What is DE&I? Why it matters?

(Arjun Paleri and Jaya Ramachandran)


What is Diversity?


Most of us know that diversity describes the wide variety of differences between people that set them apart. And when speaking about diversity at the workplace, we often think of it in terms of tangible differences. This includes caste, race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, language, age, and socioeconomic status.


However, diversity would also mean variety in terms of ideas, values, past industry experiences and perspectives.


Similarly, differences in mental and physical ability, relationship status and whether or not you have children are also components of diversity.


Diversity in India


In the Indian landscape, a gender-diverse workforce is almost a given. However, now organisations are pushing beyond gender diversity and exploring new arenas to make meaningful changes to the DNA of their organisation and create a thriving workforce.


In recent years, the workspace has been changing in significant ways. From hybrid working models to virtual migrations, changing work structure and corporate culture, the workplace is evolving at an accelerated pace like never before. The global pandemic had a significant role in these changing business trends and labour markets, with many organisations failing to adapt and therefore pull through these changing tides. But many companies managed to stay afloat, and a few even excelled thanks to their ingenuity and the adoption of innovative ways.


In our recent Q&A session on DE&I, the Global Supply Chain Lead from Pfizer Ltd., Aninda Shome, mentioned how a great mix of people with contemporary skillsets and experiences helped Pfizer ensure business continuity during difficult times. Aninda described how the younger colleagues from his team came up with modern ways of doing things through digital mediums and, at the same time, the more experienced colleagues who had built years of relationships with their service providers managed to get their support for performing activities that could not be done remotely during the pandemic lockdown.

What is Equity?


In the widely used acronym DE&I, E stands for Equity, though this is sometimes confused with Equality. Equality refers to equal access and opportunity for everyone. However, equity means acknowledging that everyone does not start at the same level and some individuals may need more accommodation than others. It identifies and addresses deeper issues of individual needs. Therefore, to create an equitable workforce, employers must incorporate equity measures at all levels, including hiring/ recruitments, pay and benefits and accommodation.


While there are several ways to remove barriers to ensure it’s a level playing field for all employees, for instance, creating mentoring programmes, providing required training and providing equal access like creating a wheelchair–friendly workspace etc., to have a genuinely equitable workforce may require a deeper dive.


Let’s take the example of pay and benefits. An organisation can conduct an audit which will reveal whether the organisation practices equal pay for equal work. If a man and a woman hired to do the same job are provided with the same pay and benefits, this demonstrates pay parity. However, if a closer analysis reveals that only certain kind of individuals hold the highest-paying positions (for example, individuals from a particular gender) and others have lower-paying jobs, this shows an inequitable workplace.


What is Inclusion?


The practice of inclusion, i.e., making individuals feel welcomed and valued, maintains diversity. Where an individual’s candidature is considered for token representation of a marginalised or underrepresented section of people in demographics, the organisation will continue to see high employee turnover.


It’s a given that any workplace requires professionalism and certain decorum. However, it should not stop employees from being themselves or making them feel that they need to hide any part of their true selves. Hence, empathetic leadership goes a long way in creating an inclusive workforce.

Why does DE&I matter?


It’s sadly a popular misconception amongst most people that the purpose of DE&I is only to ensure that marginalised or underrepresented groups are given an opportunity. Many fail to see that more diverse perspectives help better and smarter decision-making. The instance of how the diversity of background and experience helped Pfizer ensure business continuity during the global pandemic is a good example of how a diverse workforce brings much value to the organisation in terms of ideas, range of sources and experiences. From a business perspective, it enables an organisation to approach problems differently, leading to better outcomes regarding its products and services and the customers it serves. From an employee standpoint, it creates a happy and productive work environment where employees feel a sense of belonging and motivates them to work towards organisational goals.


We will be exploring other dimensions of DE&I in our upcoming articles. This is one among a series of articles we will be taking the readers through to help create an effective DE&I strategy.