The narrative around inclusivity has evolved over time. The inclusion not only relates to gender, but it also incorporates specially-abled and LGBTQ+ employees. A welcome change is that organisations have started realising the need of this inclusivity although a lot has to be done.

Sonica Aron is the Founder and Managing Partner of Marching Sheep, an HR advisory firm specialising in strategic HR advisory, diversity and inclusion interventions, employee health and wellness and capability building. Sonica is passionate about HR, empowering people and all things in between. She decided to set up Marching Sheep in 2013 with a vision of making a difference to peoples’ lives and careers, and driving respect and equality for all. Her company works with clients across industries on gender, generational, sexual orientation, and disability diversity. She spoke with The Daily Guardian about how inclusion in workplaces can allow individuals to balance work, other duties, and flourish. Simple measures such as working remotely or flexible working times can make a significant difference. Excerpts:

Q. What led to your journey so far with Marching Sheep and what was the inspiration behind it?

A. An alumna of XLRI Jamshedpur, I was heading HR for Philips Consumer Lifestyle business in 2012. I had worked with companies like Vodafone, PepsiCo, ICI paints in operational and strategic leadership roles. Having been a woman professional in the industry, having worked in sales in a factory environment across industries and geographies, I had seen a gap in the way diversity and inclusion was being driven.

Also, during my stint as an HR Head, my biggest issue was that they would engage a consultant, carry out an intervention, and incur costs, yet there would be no tangible change post the intervention. Personally, leaving a real impact was highly critical for me. In 2013, therefore, I started Marching Sheep with the guiding purpose of “Making a difference in peoples’ lives and careers” and “Driving respect and equality for all” through curated interventions that genuinely moved the needle.

Today, we have established ourselves as Human Resource and D&I thought leaders. We have designed one of the most comprehensive ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ frameworks with a deep understanding of fundamental issues faced by women, individuals from the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. Our expertise comes from having worked with clients across sectors and geographies, and having worked with diverse underrepresented groups and understanding their needs for inclusion and designing solutions that truly make a difference.

Q. What key areas does Marching Sheep focus on and how does it contribute to society?

A. Working in the space of diversity and inclusion, emotional and mental wellbeing, bespoke behavioural interventions and OD consulting, Marching Sheep is seen as a thought leader in progressive HR practices, and questioning status quo. Started as a one-woman army operating out of one city, today, Marching Sheep delivers interventions and projects in Pan India and globally.

Though Marching Sheep is not a not-for-profit organization, the strong sense of purpose helped us run successful non-commercial campaigns. We believe conversations have great power. Engaging with people from the LGBTQ community or people with 21 disabilities and bringing forward realities, challenges, and opportunities create immense awareness of possibilities. It has helped us establish ourselves as a trusted ally with under-represented groups.

Q. What initiatives do you think must be taken to encourage LGBTQ acceptance and gender diversity in today’s era?

A. In my last two decades in the industry, I have seen the narrative around gender inclusion evolve. When I had joined the industry, there was no active, intentional conversation around it. While women were working in the workforce and getting hired, even in the best organizations and multinationals, there was no strategy, plan, policies, or processes to drive the agenda.

However, the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement in 2018 led to a fundamental shift in the rights of India’s LGBTQ citizens and paved the way for policy changes across the board. Needless to say, some is done and a lot is yet to be done.

Q. Are there any further tactics or initiatives that may be implemented to make workplaces more equal?

A. Today many organisations have DEI-embedded in their business strategy. They address it from a cultural and mindset perspective, policy and process perspective. There is a more holistic approach as opposed to a one time effort or tokenism. It differs with every organisation. There are some who are way ahead and are looking at various dimensions of diversity- women inclusion, persons with disability, LGBTQ community, generational diversity, ethnic and cultural diversity, even inter-sectionality. And yet, some companies are still at the nascent stage and figuring out how to get started. However, the awareness is there. The fact that employees today want to work for organisations that value diversity and inclusion where everyone can bring their authentic selves to work and can get equal opportunities and learn and grow is not lost on employers.

Flexibility, and what flexibility means to different people, can be a game-changer and a key driver for inclusion in workplaces as it can allow unique individuals to balance work and other duties. Simple measures such as working remotely or flexible working times can make a significant difference.

Q: What, according to you, will be the HR industry’s new trends in 2022?

A. More than 90% of employers plan to adopt a hybrid working model for their employees in 2022. While that will define the start of the year, we expect that there will be numerous high-profile companies that change course and demand that employees return, full time, to the office.

Although the HR department is still responsible for the workforce’s performance, productivity, and efficiency, the more significant responsibility is to understand our employees’ challenges and what they are struggling with inside and outside of work. The manager-employee relationship has become more critical than ever for hybrid and remote employees their managers are the primary connection through which they experience their employer.

‘A gender balance strategy is designed to improve gender balance and the status of women through targeted organizational actions. These may include steps to increase gender awareness, enhance monitoring and accountability’