Category Archives: Inclusive Workplaces

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?

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 1.42.05 pm

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 the Male Feminist

Portrait of the Male Feminist

The Gender Inclusion journey is one sided; there are just not enough men involved.  Go to any conference or event on Gender Inclusion and it is alarming to see the abysmal numbers of men.

Most organizations have embraced the agenda, but I see very few men who engage with the agenda thoughtfully.

There is confusion, discomfort, fear, even (lest they say something politically incorrect). As a result, most men hesitate to engage with it – a surefire recipe for failure, for such a deeply transformative process.

And this is true not just of the organizational context but of the larger society too.

If we want to achieve gender balance in the workplaces, if we have to become a gender equal society, we need men also to thoughtfully engage with the conversations and actively participate in the process.

We need the Male Feminist.

male feminist

What does a Male Feminist look like? How does he think? How does he espouse and support the gender inclusion agenda?

Here is a preliminary portrait I have attempted based on some of the wonderful men I have met who are driving this agenda in their teams, organizations, societies and homes!

1. He sees that Gender Inclusion benefits men and women; societies; organizations and teams:

At the team level gender inclusion brings different strengths to the table thus contributing to more holistic solutions; at the organization level it improves performance, Return on Investment and Equity; at societal level it reduces inequalities; and at the individual level, broadens choices for both men and women.

“Gender Inclusion benefits all of us”

2. He doesn’t think women are Damsels in Distress:

He provides challenging assignments to both his male and female team members and keeps away from the usual patronizing remarks women receive such as “Choose something lighter… why struggle; that role is way too demanding…”

“Freedom not Protection”

3. He understands that Equal doesn’t mean Same:

He realizes that just as men and women come with different strengths, they also come with different needs, which need support to enable optimal performance.

“Support not Concessions”

4. He participates equally at home.

The Indian Government at some point considered bringing a bill to pay stay at home mothers; I am not sure that is really the answer. But care giving, running a house is WORK and that work getting assigned to women on the basis of gender doesn’t really make sense! And Work Life balance does NOT mean it is a career woman’s responsibility to juggle both work and personal life!

“There is no man’s work and woman’s work; there is just work”

5. He understands that women don’t go out to work ONLY because they need to bring in the Money:

He realizes that they work because it is deeply satisfying and refrain from comments such as “Why do you have to work? Your husband is earning so much”

“Money is not the only driver”

6. In conferences, forums, offices, promotion discussions he will ask “Where are the women?”:

Because he sees that systemic biases and women’s own internalized gender beliefs need a conscious push through processes, policies, motivation and sometimes, even approval, he is consciously working against unconscious biases held both by men and women.

“Gender Inclusion requires champions to drive it”

7. He is comfortable around ambitious, driven and successful women both in his personal and professional life spaces.

He really feels there is no gender difference here; whether it is men or women any achievement requires drive and ambition.

“Ambition and hard work are admirable & necessary qualities irrespective of gender”

8. He understands that inclusion has to begin at the individual level:

He constantly challenges his own stereotypes/mindsets and adjusts his behaviors & decisions to map to the individuals he is dealing with.

“Inclusion is things I can do and say”

What are other characteristics of the Male Feminist you have encountered?  Or would like to encounter?

Let us all who are already engaged in this transformative process sketch the portrait more accurately by sharing our thoughts/experiences!

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?

A CEO And A Woman


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

I recently attended a CEO forum. As usual there were only a handful of women, which is certainly an improvement from over a decade ago. As I was talking to some of them, the discussion veered around this thing called ‘Woman CEO’.

A CEO is a CEO, woman or man. You run a business, you take tough calls and at the end of the day you have to answer to your shareholders and your board. So why do we have so many awards for women entrepreneurs and women leaders? Why do we have to ‘reduce’ leadership to gender? I’ll admit that I find this annoying sometimes. If anyone had focused the attention on my gender, even five years ago, I would probably have taken them to task.

But I have come to think differently in the last couple of years.

When I work with women at middle levels, one of the key motivators for them, I realize, is seeing women at the top. More and more of them are asking, “Can I do it?” Studies now reveal that Indian women especially report very high levels of aspiration. But a key mindset that seems to be pulling them back is a fear of a tradeoff, ‘this or that’: “If I take the next level, my personal life will get neglected and be affected adversely”.

A CEO and a Woman

But when they see women at the top, effectively straddling the two roles, there is an empowering sense of “I can do it too.”

And in those times when they are about to give up, this can make them persevere. I have heard this from women in my workshops, time and again, especially from women at that vulnerable age group of 26 to 36, when the ‘leaking pipeline’ occurs.

I now see this as a responsibility. Women leaders who choose to mentor other women can be especially effective because they can understand the unique challenges that women face in the workplace, as well as help them understand the unique advantages woman have as leaders.


With so few woman leaders, it is clear that gender stereotypes flourish today with leadership still clearly thought of in a ‘male’ paradigm. If we are to break these stereotypes, we need more women at the top embracing and celebrating their gender.

Besides which, a woman’s commitment to work is still perceived as competing with her ‘family responsibilities’. Frequently referred to as the ‘mommy penalty’ studies have shown that women without children are viewed as more dedicated/committed to their careers than women with children.

It is time for women who have achieved greater success outside the home, to claim their gender. But perhaps we need to rephrase a little:

From ‘I am a woman CEO’ to …

‘I am a CEO and I am a woman’; ‘I am a leader and I am a Woman’.

I now say this all the time. Do you?

Women, what are some other ways you feel that women leaders in your organization can give back and help you to advance your career?