How Can Diversity And Inclusion Be Achieved In Universities?
Till a few years ago, the words `diversity' and `inclusion' were not so prominently mentioned in the context of the workforce in organisations, but most progressive organizations today, are not only aware but are also convinced of the criticality of ensuring `diversity' in their organizations. Designations like `Chief Diversity Officer' or `Diversity Consultants' are seen in organizations now in start-ups such as Zomato, Myntra and more traditional companies too- the Tata Group, Godrej group, Johnson & Johnson etc. Along with diversity of gender and age, regional, linguistic and ethnic diversity is also being consciously built into organizations. And it is worth mentioning that it also helps business, since research shows that the companies with a higher proportion of women in decision-making roles, generate higher returns on equity, while running more conservative balance sheets. (Credit Suisse Research Institute `CS Gender 300 : The Reward for Change' report, 2016 )
If Universities are to provide the future employees of such organizations, it is essential that they instil these ideas amongst the students, by adopting the same diversity and inclusive practices within Universities.
While the corporate world in general is more aware of the advantages to be reaped by embracing diversity gaining diverse view-points and a better understanding of the needs of approximately 50% of the population, the same is not true uniformly across sectors. The Education sector for instance, often seen as a `safe' sector for the employment of women, especially at the school level, shows a fair degree of lack of gender diversity, especially at the higher levels. The AISHE 2019 Report shows that while females form 42% of the total faculty members at Universities and colleges in India, only 27 % of the Professors (the highest cadre) are women. Obviously the proportion of female Directors, Principals, Deans and Vice Chancellors is in single digits.
Changing mind-sets is a long- drawn affair, but creating the right environment would help students see, understand, accept and embrace diversity. Universities can learn from some of the good corporate practices to improve the workplace for teaching and non- teaching staff. In order to create live examples for students to see and appreciate diversity Universities can do the following:
· Recognize capabilities and give women employees opportunities to participate in decision-making
· Create a fast track leadership development programme to enable women to accelerate their progress to senior levels with focussed mentoring, specific training and flexible schedules to match their needs at different life-stages: child-care early on in their careers and care of the elderly later on in their careers.
· Offer day care facilities to women who return to work after maternity leave. The Symbiosis International University for instance, offers day care facilities in the city centre in Pune, to support young mothers to return to work. This results in a large % of women returning to work rather than quitting
Changing mind-sets is a long- drawn affair, but creating the right environment would help students see, understand, accept and embrace diversity
· Provide the disabled with accessories and tools to increase their access e.g. software for the visually impaired, facilities to enable greater physical accessibility and ensuring equal opportunities.
· Adopting an honest and fair, merit-based selection system for senior positions
It is critical that these initiatives should be widespread and not exceptions. As per UNESCO, "Inclusion is seen as a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education.
Specifically, to encourage female girl students and ensure respect for gender diversity among students, Universities can
· Ensure that they practice what they preach - have a healthy gender diversity in the teaching and non- teaching staff, at all levels.
· Offer scholarships to meritorious girl students
· Create hostels for girls and ensure safe transport systems,
· Create student committees with equal representation for men and women to enable girls to take equal responsibilities and grow.
· Create awareness and sensitize students and society towards inclusion of the LGBTQ community.
· Create awareness about United Nations inclusion principles and pledges and involve students in undertaking Organizational audits to map the targets. This can be a creative way of helping Universities to measure their actual achievements.
· Create a buy-in for diversity and inclusion among students and emphasize that these are `not just good to have', but an imperative in the world today.
· Teach students the value of Collaborative distributed models, where teams in different parts of the world work together in harmony, to develop solutions, highlighting the fact that diversity of talent is the key to success.
· Universities must make special efforts to identify talent-gaps and train girls for in-demand futuristic skills, since preparing them for the workforce is equally important. Research shows that the jobs that are likely to be lost to structural changes in the labour markets, are low-skill and repetitive jobs and the ones that will see a rising demand are jobs in AI, data analytics, cloud computing, digital transformations and there is a dearth of women in these domains. e.g. there are only 12% women in cloud computing; women should be encouraged to take up such subjects.
The large responsibility to be the thought-leaders in embedding the values of diversity and inclusion in students and in society, can be achieved by those Universities which incorporate these tenets in their own functioning.