Is diversity an opportunity to interact?

Is diversity an opportunity to interact?

Sheebu Heads HR for GE India Technology Center. She has close to 20 years of experience in various HR leadership roles across GE. She was associated with Perfetti Van Melle and HCL in the past.

What does Diversity mean to you and why do you think it is so important?

I believe Diversity is a lot broader theme than just gender –  for me diversity means celebrating the uniqueness of individuals – creating an environment where they can bring their whole self – leveraging these uniqueness for organizational outcomes is a business imperative. Think about the immense talent and potential we can tap into by creating an inclusive culture where every single person brings their own diverse views, perspective. No organization today can afford to lose that competitiveness in a day and age where we are transforming rapidly, and need to keep ahead in a market which represents this very diversity!  

The concept of having more Women Leaders has been discussed for decades now, why do you think organizations are still struggling with very few women  leaders in top positions?

The discussions have to be met atleast half way with reinforcing actions. It could be turning some assumptions on its head. For example, is the problem really that there aren’t enough women in the talent market, or that I will find that one person regardless of gender and who is the best fit for the job? Or thinking about if a differently abled candidate can do a sales role to thinking about what infrastructure will he/she need to ace this job? We need to shift the conversation to a more constructive outcome and create a balanced pipeline of candidates, and do a few things differently at the very start. This truly makes organizations inclusive and balanced.  Having women leaders in top positions in the short run can be solved through hiring but to have a sustainable solution, we need to go beyond initiatives and focus through the life cycle of hire, grow and retain. That requires investment in creating a culture which is inclusive

What does a commitment to Diversity & Inclusion mean to you and how are you demonstrating it?

For me it means creating a workplace which has a culture conducive for everyone to thrive and achieve their highest potential. Each one of us is different, celebrating that uniqueness and channelizing it. In GE we call it “Way of Work” or W.O.W – which really means that it’s not an “initiative” its our way of work! We may sometimes be in the majority and sometimes in the minority – how we treat each other with respect regardless of where we fall in the majority/ minority spectrum is the way of work. Our way of work therefore means that we hire the best candidate, create opportunities and an environment that helps grow and hence retain our talent.

Organizations are now focusing on Diversity and working towards building a culture of inclusiveness, how can leaders truly build an inclusive culture at every level in the organization?

A big part of driving the focus on inclusion rests with the CEO & leadership, no doubt. But it can’t just stay with the top! It works best when it becomes a part of the DNA of the organization. I don’t think anyone intentionally creates an environment which is not inclusive – more often than not they end up doing it because they don’t know better so opportunities to observe, learn, be coached so that they can check their conditioning and baggage at the door is critical. An organization should invest in defining, showcasing and reinforcing ‘what good looks like’. A recognition that  Men and women are different, their styles are different, their needs are different is very important …but guess what! one woman is different from another woman in just as many ways – a broad brush stroke of any kind, be it by gender, or generation or physical abilities or ambitions… doesn’t help anyone feel valued and creates islands. So the less we do that and the more we focus on creating an environment which helps everyone grow into their best versions helps create a more inclusive culture.

As a women leader, what were the challenges that you faced while building your career and what strategies did you use to address those challenges?

That I can’t just be a leader but have to be called out as a woman leader itself speaks volumes. Thankfully I work with GE and have had some splendid managers (men & women), whose identification of me is not just by my gender – they see me for who I am in entirety, my talent, aspirations, interests and what’s the value I bring in. They have been sensitive around personal issues that I needed support with. I am certain they didn’t do it just because I am a woman, they did it/do it because they care about me as a person. So over the years I have realised that how you define yourself is the first step to how others define you.

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