Having lived and worked in different countries, Vaishali Shah, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Randstad Sourceright, was exposed to many ways of living. It was these experiences that led her to realize the need to recognize the strengths that our differences can make within organizations. Her personal experiences inspired her to pursue diversity and inclusion as her full-time job.
“I’ve often seen myself as being a little bit different from the people around me. I’ve been fortunate to find, to create, and to thrive in the opportunities that enabled me to add value—not in spite of being different, but because of being different in my experiences, my background, the way I think, or the way I solve problems. I realized that this isn’t the case for a lot of people, and there’s a lot that we can do with our own experiences. I wanted to do something about it.”
In this episode of Breaking the Bias, Consciously Unbiased founder Ashish Kaushal (virtually) sits down with Vaishali, to talk about her journey and her passion for diversity and inclusion. Listen to the full conversation here, and read below for some key takeaways.
*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.
Ashish: What does inclusion mean to you?
Vaishali: “Inclusion is when diversity is a part of the organization’s overall strategy approach and its standard behavior. Essentially inclusion is when diversity is not treated as a separate marker or a metric to be achieved. To me, inclusion is the outcome where the organization’s diverse members thrive in their roles towards both personal and organizational success.”
Ashish: In our efforts to set and meet diversity and inclusion goals, companies are focused on metrics, such as the number of diversity hires. Why do you think we need to change this conversation?
Vaishali: “I feel really strongly about this, because I’ve been in the corporate world long enough to know that metrics are important. Oftentimes with diversity it’s just following whatever popular metrics are out there, such as the number of hires, and looking at the breakdown of your workforce. But I believe we need to look beyond just those traditional metrics. It involves understanding the industry, and the market. Who are your clients? Who are your audiences? What is the social impact that you can have in certain places and the people that you work with?
Setting smarter targets is the first step, but also building a more comprehensive, intentional strategy that goes beyond just hiring for these numbers, such as gender, race, or ethnicity. It really starts with looking at qualitative factors. It’s creating a culture that invites diversity and no longer looking at it as a separate action. It’s one of those things that you expect your people or your leaders to do, but the goal is to make that the overall purpose. I love how things like productivity, sales, profits, and client services are built into the organization’s DNA, and while there are metrics associated with it, you don’t have to teach employees to strive for those. I want diversity to be like that. It shouldn’t be just a metric. It should be beyond the metric where it’s reflected in every action and decision.”
Ashish: What do you think is the next frontier of diversity and inclusion in the contingent workforce?
Vaishali: “I read an article recently that talked about who you should give leadership training to. Are you just gonna give them to your top performers and the people who are in your succession plan? That’s a common sense approach that has happened over the history of the corporate world, but that’s not enough. You want to give leadership training to people who have the potential, but maybe are not quite there yet. They’re going to benefit the most from it. You want to give it to people who come from a different background; they’re not from the same mold as every other leader in your organization. To me, the next frontier to look beyond just the obvious.
I also think the whole qualitative part is missing. I think we’ve become so metrics driven. Ever since I started my career in HR, it’s all about HR data, HR metrics, HR analytics. We’re not going away from that by any means, but I think we’re forgetting the human aspect or rather, the qualitative aspect. Let’s implement initiatives that aren’t just tracked by numbers, but that are tracked by impact on people and how it makes them feel and how it helps them to be more engaged and therefore perform better.”
Ashish: It used to be that employees wanted title changes and recognition. With the Great Resignation, we’re seeing that workers still want those things, but they are also looking for greater meaning in their work. How can companies and leaders evolve to connect with employees on a deeper level?
Related: Understanding DEIB in the Workplace
Vaishali: “A very important thing that came out in these last two years is that people are looking at their lives and their work differently, and absolutely companies should be doing that, too. What can companies do differently? Listen to our employees more, and listen to them in a way that we haven’t done before. If you’ve done statistics and surveys, you want to ask questions in a way that leads you to very specific answers— let’s make it a little more open ended.
I think the other thing companies need to be doing differently is shift how they’re looking at their total talent. There’s this very different aspect of how we deal with our full-time workforce and our contingent workforce. I think that that really needs to shift. We can be looking at this in two different silos and doing things here and not doing things there, or paying people or growing or training people differently. The whole legal aspect of it needs to be addressed very smartly. ”
Ashish: The ongoing pandemic has sparked a greater normalization of mental health and wellness in the workplace. Can you share your wellness journey with yoga, and how employees can incorporate wellness at work?
Vaishali: “Over the last two years, boundaries have become so much more blurred between work and family and schedules and hours of operations. So it’s so common now to be on video calls and have a pet or a child be part of the meeting, because that’s life. But with that blurring of lines it’s also become evident that the company can take a bigger role in taking care of their employees.
So they started with some obvious things such as what technology employees need to function better to work at home, or what kind of flexible schedule works best for you to function. Then very quickly companies realized that they needed to go beyond that. They needed to look at health and wellness and specifically mental wellness.
A few years ago I realized myself that my lines had blurred a little bit, that I really needed to find time and to find things that helped me stay whole, that helped me balance better. I’m a woman, I’m a mother, I’m a professional. I also am an entrepreneur, and I wasn’t ready to give up any of that. So I started to just carve out a little bit of time for myself, and decide what was useful for me.
That’s when I got into yoga. That really connected the dots for me. It helped me to step back in that time that I took to do yoga and really come back with a much better perspective. It’s not about spirituality, it’s just very practical. The breathing, the movement, the benefit of the mind-body connection that I got through yoga really started percolating into how I could think more clearly. How I could be more responsive to situations rather than just reacting to them. I started to get deeper into it. That’s my journey and it’s just started. I love it.”
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