D&I in the Power Sector: Empowering in More Ways than One

Published on: June 15, 2022

Perspectives > Strategic Human Capital Management

Companies that are more diverse and inclusive perform better than those that don’t on a range of measures. This fact is not in dispute. The Indian power sector is quite homogeneous in the composition of its workforce. This is also nearly impossible to dispute.

But when it comes to power generation, transmission and distribution, there are two ways of looking at D&I, and neither can be ignored. First is in terms of those employed (or excluded from employment) in the power sector, and second is in terms of the composition of consumers.

Socio-economic status, education, geolocation (urban vs. rural) and other demographic factors play a role in possible exclusion from the power sector, but here’s an example that, sadly, occurs to very few of us: consumers with physical disabilities.

Energy products and services are rarely developed with their needs in mind, but nearly every device that aids a person with a physical disability – from motorized wheelchairs to hearing aids to reading machines to mobile phones – uses electricity. And for the mobility-impaired, a reliable, safe and easy-to-access power supply can make the difference between life and death.

At the same time, social stigma, illogical biases and lack of opportunity disenfranchise and exclude women, marginalized groups and people with disabilities from employment in the power sector. But consider this: the better such groups are represented within the company, the more likely that the company’s products and services will address the needs of these groups – because they are advocates, but more importantly, because their very presence makes their colleagues see the world differently.

The Power of Policymaking

India’s commitment to social inclusion and diversity must reflect in the actions of power sector stakeholders. Service delivery, financing, program design, assessment, collaboration and institutional capacity can all use a sharper focus on inclusion. And HR has a vital role to play here, not just by actively promoting the recruitment, retention and growth of marginalized groups in the organization, but by formulating policies and strategies that regularly solicit feedback on how the company can improve on D&I. People who are marginalized often feel unsafe and potentially exploited, because so much of the world is not designed for them. The HR function can make a massive difference in demonstrating through policy that the organization is – a strategy that will pay dividends in terms of more inclusive products and services as well.

As examples: we at COD can pay our electric bill online; but can a visually impaired person do so unassisted? Does a young schoolgirl in a rural area imagine herself, all grown up, in a hard hat, at a substation? Can a wheelchair user get into the lobby of their local utility office?

Recharging the Culture

We’ve said it before: change is hard. And changing our preconceived notions about what women and people with disabilities can do is harder still. But the fact is, the world is changing faster than our cultural perceptions can. Technology has enabled people with disabilities to succeed at a great many jobs that were inaccessible to them just a decade ago. Technology is transforming the power industry too in myriad ways. Can a company that’s adopting revolutionary new power generation technology really afford to show such an overabundance of caution in its hiring practices? Perhaps – but talent and intelligence are everywhere, and an industry that ignores this is missing out on a huge pool of great people. Not a good idea in a time of dramatic transformation.

HR leads in changing this mindset as well. Setting D&I goals is one thing. While these goals may be met, there is potentially going to be resistance and resentment deep within, because it’s difficult to change the cultural perspective of a lifetime in response to a change in policy. Fortunately, HR has a plethora of interventional opportunities to open minds and hearts to the potential for great work that lies inside so many individuals who don’t fit the mould.

Ways to Get Plugged In

Pop quiz: what’s the easiest way to find out something? That’s right: Ask!

Whether as domestic consumers, small business owners, potential or existing employees, representatives of large industrial customers, or even as company watchers commenting on news channels and social media, groups that are underrepresented in the power sector have opinions, and those opinions are worth listening to. Structural and historical circumstances have inserted a large wedge between India’s power sector players and the end consumers, but there’s no reason why that wedge should remain if companies no longer want it to. All they have to do is ask – and act.

In today’s hypercompetitive business world, the job seeker has a wealth of options. Young people are increasingly concerned about issues like socio-economic equality and climate change. The power sector has an outsize influence in how these issues play out, and HR is well-placed to punch above its weight in how that influence works. From casting a wider recruiting net, to establishing growth plans and career paths for marginalized individuals, to policy-making for academic partnerships, advisory services and outreach, to driving a culture of openness and inclusivity – a win on perception is a win on sustainability and a win on business too. All because of an increased focus on D&I.

Author: Sweta Sorab

Did you know that the representation of women in renewable energy is ahead of industry averages? India’s power sector is undergoing a rapid transition. Waiting on the other side are a more diverse workforce and a more diverse user base with higher expectations and more channels to voice their opinions. Yesterday’s thinking won’t work. Is the sector ready? Is HR?