Rukasana Bhaijee on what it means to be a true inclusive leader
Rukasana Bhaijee shares her experiences of being an EDI leader at Google, how to connect inclusion with belonging and the steps to pivot towards becoming a more inclusive leader.
With over a decade of working to champion equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives across some of the most well-known organisations in the world, Rukasana Bhaijee’s curiosity and questioning of why certain gender and racial stereotypes exist was sparked at a young age.
Rukasana said: “When I look back to 10-year-old Rukasana, [she] was challenging gender roles, challenging the notion of what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man, and what roles each play in society.”
Rukasana recalls questioning why her brothers would never help with the washing up after the evening meal and when she came to think of it, why was it always a woman doing the dishes in the adverts for washing up liquid?
Now the Executive Director for Equity and Inclusion Workforce International at Warner Media, Rukasana’s passion for the principles of EDI and how organisations can view managing their workforce through a lens of inclusion to get the best out of their employees shone through as she spoke at the fifth instalment of the ICAS London Episode series.
Lessons in EDI
Rukasana has held roles in various sectors, having occupied EDI leadership positions at Queen Mary University, EY and Google. Although her career has been spent at organisations that are quite different from one another in terms of their key offering, Rukasana found that there was a common thread that ran through them when it came to the challenges they faced concerning EDI.
This provided Rukasana with a unique learning opportunity, and a chance to understand what makes an approach to EDI successful, regardless of sector.
“You can have success when [EDI] is embedded into the organisational strategy,” she advised.
“Most recently I’ve been at Google and [EDI] is literally in Google’s mission which is to organise the world’s information and make it accessible to all.
“To do that we need all our users working on the products, we need to have an understanding of product inclusion with a lens of many.”
Continuing on the theme of understanding, Rukasana believes that to truly make an authentic step towards creating an inclusive workplace, business leaders must address the barriers that are preventing their organisation from making the necessary moves towards an open environment, while also working to understand what local considerations they may need to make to truly have an impact.
“At EY if we were thinking about student recruitment, and thinking about individuals from a marginalised group, if we were hiring 13% or 14% in areas like London that’s not really going to fly.
“If we are looking at local talent pool, in a place like London it is 40%. Organisations should really think about the local external evidence to then drive your individual strategy. When you understand the local barriers and objectives to attract that local talent pool, that’s when you can make a difference.”
Something which can’t be underestimated, Rukasana said, is the impact that leaders can have on the rest of the organisation when they act as role models for inclusive behaviours. This is something that she experienced during her two years at Google.
“I onboarded [at Google] at the start of a pandemic so I spent my Google career mostly in my home office,” she said.
“I felt the Google culture loud and clear from an inclusion perspective from senior leaders across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, making time to connect and drive change. That, for me, is a true testimony of what inclusive leadership looks like – when you can feel the culture in this remote environment.”
EDI in big tech
The technology sector is often viewed as remaining a predominantly white male-dominated environment. The challenge of addressing this imbalance is one that Google is acutely aware of and is viewed as a leader in this area due to its honesty and transparency around the subject.
For Rukasana, this openness from the organisation and the senior leadership, including CEO Sundar Pichai, sets the standard for the way in which businesses should not only be improving themselves but how they report it externally.
“Sundar is very open to learning,” she said.
“He doesn’t know everything, but he doesn’t claim to know everything. He’s quite open about the fact that he is on that journey himself.”
As one of the biggest tech companies in the world, Google is conscious that any moves it makes in the area of EDI will be intensely scrutinised by the world’s media. This is why Rukasana was so impressed that the company, like its CEO, has acknowledged that mistakes may be made along the way, but these mistakes present them with the opportunity to learn and in turn improve themselves.
Take a L.E.A.P. to become an inclusive leader
For leaders to make the pivot towards becoming an inclusive leader, Rukasana believes there needs to be a better understanding of the difference between inclusion and belonging.
She said that developing behaviours such as compassion, curiosity and community within an organisation can make a difference to employees feeling that they are not only included in the wider business conversation, but that they truly belong there, and feel confident to speak in a way that feels natural to them.
Rukasana pressed that a curious and questioning mindset is a fantastic way for leaders to saturate themselves in a diverse and inclusive way of working. Turning up the dial on conscious inclusion and questioning one’s own plans and how they may affect different individuals can be a positive step in the right direction. And when doing so, Rukasana said that leaders shouldn’t be afraid to take the L.E.A.P.
Learn – Take the time to learn about the current state of EDI. Learn about subjects such as race equity or even follow different social media accounts to expand your knowledge.
Engage – The knowledge gained from learning will allow leaders to engage with business resource groups and participate with internal groups and become an active ally.
Act – Consider what you can do at an individual level with what you have learned and from engaging with relevant areas of the business.
Persist – Realise that this is not a quick fix and commit to push for momentum for continuous improvement.