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What it takes to build an inclusive and diverse work environment

The logistics sector’s work environment is often perceived as non-inclusive and lacking diversity, mainly catering to males. Experiencing this first-hand, Chitra Shinde, Vice President of Operations at DHL Express took on the challenge of creating a female-friendly work environment and promoting diversity. In this interview, we discuss how she accomplished this feat and the significance of having an inclusive and diverse workplace.

When Chitra Shinde first entered the workforce at DHL in Mumbai, she worked in an environment where the ratio was 127 men to two females.

Shinde would work a whole shift without seeing a single female. “I found that was a bit weird just to be surrounded by so many men,” she says.

However, the lack of women didn’t deter her from the industry. Instead she saw “tremendous growth potential” in the industry for herself and future women who are eager to enter the sector.

“I think it’s really important to have gender diversity because it is a good reflection of the community we are in,” she says.

She adds that though there was a lack of gender diversity, there was a lot of diversity “from an ethnic perspective”, which proved to her the impact a diverse and inclusive workforce could bring.

“It just has so many positives to it, including the behaviours around people, what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable, the thinking process, the perspective that both parties would bring to the table that would make it so much better,” she says.

“From a senior leadership position perspective, they wanted to see it happen, but certain things don’t happen just by talking about it or putting out a mandate that we would like to see this because research shows that mixed teams or a good diverse balance gives better results.”

To make the logistics sector a gender diverse place, Shinde says it was important to have a woman in a senior role so they can set the scene and the strategic direction.

Having a women in a senior role makes the field more for women starting out in the workforce, making it more relatable and so they aren’t so “daunted by the 127 men out here”.

When DHL began to put women in senior roles, they began to see numbers gradually change.

“When we started out, we were four percent [female] around 2015 to 2016,” says Shinde.

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“And then fast forward now in 2023, the logistics department, which traditionally didn’t attract women, has 50 percent women.”

As a whole, the company has 60 percent females and is seeing positive benefits such as team ratings going from 54 percent to 90 percent and employee engagement went from 72 percent to 90 percent.

Chitra Shinde.

“Those tangible benefits that you get from a much nicer environment where you can see happiness in people’s faces. I think is the value of a diverse workforce from both gender, ethnicity and also from a thinking perspective if we can have that balance,” adds Shinde.

Since building a more diverse workforce, Shinde says performance has improved as the “homogeneousness of the thinking got broken up” because one gender’s thinking may lead to one result.

She says it gets rid on unconscious bias and brings more awareness to how behaviour might impact others, whether it be culture, religion and gender.

“When you start to embrace difference in one area, it helps you keep an open mind,” she says.

“When you break it up, that’s when you probably get people suggesting an option or look at things differently.”

By being more inclusive, Shinde says the workforce is accepting differences, embracing it and then using it more positively.

“That is perhaps more powerful in seeing than the performance improvement.”

She adds that people get used to the norm very fast this way, though it is a given.

Over time Shinde says that making the workforce more diverse and inclusive has become sophisticated, with the company encouraging things such as women’s networking events and more to offer support and confidence to employees.

For other companies looking to make their workforce more vibrant in terms of diversity and inclusivity, Shinde says it is easier said than done.

She says it is best to look at it from the top down, looking at bringing diverse people into roles to break down barriers and build a bridge.

“It is a journey which is going to make us just simply better each day.”

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles. To get in touch with her, email [email protected]

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