking and behaving with that group.

Take the way the millennials communicate at work. For them, the ability to be constantly connected to technology, their phones, their laptops, their tablets, means that they no longer feel that communication needs be limited to the office hours, changing the normal 9 to 5 hours previous generation were used to.

Let’s take gender. Research has revealed time and again how men and women are different. Barbara Annis’ pivotal book Leadership and the Sexes uses the latest brain-behavior research on gender to show how men and women’s brains are structured differently. These differences manifest in the way men and women negotiate differently, drive performance differently, and lead differently.

Mckinsey’s research uncovers how women leaders leverage some leadership competencies more than men.

When I tiptoe around differences I lose the opportunity to leverage these differences.

To my friends, the change agent and the manager, here is what I would like to say: Differences can divide… if we push them under the carpet.

But if we leverage the differences, respectfully and appreciatively, they can add tremendous value…to the team, to the organization…and to society at large.

Not surprisingly then, research has shown that diversity leads to better decision-making. When we are able to appreciate and explore different perspectives, we arrive at more holistic solutions.

We need to celebrate and embrace our differences, not deny and suppress them.

The entire drive for diversity rests on this principle.

Bryan Pelley captures this very aptly:

“I think the first important point is that I do recognize that there are gender-related differences that come into play in the workplace, and I’m comfortable acknowledging and addressing those differences directly…. I think a lot of male colleagues are uncomfortable recognizing gender differences and don’t want to call attention to them. It’s not necessarily that they aren’t supportive or don’t care, I think in some cases it’s actually motivated by a desire to treat everyone equally and not to seem like they’re coddling or belittling very capable women. I’m comfortable with the idea that treating people “equally” doesn’t actually mean treating people the same.”

I wonder if we are confusing differences in preferences and needs with differences in performance?

When we understand the difference between ‘equal’ and ‘same’, we realize that we are different but equal.

And the bottom line, performance, remains the driver to leverage the differences.

Have you had any personal experiences with diversity in your office place where it has been an advantage and helped your team solve a problem?

What are some steps you can take to ensure you embrace diversity in your office rather than shun it?

What are some ways we can articulate the advantages a different perspective can bring to your team at work?

Intentional Inclusion


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

Study after study has shown how heterogeneous teams are more productive than homogenous teams.  Study after study has also shown how heterogeneous teams are more unproductive than homogeneous teamsSo what is the contradiction? The answer to the contradiction lies in the difference between diversity and inclusion, or more specifically, intentional inclusion.

Diversity is not a choice anymore. We are surrounded by diversity in every form. In a global workplace we are faced with diversity all the time: cultural, regional, gender, generational.

But differences create conflict. As humans, with vestiges of our animal heritage, we are constantly associating the new and the unknown to the foe. Differences also threaten our sense of self. So yes, diversity creates conflict and can hamper productivity.

So what’s the answer? Inclusion. Intentional Inclusion.

Intentional Inclusion

It requires effort and conscious behavioral choices. For as Joe Gerstandt says, “If you do not intentionally, deliberately and proactively include, you will unintentionally exclude”.

Intentional Inclusion is first and foremost an individual journey.

This individual journey needs us to introspect on the stereotypes and unconscious biases we might hold. I still remember a client who mentioned that she had a team member from a minority community and her client claimed discomfort in dealing with him! The stereotypes and unconscious biases I hold impact the careers of others, especially when I am in a position of power.

Surfacing my unconscious biases and engaging in behaviors of intentional inclusion can create a workplace that provides equal opportunities for all groups.

At the next level, it requires conscious behavioral choices: Do I actively seek people different from me? How do I respond to different thoughts/views? How do I work with differing priorities? Each and every one of us has a responsibility to become comfortable with the ‘different’ person.

As a Manager, do I have checks and balances to counter my own preferences for a certain kind of team member?

I still remember my very first Manager, who used to actively prod the quieter members in a meeting, and listen respectfully to even contradictory opinions. I was barely 20 and we were designing a new pack for a top selling product; I had a very ‘different’ take on the color scheme and recall how he stopped to let me explain the thinking behind it. Not surprisingly, he had the most creative people vying to be part of his team.

Or even the Manager, who on seeing some members of his team being isolated, taking active steps to include them both in formal and informal gatherings.

For diversity to thrive, intentional inclusion is imperative.

As Ayn Rand would say “No contradiction!”.

How do you act when faced with diversity?

Do you join groups that are different?

Do you seek people who are different from you? 

What are some short-term and long-term strategies you can develop to be more inclusive?