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Fostering a Culture of Inclusivity at PhonePe: Leadership’s Role in Disability Inclusion

PhonePe Editor|3 min read|07 December, 2023

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Manmeet Sandhu, Head – HR at PhonePe

Did you know that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 1.3 billion people or 16% of the global population as people with disabilities (PWD)?

PhonePe being an equal-opportunity-employer, wanted to be able to hire from this vast talent pool. That’s why, when we launched the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) charter in 2021, we ensured PWD was a key focus area. 

We live in a world of rapidly growing businesses where the larger focus is on scaling up products and services. So, enabling changes to include a diverse talent pool requires an active shift in team dynamics and operating styles, especially when there are physical differences. We knew we had our work cut out for ourselves, and thus began our journey.

Starting our journey into disability inclusion

We understood that our stakeholders might have interacted with PWDs on many occasions. But what got our attention was the fact that many of them may not have had a first-hand experience of working closely with them. This meant that there would be struggles in understanding the diverse needs of their colleagues with disabilities. Additionally, there might be a learning curve in terms of communication and collaboration, as well as overcoming preconceived notions or biases. So, when we started this initiative adapting to working with PWD colleagues itself presented challenges, as it involved a shift in mindset and practices.

Successful adaptation requires not only structural changes in the workplace but also a cultural shift towards embracing diversity. It was important to visibly establish representation and our commitment to inclusion. So, we started the journey with sensitization programs for hiring panels and the teams working with PWD on how to navigate through communication and work.

Taking one step further in disability inclusion

As a part of our continued efforts to build the D&I charter for the PWD talent pool, PhonePe focused on inclusive recruitment strategies. We conducted various unconscious bias workshops to educate people managers and leaders on how to hire, retain, and promote talent from the PWD pool for their skills, talent, and strengths without disability-related judgments. We also organized regular awareness sessions on the best workplace practices where we had external speakers with experience in working with PWD talent. They used these sessions to educate our leaders and managers on the right hiring strategies to provide a comfortable and positive experience to potential PWD candidates.

We also shared educational materials in the form of infographics and comics to sensitize employees.

Apart from these, we conducted sign language workshops to help employees communicate effectively with people who have hearing disabilities. Our collective efforts continue to reap the fruits of the labour, with conversations positively changing towards a more inclusive mindset.

Making PhonePe an enabling workplace for People with Disabilities

The next step was to focus on enabling suitable workspaces with tech and infrastructural enhancements for the PWD talent pool. For this, we identified a few organizations like EnAble India and Atypical Advantage that help in providing dignified economic livelihood opportunities for persons with disabilities. With their expertise, these organizations train people from the community and support companies in their inclusion journey through job evaluation frameworks, sensitization, and infra/policy readiness.

With the help of these platforms, we identified and implemented tech inclusions that are needed to empower the visually, physically, and hearing-impaired PhonePe employees. For example, we deployed screen readers like JAWS, NVIDIA along with magnifiers and large screens for people with vision impairment. We also installed braille signs for indoor office navigation maps, meeting room directories, and fire evacuation maps to enable easier accessibility of the premises. PhonePe also designed its offices to assist visually impaired employees with tactile ground patterns or unique non-slip surfaces that act as directional cues for navigating office areas independently, safely, and easily.

For employees with hearing impairment, we installed Loop induction system, an assistive listening system to support the noise-free transmission of the audio source, thus providing improved hearing. We also use captions in our meetings so that the conversations are accessible for people with hearing disabilities. As for folks who are physically challenged, we have built wheelchair ramps, grab rails for support, and dedicated parking on the office premises.

A win-win: The gains of our collective effort

Educating and influencing stakeholders over the past few years have been moving in the right direction at PhonePe. Managers are proactively sensitizing teams before PWD hires join, ensuring workplace accommodations, fostering camaraderie through team outings, and conducting regular check-ins to address challenges and ensure collective productivity.

During meetings, we have noticed teams make a visible effort to demonstrate their commitment by accommodating members with low vision. This could mean zooming in on projections for better clarity or verbally sharing essential information or data. Also, when a person with disabilities joins the team, we’ve seen folks from the respective teams act as buddies, offering support, familiarizing them with the infrastructure, introducing them to stakeholders and colleagues, and arranging necessary systems and processes to ensure seamless integration into the role. This proactive approach not only helps the person with disabilities feel supported but also creates a more inclusive and welcoming work environment for all team members at PhonePe.

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