Ani and Sarah speak to Nishah Govind Kumar, the Diversity and Inclusion Lead of Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia, to speak on how to build an organisation that supports people with disabilities. We spoke on building awareness in teams, whether organisations need to have everything figured out before they embark on their D&I journeys instead of crossing bridges when they come to it, and shifting from sympathy hiring to empathetic hiring.
You’re listening to A Daffodil For Your Thoughts, a show where we speak to leaders across multiple industries to gather their views and advice on prominent themes and topics within the workplace.
Anirudh Arvind 0:18
Hey, welcome to Single Steps. Today we’ve got an extremely interesting guest. We’ve got Nishah on the show, here to talk to us about some really wonderful things around DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) and inclusion and hiring practices. Nishah is the D&I lead for Standard Chartered, above being super, super educated in what she does and extremely insightful in what she does, she’s also a very fun person to hang around with. I myself have had the pleasure of catching up with her multiple times. And to top it off, today I’ve got Sarah Anne, who is our marketing lead in Hatch Asia, who is also gonna be co-hosting the show with me. So I’m super excited this Friday afternoon to be with these two lovely ladies.
Before I carry on, Nishah, how are you? How are things?
Nishah Govind Kumar 1:07
Hi, Ani. Thank you so much for having me on the call today. I’m actually very excited. This is the best part of a Friday. And looking forward to it. Yeah.
Sarah Anne 1:18
Perfect. I always want to be the best part of someone’s Friday.
Nishah Govind Kumar 1:22
Anirudh Arvind 1:24
That’s it. That’s why we’ve got you on the show, Sarah.
Sarah Anne 1:26
Yeah. Hey, guys. I’m Sarah. I do- I lead the marketing for Hatch Asia. So, let’s get this episode started then. Cool.
Okay. So Nishah, again, thanks for joining us. Nishah is from Standard Chartered and she will be talking to us about diversity and inclusion for an organization and how we can implement that.
So, is every organization fit to hire the specially able as long as they have the right support systems in place?
Nishah Govind Kumar 2:01
Thank you and that’s a very interesting question. I don’t- I, I do feel that we have certain fitments for each. However, the understanding of what drives the organization is important. So let’s just start there. If, if there is an organization that understands the purpose of that particular role and how they can work on the outcome, versus, “Okay, I’m going to clock in nine to six, 9 am to 6 pm. The person, the person that works for me needs to be physically in front of me and needs to strictly take an hour break.” But what is the outcome of that day? Who knows? Then that’s going to be a bit difficult to identify the right talent for it.
And then I think most organizations are moving away from that. The only silver lining to COVID is the fact that most organizations were pushed towards it faster. So we, we were kind of moved into it faster than we would have generally had. Very, I’m very grateful with Standard Chartered because again, being a group, global kind of organization, we see the diversity of needing to be inclusive. So let’s just put it there. That’s a requirement and it’s not a nice to have. There more than 20 over disabilities. And as we progress and understand and identify these disabilities, then you’d know what fits. So potentially 20 years back, a certain disability from an emotional standpoint would not have been recognized. It would have just been ‘go for counseling, you’re okay.’ And, you know, as what most of our forefathers will say, “Get over it and, and move forward.” Whereas now we are more sensitive and we’re more open to ensuring that these are the, you know, disabilities that has their ability as well. So that- coming back to the question, it all depends on how ready the organization is. And is there sufficient research done before you put the word out there that yes, I want to incorporate differently abled colleagues in my- as a talent pool.
Sarah Anne 4:26
Right. So what would the starting point of an organization look like to assess their business needs and to comprehend how they can embark on their hiring journey?
Nishah Govind Kumar 4:36
Sure. First, assure that the organization is a safe space. That’s super important. And that comes with awareness initiatives. That comes from- unfortunately it is still a top-to-bottom comms (communications) that needs to go out. So safe space that you will not be judged, you will not be discriminated. And even that takes at least two to three years to be fair.
Anirudh Arvind 5:03
Nishah Govind Kumar 5:05
It’s not overnight. It’s not a chairman speech that says “On internationally on persons with disability, we have zero discrimination.” No. It shows- it has to be seen in communication emails. It has to be seen, like, for example, job descriptions. Does it- it needs to, it needs to then get there. So writing, including, you know, you need to sit at your chair for eight hours. And sort of stop writing cringe-worthy content. So that, that sort of elevates one, which is the leader. So leaders are very aware. Leaders are aware of the brand that they carry. But now what happens is the challenge is when it goes to mid-level management. And when you have an organization that’s above a hundred people, a thousand people, five thousand, ten thousand people, then the bulk of the org chart, let’s say, it’s more of a pyramid more than a diamond shape. I mean, we are sort of moving towards a diamond shape, but it will take years. So we are still very much heavy at the bottom. Now who has direct contact and who has direct impact to the bottom part of the pyramid, which is the middle management. And they are the ones that needs to understand.
So what we’ve done is, from, from my experience, awareness was done very much in the early part of the year with leaders to get them to, to be champions, to advocate for us. That’s one. So only with that, you know, championing us, then their middle level team members will say, “Okay, I respect this initiative. I want to spend that time and I want to see where I can go with it.” And we had something called, with our CEO, Matthew Norris, we had a session called the Disability Learning Group. So what it means is, it’s a semi-annual initiative. Due to COVID, it’s virtual. But if it’s not, it’s face-to-face, where differently abled colleagues have direct access to the leaders. Now we’re cutting off the entire middle management level. And so what it means is, if I’ve just started work, I’m a fresh graduate, and I’m a wheelchair user, I have an opportunity, apart from an open-door or open-office concept, I have a platform guided by my HR division, for example, and what I have is access to Matthew Norris, access to my CEO.
And this particular employee spoke to our CEO and said, “Now, if I am monitored by my timings, when I take time off,” so like, people go off for cigarette breaks for 15 minutes, “But I want to go for my, you know, nature call break. And if it’s timed at 10 minutes.” And what he did was he got the CEO to sit in his wheelchair, from his desk, go all the way to the toilet. “Take your access, go pee, and come back, and gauge that time.” And that was really impactful. And the other point was, is that, of course there’s male, female and there’s the OKU (Orang Kurang Upaya. Translates to “People with Disabilities”) toilet. What happened was the access was not specified to that person. So anyone could use it. And you know, people who are abled- and you see this in shopping malls as well-
Sarah Anne 8:45
They use it.
Nishah Govind Kumar 8:47
Sarah Anne 8:46
Everyone- they think OKU toilets is everyone toilets.
Nishah Govind Kumar 8:51
Everyone toilets. It’s bigger. It seems cleaner. And I’d rather go there, right? And what happens is now, this is being, you know, sort of looked at, okay, now, I don’t have that speciality in sitting here because I need it more than anybody else, right? And this is for me. So the CEO worked very- and there was, I mean, he’s a CEO of 33,000 over employees over 5 different countries. But he went to the Property Office and he said, “Okay, these are the bank IDs of all my differently abled colleagues. And I want to ensure that only they have access through their cards.” And with so much pride, the next time we met up, the same team said, “You know, I feel, you know, included at the same time exclusive.” So, it all starts with infrastructure of the building and then it goes on to what else can you support.
Sarah Anne 9:49
Right. So when organizations are actually- when they make a conscious decision of hiring people with disabilities, do they have to have all of these in place? Like they have to, I mean, of course, they first have to ensure their building structure allows for them to hire. But then, do they also have to have support mechanisms in place already? Or do they just cross the bridge when they come to it?
Nishah Govind Kumar 10:14
So at least if fundamental support is required. One, you have the leadership team supportive, very supportive of it. That’s important. And the second is to have- so for a large organization like Standard Chartered, we do have diversity and inclusion leads like myself and a whole team. That apart from our BAU job, this is also very much, you know, an important fundamental part of our role. Now, not all organizations can afford that. So what we need to also leverage on is the human resource business partners are crucial. Because talent acquisition teams and resourcing teams have to be well versed in it. So that they don’t come across discriminating even at the first call. Your leaders, the people leaders, your HR partners, and your talent acquisition resourcing partners are the primary fundamental people to drive diversity and inclusion, especially in the differently able talent pool.
Sarah Anne 11:24
Right, right. So I guess it’s just a process where they always have to be aware and learn on the go as well. Like they can’t ya- and always being open to hearing after they hire, for problems that may come up. Because again, we live in a world that is suited for us. And only when people come to us and tell us, “I can’t, I can’t live in this world,” or “I can’t function at full capacity in this world,” then we are able to help them, right? Yeah
Nishah Govind Kumar 11:55
And that’s when the HR partner comes in. So the- I mean, as much as we want the resourcing partner or the talent acquisition partner to do it, but they are- they’ve got a set of expectations that they need to hit, right? The amount of talent that needs to come in. So it- sometimes it is natural for them to say, “Okay, you’ve been hired. Thirty days, I’ll check on you. Sixty days, I’ll check on you.” But that’s to the capacity that they can go to. Now HR partners are more strategic that way. So they could initiate support groups internally. They can actually work with line managers. So apart from checking on differently able colleagues, it’s now going to their line managers and say, “Okay, so how has it been? Do you need support?” And what happens is that, when you- you need to evolve from being sympathetic to empathizing. And that’s a very, very thin line.
Anirudh Arvind 12:50
I did want to ask you just one question. For me, this call was extremely insightful. Some of the terminologies you used were fairly new to me, to be honest. And I think it’s quite easy to get caught in the whole sympathy element, right? It is quite easy to get, I mean, as we were speaking, a part of me, kind of, I don’t know. It’s not right for me to say this, but I kind of felt some sympathy. Is there a way you can kind of distance an individual from that? And how does that happen? Like, because I can imagine in organizations, especially leaders and mid-level managers, that could seep in, right? That culture of sympathy could seep in. But at the same point, that does not reflect positively because these individuals want to be recognized for the work they do, and the contribution that they bring in, just like you or me and Sarah.
Nishah Govind Kumar 13:50
Anirudh Arvind 13:51
So how, how do you balance that? That’s to me, that’s really quite an interesting, I don’t know if the word is interesting, but that’s quite a needed element to make sure this works the right way.
Nishah Govind Kumar 14:03
Absolutely, and sympathizing- potentially it has to maybe start from sympathizing. Otherwise you won’t. And, we’re ingrained, as- when we were younger, our parents will take us to homes and say, you know, you should feel lucky that you have a mom and dad. Now, actually, that that’s, that’s as we grew up, that’s the wrong way because you’re you’re sort of looking down on somebody.
But maybe to kind of trigger the emotional element, that’s needed. And then to eventually transition to empathizing. And empathizing, it purely means, “Okay, I understand your strengths and potentially areas of opportunities,” right? I first and foremost- I need to understand before speaking to you, before telling you that, “Hey, why don’t you apply for this job?,” because I need to know that. So the assumption part needs to go. And slowly it- what it becomes is the best way to speak to somebody is ask. And what I do before any interviews is, “Okay, what’s your comfort zone? What would you like? What do you need?” And when you elevate to a point where, okay, you understand the person. You give that advice. Then you go on to a mode where, “Okay, I’m here as your mentor, you want to, apart from the entire community and an entire organization supporting you, how are you self-advocating? Where is your self-advocacy for all the differently abled person?” And say “that we’ve enable you with all this, what are you doing to kind of pick that up?” It sort of needs that comfort level to get there.
Sarah Anne 15:45
It’s a lot of self awareness. It’s a lot of self awareness. Yeah.
Nishah Govind Kumar 15:48
I can’t go in not knowing the person say, “Hey, you need to work hard,” right? I need to understand, I need to know that we’ve equipped the person before then saying, “Okay, now let’s do some self-coaching initiatives.”
Sarah Anne 16:03
A lot of breaking of your own biases basically.
Nishah Govind Kumar 16:07
Absolutely, absolutely. I hope, I hope job descriptions get better in the market.
Sarah Anne 16:14
Yeah, yeah. Sure. Yeah, yeah. Definitely.
Anirudh Arvind 16:17
It should, it should.
Nishah Govind Kumar 16:19
They should have a JD (job description) police.
Sarah Anne 16:22
Yeah, a D&I, yeah, D&I team that screens job descriptions. Really, that should be part of the hiring team, too. Like train on it, people should be trained on. It’s relevant.
Nishah Govind Kumar 16:34
And then consulting firms– correct. And consulting and- and recruitment companies need to be advocates for this before the organizations.
Sarah Anne 16:41
Yeah. Correct, correct.
Anirudh Arvind 16:43
Yeah, I understand.
Nishah Govind Kumar 16:44
Absolutely. So organizations, in a lot of way, depend on agencies and- and consulting firms to tell them, what- what- how do we brand and position ourselves as employers. And that’s where the consulting firms say, you know, diversity is crucial, is needed. And whether that’s an element of disability, or gender, or LGBTQ, or well-being, that talent is required. So I hope, I hope, this is- because I’ve not really seeing as many involvement. And- and maybe the problem is most consulting firms– I shouldn’t generalize– but are more order takers. So they’re not sitting as partners. And that comfortable element should come as well, saying, “I have worked with you for 10 years. I’ve given you X number of talent. And in this X number of talent, this number of people have been retained. They have progressed. We’ve given you quality people. Now, hear me out and listen to us when we say what’s good.”
Anirudh Arvind 17:49
Yeah. I think that’s a very valid point. I think it’s, you hit the nail on the head.
But I also feel, I’ll speak as a vendor or a partner, whichever: It takes two to tango. So we come in with, you know, data. We come in with the fact that, you know, maybe your pipelines are not as diverse as it needs to be. Something as simple as portability of skillsets is still lacking in recruitment processes. We’re still like, “Oh, get me someone from my industry.” But when you bring down the role, you do not need someone from your industry, especially if it’s roles like, you know, digital leads, financial CFOs, things like that. Once you break down the industry in the component of how that organization value creates, you can then figure out what’s the right leader from different industries that can come in and do the same.
And I think the problem with firms like us or other firms also is we get scared to voice our opinions, because we think we’ll lose the client. And I think we’ve had a couple of those relationships as well. But I think it’s really important for us to voice out. Because at the end of the day, we are focused on getting you the right individual. And that might take some time, and that might take some time. But it’s a commitment on both our sides. And I think that’s really what we’re trying to do. So with whatever we do around assessments, you know, executive interviewing, leadership styles, understanding all of that, you know, multiple focal points, those just to get, you know, better pictures of the candidates. But I think there’s a whole lot we’d need to go in inclusion. I think diversity is a statistic if there’s no inclusion. So yeah, I’m really glad we had this conversation with you today because it just tells us that we’ve got to do a lot more work. We’ll be- we’re barely scratching the surface.
Nishah Govind Kumar 19:49
The fact that this conversation is already happening, that’s a one step ahead, Ani. That’s definitely one step. And it goes back to the first question on “who are important to drive that”, right? So the leaders, the HR business partners, and the talent acquisition or resourcing partners. Now, if consulting firms or agencies like yourself are able to implant the right of these three people in that organization, that’s already a step of a beautiful runway.
Sarah Anne 20:24
All right, before we let you go, Nishah, do you want to say a word of advice to any organizations who want to implement D&I strategy that caters to people with disabilities or the enabled community as you say?
Nishah Govind Kumar 20:42
It is. I think my only advice is it’s not something an MBA can teach you or a certification can teach you. It’s just being open to conversations, and meeting people, and speaking to people. And- and see? The term “speaking”, right? So just engaging. That’s important. And I think I see on LinkedIn as well, there are more roles that are diversity and inclusion. So that also means that organizations are investing in these roles. And I’ve had a couple of D&I managers, D&I leaders who said, “Can we from a market understanding, work with each other?” And that should be important. So that ability to say, “Okay. Call me anytime. Have a chat- let’s have a chat. Let’s see what’s good for society, right, for the community itself.” And that’s- so my only advice is, if there’s any, any one from other organizations who would like to know more about diversity and inclusion, how to drive, I am just a LinkedIn click away. Anytime.
Anirudh Arvind 21: 51
Sarah Anne 21:53
Thanks so much for today, Nishah.
Nishah Govind Kumar 21:55
Most welcome. And thank you so much for having me. This is, you know, it’s also very therapeutic for me to kind of explain it and get it out there. As much as we do a lot internally, but it’s also important for the external cyber community. Good karma along for everyone.
Anirudh Arvind 22:13
Thank you, Nishah. Appreciate it.
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