How to be an equal opportunity employer

Latha Rajan

The history of the human rights movement can easily be juxtaposed to the history of the struggle of people for the right to a decent livelihood. It is work that defines the identity and blossoms the creative energy of a human being. So when people are kept out of work, based on their identity or preferences, we lose out on that creative energy that would have made a difference to the economy and people.

Human resource managers have come a long way in recognising the changing face of employees, their needs and aspirations with the changing political and social environment in which organisations operate. Organisations are forced to design policies to suit an individual employee within the larger organisational framework.

Incentive To Retain Talent

Being an equal opportunity employer is not just about balancing social responsibility and merit, but is also a strong incentive to retain and develop highly talented resources for the organisation.

Since an organisation sees the world as its market, it becomes a necessity to create a diverse workforce that is capable of interacting with the world more intuitively. Creating such a diverse workforce is the first step towards being an equal opportunity employer. It means our understanding of people and their capabilities need to change. We need to learn to trust.

Avoid Stereotypes

There are plenty of stereotypes we cater to when it comes to hiring people. It is said that the decision to hire someone is taken in less than a minute of the interview. Unless the law or customers force us to think beyond. Many organisations would like to take a safe decision when hiring. It is imperative that an employer goes beyond the accepted stereotypes and maintains a fine balance between providing justice, managing merit and creating a culture of equity.

Apart from the protection of law to ensure work force equality, companies can take proactive steps in creating policies that not only ensure equal opportunity but also positively assimilate the disadvantaged -- especially the women, the differently-abled, the elderly, religious minorities and people with different sexual orientations.

Some of the policies that could be adopted by organisations are:

Reservation Policy

Reservations are a simple and the most popular system to ensure equal opportunity is given to all -- a form of positive discrimination. Though many private companies in India have resisted reservation, there is a soft policy in many organisations to have gender balance.

There is also an increasing acceptance for providing reservations for the disabled for which the government is offering incentives to employers. But for a country as diverse as ours, other forms and people can also be given priority.

Celebrate Diversity

Celebrating diversity is not about getting different sets of people in one place and working together. It is about understanding that the employee is an individual -- someone who comes with different values, culture and orientation, and accepting him both as a person as well as a contributor to the organisation within his value system. Here are some ideas to ensure diversity:

a. Have a stated recruitment policy that will encourage diversity
b. Have flexibility so that an individual employee can choose work timings, holidays, etc
c. Incentivise diverse teams
d. Rotational policy for leadership roles
e. Free and open communication

Safe And Productive Workplace

Creating an infrastructure that makes employees feel safe and secured is another important element. Some of the steps you can take are:

a. Design office space to suit the differently-abled, elderly and women
b. Progressive sexual harassment policy to include all sexual orientations
c. Have an ombudsman
d. Participative leadership

Apart from the physical infrastructure, a company should also have soft policies that assure the employee of job security, work-life balance and a clear graph about career development.

Invest In The Community

To sustain quality in the long run in the organisation, employers should recruit people from diverse backgrounds so as to improve the capability of the disadvantaged. You can invest in training people who do not meet the quality requirements by having an in-house training program or by partnering with NGOs and the government. This helps in maintaining the quality standard. Partnering with NGOs is another way to ensure long-term work force quality. Being an equal opportunity employer is difficult, especially when you are small and there is a lot of demand on performance, quality and cost.  But it is a necessary investment that you should make proactively. It may not be long before it becomes mandatory either by law or by the society.

Latha Rajan is the Co Founder of Ma Foi Strategic Consultants, an HR services provider

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