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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – the compass that leads us to a fair and equitable world

Krishna Sudheendra , CEO, UST

As a company, we have always believed that hiring associates from different geographical locations helps build a stronger organization.

Krishna Sudheendra

Krishna Sudheendra , CEO, UST

I am fortunate to live in a neighborhood alongside birds, trees and many other living species. Now and then, I make it a habit to look outside my window to catch a glimpse of Nature. I find it immensely relaxing, and it recharges me to a great extent. But it’s not just about reveling in Nature’s beauty; it’s also about learning from it.

Nature is diverse and inclusive. And all of us are responsible for mirroring this diversity and inclusivity in our own ways in our everyday life, more so at work. I believe that every organization is a small unit that replicates Nature.

DEI - Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

DEI is not a new subject for reflection. But I’d like to talk about it because I find that practicing the principles of DEI makes us better individuals.

This is because at the heart of DEI lies one simple philosophy or concept – unbiased collaboration. When we collaborate, we connect and include. And when we include, we need to consciously reach out to people from different genders, diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and ethnicities, each bringing their strengths, traits and worldviews.

At UST, our commitment to DEI, to openness and ensuring everyone has a voice can be mapped to our core values, Humility, Humanity and Integrity.

The UST value system that we absorb helps us fulfil some of our basic responsibilities and commitments, though we have much more to do. I’m very happy our Step IT Up program, through which we train and provide job placements to inner city women and veterans, has helped 85% of our graduates with jobs. It is heartening to note that 47% of UST’s clients have hired 1000+ graduates across the US. In fact, 65% of our Step IT Up program clients come back to hire more trained graduates.

Making a Difference

UST is partnering with the National Black MBA Association to recruit African American talent and integrate them into our dynamic organization. We also ensure a safe space and forum for our women associates to discuss their challenges, be mentored and benefit from opportunities through Win IT, a mentoring program. Thirty percent of women colleagues across the globe participated in the first batch, and 40% have been able to advance in their careers, while 75% benefited from 1:1 mentoring sessions. The program moves forward, grounded in UST’s philosophy of giving back and helping others.

UST’s NowU (Network of Women USsociates) has been empowering and enabling our women associates for over two decades through workshops, brown bag sessions and speaking sessions. Similarly, our ‘Women Unlimited’ speaking series has been bringing women executive client leaders to UST. They inspire and motivate our women associates by sharing their life journeys, challenges and milestones and encourage the UST community to shed inhibitions and grow as individuals.

The DEI Conversation

Many of our teams and their respective leaders hold regular and candid conversations around the DEI imperative. In forums such as the quarterly sync-up, fortnightly portfolio meetings and all-hands forums, the need to build a diverse workforce is stressed. This is done not just to have a diverse and equitable organization, but to boost decision making skills and find greater opportunities for career growth.

To fulfill our DEI goals, UST’s teams identify roles and positions and then hire talented, diverse candidates. We also prioritize hiring women who have taken a career break if there is a 60% skillset match, ensuring that we play a small role in creating opportunities for all. Facilitating customized and on-the-job training programs for the candidates hired, appointing in-house mentors whose contributions are assessed based on the success of their mentees, and ensuring mandatory DEI education and awareness initiatives for all employees, are other ways UST carries out this fundamental initiative.

As a company, we have always believed that hiring associates from different geographical locations helps build a stronger organization. Our global footprint includes the US, UK, Asia Pacific, Canada, Europe and Latin America. And in India, we have employees from various regions, including Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

I often get the opportunity to listen to individual success stories of some of our women associates, whose accomplishments inspire us to do more for everyone. Representing various generations and backgrounds, their stories are reminders that establishing a diverse, equitable and inclusive community is an exercise in good faith and partnership. Again, it is the collaboration between committed employees and the organization that is creating opportunities for them. The company benefits from employees who are far-sighted and passionate, while the employees benefit from careers that nourish their aspirations. Whether it’s a young graduate who joined UST or someone who joined after a career break of several years, learned and mastered new technology, and is now inspiring others, many in UST are taking small and large steps towards making a difference. This has brought different thinking, backgrounds and experiences making it our competitive edge through a strengthened innovation mindset.

Students smiling while using an educational app

It is perhaps for the initiatives and DEI-centric programs that we run, aligned to our values that the industry sees in UST a committed set of people who want to do their bit towards an equitable society. It fills me with joy that UST was recognized as one of the ‘Top 100 Best Companies for Women in India (BCWI) 2021’ and included in the Most Inclusive Companies Index (MICI) by AVTAR, India’s premier Diversity & Inclusion strategy firm. We also won the coveted 'Exemplar of Inclusion’ Award in 2021. Our people-first policies have earned us the Glassdoor Employees' Choice Award, besides making us one of the Top 100 Best Places to Work in 2021. More recently, we were the 'Title Winner' for Avtar DivERG Awards to women-led ERGs at SEGUE Sessions 2022.

However, there is much to do. When organizations acknowledge the challenges in DEI, recognize the mistakes, and transparently and honestly work towards fulfilling the goals, there is bound to be transformative action with definite outcomes.

The Leadership Quotient

A greater responsibility rests with those leading organizations. As one goes up the ladder, one must be vigilant and wary of prejudices that could hold us back. These biases can prevent us from making decisions that affect others’ lives. When an organization looks up to us for wisdom, there is simply no room for prejudice. Yet again, I return to the golden principle of collaboration. Having the right team around us, taking their inputs into consideration, all the while educating ourselves, will go a long way. We can also be intentional about equity, diversity representation in teams and creating a bias-free workplace. Those of us empowered to make decisions can make DEI a strategic imperative with intense focus from the board. We can all be allies to those who need our unequivocal support. And by support, I mean we need to take continuous steps to advance underrepresented talent.

If organizations work from within towards implanting DEI goals, we may be able to establish a 50% gender balance in the next five years. But that calls for concrete steps in improving the diversity quotient of our candidate pools and increasing recruitment diversity. Boards in companies must diversify the leadership bench, create organizations led by talented executives from diverse backgrounds, and also become voices of underrepresented communities.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are not just words. They are principles and values to live by. They form the compass that shows us the way toward a just and fair society. The world we create and will leave behind is meant to be shaped by these values. If we work together towards that, then each of our organizations – yours and mine – will be as enchanting, giving and diverse as Nature itself.