Fortude: Doing Diversity and Inclusion Right

Kavitha Gunesekera, Associate Vice President – Global Talent Development and Culture at Fortude, a global enterprise and digital solutions provider, talks about the company’s four-year journey towards creating an inclusive, fair and diverse culture and working environment. And the journey doesn’t stop there. “Keep learning and be open to different perspectives. Look out for unconscious biases that could resist efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” notes Gunesekera in this interview.


Diversity and inclusion are good for business, but what do they mean to Fortude?


While our primary focus is on achieving gender parity, we focus on highlighting many other aspects of diversity within the workplace as well, which is encapsulated in Fortude’s EEO statement: “Everyone can grow at Fortude; regardless of their identity. Join us and be a part of an organisation that we’re all proud to belong to”.

When Fortude started its D&I journey in 2018 with a leadership commitment, Carmen Niethammer, Sr. Gender Specialist, advised us that our focus should also include what things we were not going to do, for better results and more impact. We decided on a goal to achieve 50:50 gender parity in our global workforce by 2024.


Can you share with us what efforts Fortude has taken to set the tone of inclusivity and celebrate diversity amidst an agile industry landscape?


For us, it all starts with building awareness, as there can be many incorrect assumptions and a lack of understanding about unconscious bias. All these could lead to misinformation. We, therefore, evaluate our leadership commitment and renew our D&I pledge yearly to ensure we stay on track. Our first D&I initiative was to set up an awareness programme titled Better Together. We are in phase two of the programme, which now facilitates a forum for individuals to speak up about the confusion they may have on what D&I means, familiarize them with our anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, and create more awareness on the different aspects of diversity – age, gender, culture, abilities, etc.

Globally, Fortude runs an exclusive fortnightly newsletter on D&I that carries little nuggets of information, for example, LGBTQI+ identities, gender-neutral language, use of pronouns, and so on. We also partner with D&I experts to host awareness programmes and share best practices with our stakeholders. A highlight was being invited by the International Finance Corporation in Nepal to speak on the topic earlier this year. Our journey has predominantly been on creating organic awareness within our organization, and it has opened us to several often-overlooked nuances.


Can you tell us more about how diversity and inclusion need to exist across all stages of the employee cycle and not only at, for example, recruitment?


Step one is to understand “why”. Then, actively seek opportunities to nurture a more holistic environment, instead of getting stuck on the numbers, which often happens once a D&I policy gets implemented. Next, choose your focus – Abraham H. Maslow (1962) mentions, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Similarly, with your D&I journey, ensure the focus is set: An unwavering focus accompanied by the will to make it better.

We also measure gender parity at all levels and stages of the employee journey. For example, we have started looking at gender-equal numbers at the interview assessment stage. In a recently concluded graduate trainee recruitment drive, 60% of the applicants were female. In another instance, an expectant father reached out to us on paternal leave options through our resource group: Life, Work and Mums. That pushed us to relook at our policies.

Inclusion is not centred only on gender. We strive to create opportunities for all to work in a comfortable environment. In short, you need to be aware of the many areas that often get overlooked and we keep a diligent watch for these so we can continuously improve our D&I strategy.


Is there a great win you would like to talk about?


There were two big moments for us this year. A recommendation from Diversity Collective Sri Lanka back in 2018 was ensuring a diversity strategy and an organisational budget line for D&I. Incidentally, this financial year, the budget was prioritized, considering the strategic aspects of our D&I policy. We now have five goals on diversity, two of which are understanding and including individuals from the LGBTQI+ community. Secondly and most recently, an employee reached out to share a neurodiversity experience with the rest of the workforce.


What advice do you have for anyone who wishes to champion D&I at their place of work?


The crucial step is to have your case built for D&I. Before you take the initiative, you need to research the subject thoroughly and find where your organisational values align. At Fortude, our team (including Anjalie Jasenthuliyana, Manager – Culture & Talent, as well as Jezla Mohamed, Senior Executive – Talent Development & Diversity) continues to uphold our values of Caring and Respect and consults our employees to ensure plans include their feedback and suggestions.

The other key factor is that D&I should not be solely owned by HR – it should be an organization-wide initiative with the tone set at the very top; once the leadership signs off on the D&I strategies for implementation, the next stage is effective monitoring and ensuring organic awareness and acceptance within teams. We ensure frequent dialogue, for instance, by discussing D&I at our quarterly staff-level meetings and debating pertinent issues.

Organisations have the fundamental responsibility of ensuring a climate of respect and inclusion is built and maintained – the future may bring volatility, but an inclusive workplace will lessen its impact on your most valuable resource – your people.