Archive for category Diversity & Inclusion Globally

Diversity & Inclusion Data in Netflix Productions

Netflix shares D&I data in its productions

Netflix, Computer, Snacking, Cushion

What has entertainment got to do with diversity and inclusion? Actually plenty. As a Diversity & Inclusion training provider, I was thrilled to see Netflix keeping track and providing D&I data in its productions. Diversity promotes inclusion, appeals to a larger audience, and gives people a chance to learn about different cultures. Recently, the streaming giant Netflix commissioned a study to look at its own 2018 and 2019 productions. The study analyzed 126 movies and 180 series released during 2018 and 2019.

Findings are not only striking and breath-taking but inspirational. The study found that fifty-two percent of Netflix films and series in 2018 and 2019 had girls or women in starring roles and 35.7 percent of all Netflix leads during this time came from underrepresented groups, compared with 28 percent in the top 100 grossing theatrical films. 

An example is #BridgertonOnNetflix that not only casts women and under-represented groups but also tackles race and gender in interesting and contrasting ways. In this period drama series, set in Regency England, a color blind society emerges in sharp contrast to a gender biased one.. Following a wedding between their white king and black queen, the society has achieved true racial equality. On the other hand, gender is left alone. So here, “a wayward touch or heaven forbid a kiss would banish any young lady from a society in a trail of ruin” and yet all the delicate issues pertaining to women’s honor are considered men’s affairs and it then becomes men’s duty to solve these issues, sometimes through deadly duels. Sarcastic wit is both entertaining and illuminating.  My review is at link .

Or consider Never Have I Ever, coming of age drama series. Fifteen year old heroine, Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) is an insightful teenager. Stereotypes are tackled with sarcasm. When she tells her therapist that she wants to have sex with a hot kid in the class, in order to join the grownup world, her therapist assures her that he may be hot but he still has problems. To that Devi replies, “Hot people don’t have problems. I have seen people in your waiting room — they are mostly uggos”.  Clever use of sarcasm in another netflix serial, Kim’s Convenience also helps break down stereotypes and stars as Korean family, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Jean Yoon, Andrea Bang, and Simu Liu. 

And then there are other films like the movie “Sir”, starring Tilotama Shome & Vivk Gomber. With understated dialogues and masterful use of silences, the movie brings in the forefront crucial issues of class and caste in Indian society. Here is link to my review . In Hillbilly Elegy, (link to my review,  light shines on the chief divides in the USA, poverty and its accompanying scourges, social isolation, lack of medical resources, drug use and religious and political divides.  

Movies and serials on Netflix still do have glaring deficiencies in achieving better gender and racial parity. For instance, 96 percent of stories did not have any women onscreen who identify as American Indian/ Native Alaskan, 68.3 percent of the content evaluated did not include a speaking role for a Latina and LGBTQ characters were often marginalized.

Group of children smiling and looking at the camera diversity Group of children smiling and looking at the camera Child Stock Photo

What is interesting however, is that the streaming site is paying close attention to the issues of diversity and inclusion in entertainment and acknowledges the importance of its role in changing things in society.  Netflix’s film chief, Scott Stuber acknowledged its importance and Netflix’s chief executive Ted Sarandos said, “the company is committed to releasing a new report every two years through 2026”. He further said, “our hope is to create a benchmark for ourselves, and more broadly across the industry”.

This is leadership. And I can’t wait to hear Netflix co-founder, chairman and co-Chief Executive Officer, Reed Hastings speak at #TiEcon2021. I hope he will speak to the issue of the importance of diversity and inclusion in entertainment. I hope he will also share how and  in what other ways Netflix is taking this seriously in how it weaves in D&I internally. Register for for the virtual tiecon and May 6-8, 2021. With an exemplary lineup of keynotes, speakers and panelists, you will not want to miss the virtual conference. 

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Diversity on Boards

In 1995, when I began doing diversity training for employees at @IBM, there was often some resistance among corporations. Some felt that it was better to not “open a can of worms”. At IBM, a grand diversity initiative was started by Ted Childs Jr., who is widely recognized as the leading corporate diversity expert. 

Diverse People Stacking Hand Together - Royalty-free Adult Stock Photo

At the core of the diversity training, we focused on how workplaces that become inclusive where each and every employee can bring their best and contribute at the highest level of productivity, such teams enjoy high morale and the company enjoys high retention rate. In our trainings, we emphasized the importance of embracing diversity to uncover the competitive advantage it provides. 

All of that is still true. AND additionally, it seems, today the climate exists where we can also speak freely of how and why it is ethically and morally the right thing to do, to embrace the entire range of diversity, from diversity of gender, race, religion and sexual orientation to diversity of thought, functionalities and perspectives.

I am eagerly looking forward to the Road to @TiEcon panel on July, 22 at 9:40am on the roadmap to bring diversity on boards of corporations. It is widely understood that just having a diverse range of people on a team, is in itself not enough to create a high performing team. In order to leverage diversity and create a high performing team, a team needs to strategically and consciously create a culture that values diverse people, diverse range of behaviors, and creates a space for listening to diverse perspectives. 

I am eagerly looking forward to the views and best practices that this panel will share. The panelists are: Anjali Bansal, founder at Avaana Capital; Dipti Jaggi @clinakos; and Tina Shah Paikeday, Head of D&I @RRAonLeadership at Russell Reynolds Advisory. 

Sign up for this exciting panel and the entire event at the link below. 

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Building Teams that deliver Results & Investors

Michael Weickert
Michael Weickert talked about “Building Teams that Deliver Results & Attract Investors” at event.  Weickert has extensive experience as CEO and entrepreneurial leadership in biotechnology, drug delivery and medical devices.  He has also raised capital and done strategic partnership deals.  Weickert has PhD in Genetics and holds numerous biotechnology and device patents and has published many scientific papers in leading journals.  Below are some interesting points from the talk.

Venture Capitalists know that the team is critical, said Weickert.  A large amount of cash and burn happens on account of people problems.  VC surveys attribute nearly 65% of failures in their portfolio companies to problems with startup management teams and 61% of problems occur on account of issues within founding members or groups.  Differences in perspectives are not the cause of the problems, and may even be beneficial, in a team.  However, not being able to work through them points to grave issues that can prove to be fatal for the company.  Investors often give up on funding a startup because they are unsure of the interpersonal capability of the founding members.  Investors may even love an idea or a product concept but may not embrace it if they feel doubts about the team, said Weickert.  Investors often mitigate risks by working with groups they have prior experience with or know others who had success with these teams.  Investors also feel higher level of comfort working with teams that have worked together before, or with people with a great deal of experience, in the hope that they will all work together better.     

Teaming needs may vary depending on the stage of product development in the company.  It is critical that the top tier understands the needs and requirements of functions and groups at various stages, and can convince investors that they have what it takes to transition the company into the next stage.  Investors care about risk involved, and entrepreneurs should be able to communicate well that they have the ability and expertise to mitigate the risk.  Some teams stuck in one phase, may not understand the risks associated with the next stage and may not be able to communicate their understanding of how the risks can be mitigated, when the company would transition into the next phase, said Weickert.  Weickert also discussed team needs based on funding requirements and funding rounds.

Speaking of teaming norms, Weickert said they are hard to define  but extremely crucial for a team’s success.  He suggested top ten characteristics of high performing teams to be as follows.

  • participative leadership where everyone contributes
  • effective decision making where decisions get made and stay made
  • open and clear communication is important but is often underdone in many places and people work better when they know the context.
  • valued for diversity where differences among roles, functionalities and people’s experiences are heard
  • mutual trust where there is a feeling of safety
  • managing conflict – not squashing conflicts, but atmosphere where it is ok to express conflicts and where they can be managed in a constructive manner
  • clear goals where people know what they are working towards
  • defined roles and responsibilities where everyone knows what they are to do and how it would impact others
  • coordinative relationship where checking in and touching base happens frequently
  • positive and enjoyable atmosphere

Companies like Google have learned from their quest to build perfect teams, that psychological safety is one of the most critical attributes, for a team’s success.  Some of the best teams have members who speak in roughly the same proportion and members are often skilled in intuiting how others feel, based on their tone of voice, their expressions, and other non-verbal cues.  This sounds like a sort of a marriage.  Other important attributes are that teams have clear and well defined goals, and a manager creates a culture of high degree of trust.  

Companies often hire for interpersonal behavior, rather than aptitude alone, said Weickert.  Behavioral interviewing centers around asking candidates to share stories about past challenges and how they approached them and sharing examples of past behavior, as a part of a team.  Candidates are also sometimes presented hypothetical questions about scenarios that involve team dynamics, to see how they would respond to challenging situations.  Ending his talk, Weickert emphasized that a culture of trust and respect goes a long way in helping the team navigate its way through challenges, and progress towards a success.


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Design, delivery & impact of Diversity & Inclusion Training at Medtronic, India location – A case study

This case study was shared in a panel at Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity, 2012, where I was one of the panelists.  (I delivered the training at Medtronic’s various locations across India, in 2010).

A panel moderated by Linda Stokes, President and CEO of PRISM International ( discussed the Implications of D&I for the Global Workforce through the case study of Medtronic’s initiative to integrate Diversity and Inclusion into their locations across India. The panelists, Tonya Hampton, HR Director with Medtronic (, Dr. Kizzy Parks, Assessment and Measurement Consultant, and Dr. Darshana Nadkarni (, Diversity Facilitator, shared about the diversity training initiative that was rolled out in India, in July 2010.

Hampton shared about Medtronic’s vision to anchor the diversity and inclusion initiative with the business case. There are over 32 M people with diabetes in India and CHD (coronary heart disease) has risen 4-fold over the past 40 years. India and China represent $5B market for Medtronic.   It is also an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of the patients, since diabetes and CHD are manageable diseases, with timely intervention, said Hampton.  She partnered with her colleague, Titus Arnold, in India, to roll out the training initiative.  The survey response from the Medtronic India team, during the initial data gathering and assessment period, was amazingly high, said Parks.

Based on the responses received, Stokes designed the training and Nadkarni helped customize it for Medtronic, India.  The training was delivered at Medtronic’s five different locations, across India by Nadkarni.  Nadkarni shared some highlights.  The training was anchored in the Medtronic business case and began with providing the attendees with a broad awareness of diversity.  The participants got an opportunity to self examine perceptual screens and stereotypes and then expand it to examine cultural differences.  As opposed to low context Western and corporate culture, as a country, India represents a high context culture, where the meaning of the communication is often embedded in the context in which the communication occurs, not just in the words.  For instance, if a US boss emphasizes to the employee located in India, that it is critical that the project is ready as soon as possible and then asks if it would be ready by a specific date, the response from the Indian employee may not always be accurate.  For instance, even when an Indian employee might be aware that the project is not likely to be ready by the requested date, it is likely that the Indian employee might not say that but instead may give a weak answer like “I will do my best”, in an attempt to not displease the US boss.  In the end, when the project is not delivered at the promised date, the US boss is perplexed as to why they were not informed earlier.  In interactive audience participation model, Nadkarni explored the action steps that can be taken to enhance and leverage global partnerships and work relationships, keeping in mind such cultural differences, which if not well managed, can derail global partnerships.  Participants indicated that they walked away with tips and concrete approaches for integrating Diversity & Inclusion into their global locations.

For another blog on other Diversity and Inclusion panels at the Multicultural Forum, please click on the link below. . For information on Diversity & Inclusion training for Effective Global Business Practice, please contact Dr. Darshana Nadkarni at penmealine at yahoo dot com .

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Women in Biotech

Women in Biotech

EPPIC is an organization that promotes networking, entrepreneurship and mentoring for life science professionals, and is dedicated to creating US-India life science synergy and partnering opportunities.  EPPIC annual meeting will be on January 6, 2013 and to register, please go to .

Recently EPPIC held an interesting event “women in biotech” to hear the perspectives of the prominent women leaders from the industry. As a Diversity and Inclusion Trainer, I found this event very enlightening.  Anula Jayasuriya, Managing Director with Evolvence India Life Science Fund and Invascent Advisory moderated the event.  Jayasuriya shared some interesting stats.  For instance, do you know that 7.1% of successful companies have women executives versus 3.1% of unsuccessful companies?  Jayasuriya asked some pointed questions of the panelists and the responses were equally insightful.

All the panelists talked about the importance of some really good mentors, in their career progression.  Their mentors helped them see their true potential early on in their careers, and guided them during key phases in their careers.  When asked, if they felt excluded from existing networks, the panelists seemed to agree that they frequently experienced being excluded, during early stages in their careers.  Debra Riesenthel, Consultant and Former CEO of Novasys Medical, shared that while men frequently had activities like golf that they shared, during company events, their wives went on shopping trips, and she was often mistaken for an admin.  While “men get promoted on potential, women often get promoted on performance”, said Reisenthel.  Karen Drexler, Founder & Chair of the Board at Cellscape, agreed and said, women often feel they have to be better than men to be recognized”.  According to Sara Kenkara-Mitra, Vice President of Development Sciences at Genentech, there is a subtle bonding and camaraderie that exists among men because of their ongoing banter and playful competitiveness, whereas women do not do well, in that area.  She advised, women find their voice and get comfortable in speaking up.  Janet (Jian) Xiao, Partner with Life Science Group at Morrison & Forester, Palo Alto (host for the evening event), said, often when men say something it looks real but when women say something it has to be real.  According to Daria Mochly-Rosen, Senior Associate Dean and George D. Smith Professor of Translational Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, women often cannot afford the time to hang around and engage in small talk.  However, this also gives an advantage to women, she said.  Women have to disengage and switch off to focus on other priorities like picking up children, thinking about meal preparation and that often gives them an ability to approach the task with renewed perspective and sharper focus.  Kenkara-Mitra observed that while exclusion can be a barrier, things are changing rapidly and women should not consider it a major barrier.

The panelists discussed issues like differences between male versus female bosses in terms of how they relate to their bosses and the bosses’ perceptions of them.  They also shared the role of their life partners or spouses, in their career.  It seemed, almost all of the panelists had a strong and steadfast spouse who strongly supported them in their careers in various ways, including handling meals, childcare, and at times, even taking a back seat in their own careers.  The panel ended with panelists sharing their observations on how diversity of perspectives and styles enriches the workplace and makes the workplace better for everyone.  The panelists shared advise and tips on how women can progress in their careers.  These included, seeking guidance from a mentor to becoming a good listener to finding a voice and speaking up to being a keen observer.

For more information and to register for EPPIC annual conference, go to .  For information in “Diversity & Inclusion Training for Effective Global Business Practice”. please contact me at wd_darshana@ hotmail dot com and please click the link below for other similar article on diversity and inclusion in medical device company, Medtronic — .

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Post – US 2012 Elections – a mandate to create true inclusion

Post – US 2012 Elections – a mandate to create true inclusion

As a corporate trainer in “diversity and inclusion to effectively achieve global business objectives”, I was heartened to see the results of the current presidential elections, in the US, which seemed to be a clear mandate for the belief in the slogan, “diversity pays”. However, many challenges are obvious, not only for the President but for us as a nation. Diversity from afar is mysterious and attractive, but up close, it is challenging and mystifying. Let us prepare to meet the challenges.

We must put our own house in order

That means, we must have clarity of vision and values and make informed choices, in alignment with these values. While his opponent flip-flopped on issues, President Obama remained true to the issues he holds dear. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, four years ago, he said, “The only thing you carry into this office is a moral compass. If you start making decisions based on what’s convenient at the time, then you would be lost”. Moral compass of values of diversity and inclusion must continue to be our guide as we put our house in order.

We must recognize the need to be broadly inclusive and find common ground and communication platform that is not narrow and limiting. We cannot choose diversity and inclusion, when it is convenient. For instance, we must reach out to older while men, understand issues of concern to them, and recognize the diversity within this group, even as we oppose the singularly older while male vision for our future. How do we do this? Even as we tout the “diversity pays” mantra, we must not be derisive of the many contributions of this group on whose hard work and broad shoulders the country was built. President Obama must reach across the aisle and make more determined bipartisan efforts to understand the concerns, fears, and issues important to those who are not socially very far to the right.

Maine and Maryland passed landmark legislation that enables gay and lesbian people to marry. But this same proposition was defeated in the last election, in California. How hypocritical it would be for our decidedly blue state to celebrate victory on the platform of diversity and on more enlightened view of immigration, while continue to discriminate against gay/ lesbian population? Attitudes are shifting, however, and it is imperative that we continue this trend and California jumps on board. A similar ballot measure in Washington state is pending, and in Minnesota, voters rejected a measure that would have banned same-sex marriage. Additionally, Wisconsin elected America’s first openly lesbian senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, and President Obama became the first president to openly support same-sex marriage, and get re-elected. As a resident of California, I will say once again, we must continue on this path and ensure absolutely the same rights for gay and lesbian couples, everywhere, as straight couples.

The Latino community is steadily growing and it is amply clear that the politicians may neglect this fact, at their own peril. Businesses have long recognized the contributions of immigrants from various backgrounds. But in politics, we have been slower to accept this new perspective, holding on to the antiquated notion that America is for white people, even as the face of America has become more and more a blend of red, yellow, black, brown, and white. This nation of immigrants must continue to embrace people of various ethnicities and backgrounds, even as we focus on making the nation secure from terrorism. We can and must achieve both those objectives and recognize that immigrants want to be as safe and secure here as non——— well, aren’t most of us immigrants or the descendents of immigrants? Additionally, we must recognize the many issues sadly still stacked against African-Americans. I was glad that we had Mitt Romney, a Mormon, running for the highest office, in the nation. We must continue to respect and welcome all faiths and move away from theTea Party conservative agenda that frequently promotes issues, under the umbrella of faith, which pit one faith against another.

Once and for all, it has become clear that women are a force to be reckoned with. They showed it in the ballots, jumping out of the “binders”. Why would we entertain a discussion regarding whether insurance may or may not pay for contraception, when in fact, insurance has been paying for years for Viagra? Obviously this was an issue in the minds of men. But 1.5M women in the US take birth control pills for reasons other than preventing pregnancy and over half a million women who take these pills have never had sex. Additionally, it is estimated that 47 million women will now be able to get preventative services that they previously could not. This is excellent. We need more widespread education on the health impact, away from ideology based battles over contraception coverage and abortion choice.

What was not mentioned by either candidate, in any of the discussions, was the issue of poverty and increasing class divide. Most of the data below is taken from the Atlantic magazine, September, 2011 issue. According to one poll, the richest 1 percent households in America earn as much as the bottom 60% put together and the rich 1% possess as much wealth as the bottom 90%. Recovery has increased the divide. According to Gallup, while the daily consumer spending was completely flat for majority of Americans, between May 2009 to May 2010, among those Americans earning more than $90,000 a year, the spending rose by 16%. This is a country built on an ability to pursue the dream, work hard, and be rewarded for it. We should not begrudge those who do just that. However, when the playing field is not leveled then it becomes a whole another story. Many millionaires and billionaires including Gates and Buffett are now speaking out against the outrageousness of the system where the odds are increasingly favoring money’s ability to attract money. Buffett, famously appeared with his secretary who reportedly paid higher taxes, while Buffett was able to use tax loop holes. We have to bridge this divide and level the playing field so that hard work can once again be valued and people find the incentive to pursue their dreams. The looming tax cliff, at the end of the year, when Bush era tax cuts expire, will test us on our readiness to understand and confront this class divide, while trying to reach a bipartisan agreement on the issue.

It would be morally repugnant if we send some of our citizens in harm’s way, to guard our interests and when they return from wars, they find themselves left behind in the daily struggles of life, including jobs, shelter, and medical care. We have to ensure that our vetetans get the care and all the help they so rightly deserve. Even as we ensure care and comfort of our vets, we must also not adopt a cavalier attitude towards infants and other innocent civilians killed by our drones. These are contradictions we must balance.

Globally, we cannot continue to be singularly Israel focused. Middle East is a big region. There are other nations with other agendas and issues. For instance, (if we peek into history), on account of thoughtless actions of powerful nations, Palestinian people have endured immense suffering. As a powerful nation, we cannot continue to be partially blind and one-sided. Similarly, we cannot be bashing China or India, which are powerful forces, simply given the sheer size of the population. But if we consider their determination, the motivation to strive and do better, their global recognition and increasing clout than we will have to learn to work with these nations as well as other emerging economies and even guide them to become better world citizens, even as we focus on growing jobs at home, keeping them from being outsourced, and protecting our interests. Similarly, we must pass legislation to protect the environment and join the good world citizens club.

Does this mean that we become more partisan?
No. Having clarity around values means that we do not embrace inclusion only when it is convenient but truly become inclusive and broaden the base. The results have indicated that changing face of the nation is closely tied to changing perceptions around gay issues, around environment, around women’s issues and so on. Embracing diversity will be an assurance to all that their issues will be heard.

Managing waste and running an efficient Government
Conservatives who are extremely far to the right, may never find anything to their liking in this dialog of diversity and inclusion. Their agenda per se, may be perhaps exclusive and derogatory towards women, discriminatory towards gays and lesbians and demeaning towards immigrants. But such extreme conservatives are diminishing steadily in numbers. However, we have a whole base of fiscal conservatives, whose issues need to be heard. Many of them have concerns over inefficiency of the Government and concerns over managing waste. We can do a better job here. We have seen two different faces of FEMA. During Katrina, FEMA was arrogant, primarily operating as a cop to control looting and lawlessness, rather than a disaster relief organization. During Sandy, we saw a different face of FEMA, an efficient, speedy disaster relief organization, reaching in real time to the help of the people. Now that the campaigning is over, we can acknowledge that no one would endorse the FEMA of Katrina but we could barely do without the FEMA during Sandy. The change in FEMA was partly on account of the lessons learned, during Katrina. It has become evident that during disaster, people come to each other’s help, rather than focus on looting, for instance. However additionally, FEMA was different, during Sandy, because of the clear mandate under the expert leadership of Governor Christie. Further, Governor Christie was able to operate at full capacity and better efficiency because of clear channels of communication with the President.

What prompted me to write this article

President Obama’s clarity of vision won us this extremely viciously fought election. But many challenges lie ahead. I implore the party that fought on the platform of diversity, to not be selectively inclusive, but truly broaden the base and the platform. If we will be selectively inclusive than we will erode the base in another cleverly fought campaign or be caught in a gridlock where our victory will ring hollow. We can meet the same fate as the Republican Party, leaving people disillusioned. Simon Schama, a British Historian, analyzed the reasons behind the defeat of the Republican party. And he says, “What bit the dust on Tuesday was the world of denial in which Republicans have immured themselves ever since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009. This is a universe in which the financial crash was caused by over-regulation; one in which, despite years of brutal drought and violent weather patterns, climate change is a liberal hoax; a country that can correct a vast structural deficit without ever raising additional revenue, while expanding the military budget beyond anything sought by the Pentagon; a belief system in which Mr Obama was the source of all economic ills rather than the steward of the most intractable crisis since the Depression. The mantra was that a business executive would, simply by virtue of that fact, effect a magical rejuvenation of the staggering American economy.” The denial of changing reality caught them unawares. Let it not surprise and shock us. Let us capture this vision of the changing future and ride the wave to a better tomorrow.

And by a better tomorrow, we mean not just a diverse landscape of tomorrow but rather through an emergence of shared prosperous diversity. For a better, more prosperous tomorrow, we must buy elements of the Republican vision. We cannot speak of a better tomorrow and not worry about the enormous debt we will be leaving our children. Mr. President, so popularly elected, will need to make some hard choices and we will have to support him. Mr. Obama will have to reach out to more reasonable and fiscally knowledgeable people across the aisle. We will have to start talking and listening. He will need to build a strong narrative outlining his concerns for the rising debt and how he will contain it as he assures us that prosperity will be created and it will be a spread out prosperity. The only way he will be able to get everyone to listen is if he is able to give solid assurances of how waste will be tracked and managed and how his Government will run more efficiently. We are a diverse nation and he will have to speak to us often and get the message to us in diverse ways, to reach us.

We have achieved something truly phenomenal by proving the pandits wrong, the pollsters wrong, and defying the money power. Now it is time to not be arrogant but be humble in our approach, for diversity itself will bring many challenges and opportunities to truly broaden our own perspectives and learn and grow and prosper together. Let us make this diverse landscape, a truly inclusive one.

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Inspirational Keynotes and Committed Panels raise the bar at Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity, 2012

The Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity ( is the largest diversity and inclusion conference in the US, that brings together leaders from a broad array of workplaces and industries, to provide a strong learning experience and a forum for discussion on how to sustain and move forward this dialogue. The commitment and dedication of the thought leaders in this space is aimed at the broad objective, that workplaces of tomorrow will always be better than today, in terms of extending respect and inclusion to all the participants, including employees, consumers, clients, suppliers, vendors and so on. This was the 24th event and attracted participants from 35 states and more than 400 companies.

Every keynote and all the sessions were excellent and provided ample learning opportunities, that led to lasting discussions in the hallways and the expo areas, during networking breaks. I will share a few highlights, including a panel session that I participated in.

Stephen Frost, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG – 2012, in his inspiring keynote, emphasized the sustaining, systemic aspect of the dialogue, to make a lasting difference. At this year’s London Olympics, the committee is looking at weaving in diversity and inclusion in every aspect of the games, from ensuring that a person in a wheelchair gets the same view as others in the similar spot, to the hearing impaired getting the same enjoyment of the games with the help of translation services, to ensuring that certain number of unemployed families get access to the games, to the fact that the community where the games take place is largely left disturbed so they can go about their normal routine. The committee is examining each and every aspect of the diversity and inclusion process. In the end, it is not about the physical legacy like ensuring wheelchair access etc., but in the end, said Frost, it is about creating a social legacy and stamping it with love and respect. Talking to attendees he said, we may never have enough time, but we always have infinite supply of the capacity for leadership to take a stand for what we believe in, and we must do that in order to bring society to a better place. Challenging those who complain that this is hard work, Frost said, “if the mountain was smooth, you couldn’t climb it” and in the challenges are hidden some great opportunities. Quoting the poet, W. H. Auden, he said, “You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at.”

Panels addressing D&I work in the health care sector were particularly interesting to me. A panel moderated by Dr. Alexander Green, Associate Director at The Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital ( addressed disparities in the quality of care. The panel presented models for taking action to eliminate disparities, through data collection, stratification of quality measures by race and ethnicity, accurate reporting of disparities, and through action steps and interventions to address disparities, including implementing broad, scalable cultural competency training for clinical and non-clinical staff. Dr. Green shared the framework of how the center at Mass General seeks to address disparities by developing new research, and translating those research findings into action steps of developing customized policy solutions for health care providers, insurers, educators and others. The center also provides education and leadership training to the care providers. According to Brenda Battle, Director of the Center for Diversity and Cultural Competence at Barnes-Jewish Hospital ( in St. Louis, the value in confronting the inequalities in health care related to race, ethnicity, age, gender etc. will ultimately result in better health care for all patients. The current inequalities data clearly shows that it is imperative to address these disparities in care. For every six white Americans who have diabetes, there are 10 African Americans with diabetes, and African Americans with diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes related complications and experience greater disability from these complications than white Americans with diabetes. While 40% of Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s patient population is racially/ethnically diverse, in 2006 only 10% of the professional and management staff was racially/ethnically diverse. Today, as a result of BJH’s efforts to improve diversity at professional and management levels, 18% of staff at these levels are racially/ethnically diverse. The Center has stepped up efforts to address all the incongruencies, at multiple levels, starting with training and education, increasing workforce diversity, providing language services, and through community engagement and interactions to promote sustainable equity solutions, including developing a pipeline of healthcare workers through enrichment programs, that expose middle school and high school students to careers in science and healthcare. There is also greater commitment to address disparities in care, on the payer side. Dr. Wayne Rawlins, Aetna’s national medical director for racial and ethnic equality initiative and Michele Toscano, program manager of racial and ethnic equality initiative (, shared Aetna’s commitment to address disparities. There is a clear business case tied to disparities in care. There is a huge economic impact and there are direct medical costs, as a result of disparities in care. Aetna tackled the problem head on, with data collection and using it to drive action steps. Initial program initiatives indicated an immediate impact. For instance, through targeted approach to training non-white patients in better diabetes management, the complications were greatly reduced. Similarly, the data indicated that African American and Hispanic population has greater complications and heavy ER usage, due to Asthma related complications. With targeted intervention, home based assessment, education, action plan, and telephonic nurse follow-up, the ER utilization was greatly reduced. The panel discussion was followed by animated Q&A dialogue with the participants.

A panel moderated by Linda Stokes, President and CEO of PRISM International ( discussed the Implications of D&I for the Global Workforce through the case study of Medtronic’s initiative to integrate Diversity and Inclusion into their locations across India. The panelists, Tonya Hampton, HR Director with Medtronic (, Dr. Kizzy Parks, Assessment and Measurement Consultant, and Dr. Darshana Nadkarni (, Diversity Facilitator, shared about the diversity training initiative that was rolled out in India, in July 2010. Hampton shared about Medtronic’s vision to anchor the diversity and inclusion initiative with the business case. There are over 32 M people with diabetes in India and CHD (coronary heart disease) has risen 4-fold over the past 40 years. India and China represent $5B market for Medtronic, and it is also an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of the patients, since diabetes and CHD are manageable diseases, with timely intervention, said Hampton. She partnered with her colleague, Titus Arnold, in India, to roll out the training initiative. The survey response from the Medtronic India team, during the initial data gathering and assessment period, was amazingly high, said Parks. Based on the responses received, Stokes and Nadkarni designed the training. Nadkarni shared some highlights. The training was anchored in the Medtronic business case and began with providing the attendees with a broad awareness of diversity. The participants got an opportunity to self examine perceptual screens and stereotypes and then expand it to examine cultural differences. As opposed to low context Western and corporate culture, as a country, India represents a high context culture, where the meaning of the communication is often embedded in the context in which the communication occurs, not just in the words. When asked by a US boss that the project needs to be completed by a certain date, an Indian employee might likely not say that it would not be possible but may give a weak answer like “I will do my best”. Nadkarni explored with interactive audience participation, the action steps that can emerge with greater insight into the cultural differences, that can enhance and leverage global partnerships and work relationships. Participants indicated that they walked away with tips and concrete approaches for integrating D&I into their global locations.

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The Problem of Education in America– Time to address it is now!

“Opening the doors of higher education shouldn’t be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue.  This is an American issue”, said President Obama, as he vowed to make college affordable to all Americans, by investing $60 billion, over 10 years, to make community college education available to all students, free of charge.  I am reblogging my article below, to emphasize how it could benefit us all.

America has a problem and most of us don’t feel alarmed by it.  If there is a crime in my neighborhood, then I get interested in doing something about it; if the rents go up in my area, I feel inclined to take action; if there are many foreclosures, then I feel worried that it will affect the value of my home as well.  But if some child, somewhere, drops out of school, it does not seem like it is my problem.  However, high school drop out rate inAmericais a problem of epic proportion and it impacts everything and everyone, in the long run.  Over one million students who enter high school each year, fail to graduate with their peers, at the end of four years.  Why should you and I be concerned?  Well, there are many reasons.  Apparently, increase in high school and college graduation by just 5% can lead to combined savings and revenue of almost $8 billion, just by reduction in crime related costs.  High school dropouts earn about $260,000 less than high school graduates, contribute less to the US  economy and cost the nation more than $17 M in Medicaid and uninsured healthcare costs.

So the obvious question is why is there such a high dropout rate in America?

About 1.2 million students who fail to graduate from high schools, are disproportionately from minority groups and are disproportionately poor.  For the first time, class is trumping race in many cases.  Often lack of engagement and lowered motivation are cited as primary reasons.  Now, really, let us dig deeper.  Why would these kids standing on the doorstep of young adulthood, not be motivated?  This should be a time in life when they should be bursting with enthusiasm and eagerness to embrace life and avail of all the opportunities that life has to offer.  Their lack of engagement steams from systemic problems and I felt inclined to write this article because this problem is only going to get worse, as income disparity is widening.

English: Income inequality in the US

English: Income inequality in the US (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of the data below is taken from the Atlantic magazine, September, 2011 issue.  According a recent poll, the richest 1 percent households in America earn as much as the bottom 60% put together and the rich 1% possess as much wealth as the bottom 90%.  The top strata is also the consuming class, moving the economy, based on their interests and needs.  According to Gallup, while the daily consumer spending was completely flat for majority of Americans, between May 2009 to May 2010, among those Americans earning more than $90,000 a year, the spending rose by 16%.  In 2009, the country’s top 25 hedge fund managers earned $25 billion, which is more than they had made in 2007, before the crash.  While the middle class was hit hard by the economic downturn and many baby boomers will never recover to pre-crash levels, the story is different for the top 1%.  The upper 1% was also hit hard, mostly due to stock market crash, but they often had cash reserves to buy assets cheaply, when the markets crashed.  The upper class is emerging stronger and wealthier from the downturn.

Student Loan Debt Bubble, 1980-2011

Student Loan Debt Bubble, 1980-2011 (Photo credit: Occupy* Posters)

This rising and alarming income gap has huge cultural implications.  Although cultural norms cannot be ascribed exclusively to the economy, there is a widening cultural chasm developing between the top “very wealthy” and the middle class.  Middle class is showing blinking red signals of family dysfunction that include, divorces, increasing college and high school dropout rates, increasing financial stress, single parenting, and troubled children.  According to Bradford Wilcox, Director of National Marriage Project at University of Virginia, about a third of class related changes in marriage patterns, are directly attributable to wage stagnation, increased job insecurity, unemployment etc.  All this directly impacts children.  Additionally, thinning out of the middle class means fewer stepping stones to those born into low income families and certainly nothing to motivate them to focus on academic achievements to climb the ladder of success.

There should be a multi pronged approach to tackle this major problem facing America today, if  America is to compete in the 21st century.  Many solutions that have been often suggested include, push for better schooling, diverting more resources into education, stop astronomical fee hikes for college going kids, creation of many clearer paths for kids who do not immediately go to college, and along with focus on enabling good teachers, let us focus also on encouraging and supporting parents to stay involved in their children’s education.  But more importantly, the nation must focus on narrowing the wide income gap and enabling a thriving middle class.   This disturbing income inequality, over time, will cause a cultural separation that is unfair and unhealthy to our children and will be corrosive over time.  The super rich today are increasingly segregated by the locations they live in, the jobs they do, where they shop, and what they buy.  They will likely pass on their wealth to the next generation.  If majority of the wealthy will have inherited wealth, rather than wealth created from hard work or innovation, where will be the incentive for others, to work hard, to stay in school, to remain motivated, to dream big, and to achieve those dreams?  Who will motivate, inspire, and mentor them?  Will developing countries send their low level jobs to America in the years to come?  Let us wake up and address this problem now, with our voices and our votes.

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Aftermath (on US invasion of Iraq) – Play Review

In 2008, two writers, Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen, traveled to Jordan, to interview Iraqi civilians who had moved as refugees to Jordan, to hear their stories.  They interviewed 35 ordinary Iraqi citizens, now living in Jordan, and recorded their stories of how the American occupation of Iraq had affected their lives.  US  invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 21 days.  But contrary to initial assumption, this invasion was neither brief, nor clean.  The two writers returned to America with stories they had heard and recorded from a good cross-section of many people and they created the play, Aftermath.

US occupation of Iraq was long and extremely chaotic.  Americans stayed in Iraq long enough for people to forget the pain of living under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein.  The Iraqi people, under the US occupation, experienced total chaos, roadside bombings, Shia and Sunni violence, unannounced raids by Iraqi police, Blacwater militia, being locked up in Abu Ghraib on trumped up charges, having their IDs confiscated then being released into hostile environment and more.  New pain and suffering was being seared into their hearts and mind.  Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, if they learned to keep their mouths shut, their lives remained unaffected and many ordinary people, lived ordinary lives.  But under US occupation, no one was safe from having their life turned upside down, at the blink of an eye. A family was driving to the hospital for their new 2 month old baby to be vaccinated.  An unexpected US bomb destroyed the woman’s mother, sister, her baby, and her husband, as she remained alive and struggled to make sense of the disaster.  Another family was raided at 1 am by Blackwater soldiers who woke up and suddenly shot their 16 year old.  The mother passed out.  She cries out in the play, in pain, as to whose law ruled that her child be shot, who ordered such a shooting of the love of her life, what was the crime, where was the evidence, where was the trial, what kind of law determined such a heinous act on a child?  A doctor talks about why he became a dermatologist because he did not much like the sight of blood.  But as the US began bombardment, bodies began to come in and there was blood everywhere.  In ordinary circumstance, they would try to save an injured leg or arm, but under these circumstances where there were fewer doctors, they could not afford that luxury and they had to amputate injured limbs and then move on to newer patients.

There were these stories and more shared in a way that pulled on the heart strings and touched the soul.  The stories were layered so that the play took the audience through the journey in time, from Saddam’s regime, to a period immediately after the US  invasion, to a more deeper time into the invasion.  The nightmare of life in Iraq became very real.  It was beautifully acted and directed and in the end left the audience with a sense that people everywhere are the same, desire the same small comforts, aspire for the same small conveniences to make life better.  No one dreams that their life will be completely altered in no time and their sense of all control will vanish and they will suddenly start living a nightmare with no end, like Van Gogh’s painting with paths leading to nowhere.

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How did my daughter and I come to be on the opposing side of Occupy Wall Street movement?

We both began supporting the broader cause and the intent to draw attention to the realization that capitalism had run amok when actions of the multinational corporations and big banks had led to the major economic collapse, causing one of the greatest recessions.  And as if that was not enough, we the people had to bail them out, with our tax dollars, in order for us to survive.  Say that again??  We all were confused, bewildered, scared, and we all came to see the great economic divide which all but rendered us powerless – until we discovered the power of solidarity, standing together.  Further, taking our cues from the uprisings in the Middle East, Occupy Wall Street was born.  Ninety-nine percent commands certain power to draw attention and demand change, regardless of the prosperity of the one percent, not to mention that many in the one percent camp rendered their support to the 99%.  This was the power of us, standing united.

Heady with power, we occupied city after city, months after months.  Some small businesses, in these areas, prospered, many could not operate as usual, generate decent revenue from honest work and provide jobs, cornerstone of requirements for us to prosper.  There came traffic jams, causing disturbance and anxiety among the residents, in these areas.  For the most part, protesters showed admirable restraint.  And yet, some broke windows and vandalized businesses. Then came the confrontations with the cops.  We needed to pause to think, since when did cops cease to be part of the 99%?  There were heaps of garbage and debris that was often left behind after the confrontations with the cops.  Cities had to intervene and divert meager resources to maintain order, restore peace, clear garbage, enable businesses to operate and individuals to go about their daily lives.

The movement that began by uniting the 99% was splintering with divisions, even as the gap between the 1% and 99% was growing wider, by all accounts.  According to a report posted onDecember 5, 2011, by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a research and policy group that has 34 member countries, the gap between rich and poor has grown in most of the world’s major economies, and now stands at its highest level in 30 years.  The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record and is now 14 to 1.  My daughter and I had our first of many disagreements about OWS movement, after the confrontations between the cops and the students protesting against the fee hikes in academic institutions inCalifornia, taking their cues from OWS protesters.

I am making two simple points.  She is young and emotional and idealistic and instead of seeing that in the broader picture, we stand together on the same side, she sees me as someone who is betraying the cause, as the going gets tougher.  Sigh!!  So here are the points I am making………..

– Although we got the inspiration from the protest movement in theMiddle East, our movement is a far cry from theirs where people were brutally suppressed.  We always had and still have “pursuit of happiness” as our basic right and I concede that this pursuit is far more challenging without money but money does not hold the key to happiness, we do – legally.  We are becoming a nation of whiners and we cannot instill any positive change, with negative tone.  As yet, we have not heard any concrete goals or steps from OWS, other than whining. Ya…. Ya…. Ya….

– Can any society seek to introduce a change that sustains, without the 99% taking on their share of the responsibility?  As yet, we have not defined our role in the events that led to the economic collapse and our responsibility in emerging out of it.  So I concede again the role played by the greed on the Wall Street, the law makers who gave great latitude to them, and the unrealistic and unchecked optimism among them that refused to see and acknowledge the signs early on.  However small our role, we too overextended, we bought homes we could barely afford, we spent recklessly, saved little, and invested unwisely.  How hypocritical that we have not once acknowledged our role in the mess that we find ourselves in?

After having said that, I would say that I am completely on the side of the 99%.  I don’t have answers and nor was this movement born to provide simple solutions, as my daughter says.  This is truly people’s movement.  Admirable qualities and strength of character is evident during this long-lasting movement.  People have helped each other, cleaned garbage, shown restraint in joining vandalism, exercised great restraint against the heavy hand of the law, and more than anything, shown the tenacity and courage to show up and stay put, in solidarity.  Point is made.  Let us now take it to the next step, whatever it is.  Let us define our role and take responsibility in the process, as we move forward.

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