"Talent, solely, should be the identity of an employee at the workplace, not gender, religion, caste or nationality," said Sakshi Handa, the HR director of Unilever Bangladesh.
Transgender individuals and people with disabilities have been denied inclusion in the workplace for so long that this vast source of talent has remained untapped.
Bangladesh is driving towards a positive outlook on the transgender community as the government has recently taken initiatives for the inclusion of transgender people at the workplace.
During an exclusive interview, Sakshi Handa, who brings with her 15 years of working experience in different aspects of HR, shares how Unilever has ensured the inclusion of transgender people on its payroll by making sure that they never feel isolated.
TBS: Diversity and inclusion is the mantra for productivity and growth, and Unilever champions this philosophy. Tell us how your organisation has managed to reach today's position.
Sakshi Handa: Globally, Unilever is a 50/50 employer, that is to say, 50% men and 50% women are at the managerial level. In Bangladesh, we are trying to achieve the same standard. I am very proud to share that we have 40% females in the managerial cadre in Unilever Bangladesh. It has not happened overnight.
Unilever has a very clear purpose. Companies with purpose sustain, brands with purpose grow and people with purpose thrive.
Recently, 550 employees including campus ambassadors have been covered under the workshop called "Discover Your Purpose." The youth of the country need to be nurtured to bring changes to our community by being responsible citizens.
Unilever is known as one of the top female-friendly organisations. What do you think enables this reputation?
Handa: Around four years ago, we took an initiative called 'Stride' which enabled women who were on career breaks to re-enter the corporate sector by providing them working opportunities.
From sales to supply chain management, Unilever attempts to include women in every sector, and ensure their safety at the same time. To include women in sales, we hired our first regional sales manager and identified 33 territories that could be female-friendly. We have placed our female territory managers in those areas. We now have our second female RM as well.
For the supply chain sector, we have introduced night shifts for women with proper safety measures and all possible enablers you could think of.
We have also formed a collaborative counsel called 'Inspirit' which is an external council for like-minded organisations. Eight major MNCs are part of Inspirit who are co-creating actions to improve the working conditions for women. We must address that the power of collaboration is greater than individual effort.
How has Unilever embedded inclusivity in the workplace? Can you share some of the initiatives and practices?
Handa: Care and empathy are key factors that promote inclusivity at the workplace. We have an internal support and mentoring system similar to a care centre at our corporate office which is used by both men and women. For instance, we have professional nannies to take care of the children of our employees.
Besides, we have launched a series of policies even during the pandemic such as protection against domestic violence, prevention of sexual harassment policy. We have introduced maternity and paternity leave long ago. Now we also provide elderly care and caregiver service at home.
You have emphasised on gender diversity and equality. What about other forms of diversity?
Handa: Unilever does not just stop at ensuring gender equality. We believe in diversity, inclusion and equity. These are three different concepts. For example, diversity is like having a seat at the table, inclusion is being invited to a meeting at that table, and equity is having a voice in that meeting. Equity is what we focus on.
We need to create systemic enablers for people of all backgrounds to come to the table, to be a part of the meeting and to have their voice.
We have made a large enrolment of transgender individuals, people with disabilities, and people of different educational, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We already have two transgender employees in our workforce. And both of them have been selected purely based on their merit.
They are hired in a telesales team known as CMI-consumer marketing insight team, where an individual is required to sell a product by influencing convincingly.
Currently, we also have 47 people with disabilities in our workforce including seven young interns with disabilities. Unilever envisions people with disabilities to represent 5% of the total employees.
How will such diverse inclusion help the economy to grow stronger?
Handa: Both disabled people and transgender citizens are great sources of talent. Inclusion of such diversity will not only ensure unique talents at the workplace but will also ensure the betterment of society.
What has motivated Unilever to recently hire transgender people? Have you taken the steps after the government has declared the incentives?
Handa: It happened exactly at the same time which gives me a lot of joy. Unilever and the government share the same ideas. By the time government's notification came out, we had already finished hiring our first transgender employees. The vital motivation behind hiring transgender people is that we are actively looking at this opportunity as a talent pool.
How have you addressed issues or challenges that your organisation faced to onboard people with disabilities and transgender people?
Handa: We did a lot of homework before we brought these people on board. We knew we cannot do this alone so we launched partnerships. We partnered with BBDN, Adamya Foundation and Sitesavers to choose profiles based on their merit. Partnerships helped us make this initiative a reality.
The second thing we did was mass sensitisation. We had a series of sessions where people with disabilities would come and speak to our manager about their successes, journeys and struggles. The sessions eventually helped us to become open-minded.
What are the policies or government initiatives you found beneficial to include marginalised communities into the workforce?
Handa: Thanks to the government's notification of introducing tax redemption for companies hiring trans people, many companies are beginning to think that this is a possibility. However, we have already made it happen.
What are the next steps Unilever is considering taking? How do you think these future initiatives will pave the way towards diversity and inclusion, and motivate others to follow?
Handa: When you bring the first form of diversity which is gender, other forms of diversity will follow. Because women will make sure that the workplace is more inclusive. We hope to become an equal opportunity employer with a 50/50 ratio in our workforce. We hope that all forms of talent are represented irrespective of their gender, background, ethnicity and caste. We hope to continue our progressive policies and treat our people with the highest level of care and empathy because people are our biggest assets.