To pay lip-service to the cause of disabled persons is one thing. To formulate an  integrated 360 degree strategy for helping the disabled, AND plug the CSR effort into the larger business interest, is quite another. We spoke to Meenu Bhambhani, Global Head-CSR at MphasiS to track the company’s journey.

The intent to integrate PwDs (persons with disabilities) into the MphasiS workforce was articulated by senior management around 2006. The main driving factor was the belief that talent/competency exists in all populations. Qualified individuals with disabilities would not only add to the company’s diverse workforce but also have a positive impact on the bottom line.

Meenu says ”However, in spite of this commitment, it was not easy to hire persons with disabilities. Till about 2007 we had some 56 persons with disabilities working in MphasiS. For a knowledge industry like ours it is difficult to find qualified trained candidates with disabilities. People with disabilities, despite being qualified, are denied opportunity either because of their disability or because of lack of reasonable accommodations.” Yet, today,

Meenu Bhambani, Global Head-CSR at MphasiS

the number has gone upto 410 people. This did not happen automatically. There was a conscious effort to go back to first principles and ensure that those PwDs who are trainable can be given an opportunity to become employable.

Recruitment and selection. MphasiS has worked on a twin-track approach – inclusive as well targeted. Towards this end, MphasiS has supported Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre’s Project Communicate. This is a unique initiative as it is aimed at making disabled people from rural areas with SSLC (10th grade) and PUC (12th grade), employable. Says Meenu “We felt the need to focus on increasing employability through an intensive and structured pre-employment training, which would enable them to compete on an equal footing with other candidates. 90 candidates with disabilities who have been trained so far have secured jobs not only in MphasiS but also in other companies”.

As part of mainstream strategy, it is a policy to actively source candidates with disabilities and send the message to the target group that MphasiS is a disabled-friendly employer. In all of the company’s recruitment drives – internal as well external – they have incorporated a statement reiterating their commitment to inclusion of diversity by saying “We encourage applications from people with disabilities and from economically underprivileged backgrounds”.

Reasonable Accommodations, accessibility, training and induction. “In all our correspondence, we ask applicants to identify any special needs that might require an accommodation during the interview/test. We are willing to ask how to be of assistance to a disabled candidate.”

“ All employees with disability undergo regular induction with reasonable accommodation provided whenever and wherever requested – for example providing Screen magnifiers and JAWS software to employees with visual disability, dedicated transport facility, pick and drop from home, sign language interpretation for users of sign-language, flexible working hours where needed, etc.”

“We have earmarked certain budget for workplace solutions/accommodations to enable employees with disabilities to fulfill their job requirements. There cannot be standard accommodations for all employees with disabilities. So, each employee with disability is given accommodation as per his or her individual needs.” In addition, MphasiS also has a loan advance policy to support employees with disabilities lead a quality life with the help of assistive devices.

Inclusive education. MphasiS also realized that there are certain disabilities for example deafness where lack of access to communication leads to their remaining in the periphery of development. When they wanted to hire and invest in professionally sound persons with disabilities, they faced the challenge of not getting right candidates. Meenu states “…. somewhere we needed to take those first steps of changing the systems and introducing new initiatives.”

In the past, MphasiS had hired professionally qualified persons with disabilities who inspite of having given the right support and reasonable accommodations, failed to identify for themselves as to what solution would work best for them. The company realised that in most of the technical institutions – like engineering and management schools – only students with milder disabilities were given admission. Those who struggled their way through, did not get any academic support from the institution to perform on par with other non-disabled students. As a result of lack of support and access in the educational institutions, students with disabilities, had a challenge becoming work ready. With these insights, the first pioneering step MphasiS took was to support the setting up of an Office

MphasiS CSR - quick facts

of Disability Services at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. Except for Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and some colleges of Delhi University, none of the professional colleges/institutions/schools of management, engineering have any mechanism to provide academic support to students with disabilities. IIMB is a leader in Business Schools in India and most professional management institutions tend to follow the practices of the best.

Sourcing talent through partnerships. “We have a lot of non-voice jobs where interaction with the client is through email and chat. Keeping in mind the constraints of the jobs, we were keen to hire persons with hearing disabilities in such processes.” However, lack of skills in written English has resulted in people with hearing disability not getting suitable employment. Acutely aware of this reality, MphasiS entered into a partnership with NOIDA Deaf Society, wherein they support English literacy of 250 deaf youth and also training them in skills that would lead to their becoming employable. Where they could not hire, they identified processes where work could be outsourced. “We have outsourced

Ashwin Karthik receiving the Helen Keller award

work to NGOs like Enable India which becomes a tool of indirect employment of persons with disabilities. We have also partnered with Fourth Wave Foundation to support a program aimed at inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream schools. The program is called ‘Nannagu Shale’ – which in Kannada means ‘Where All Belong’.  “

Not everything was hunky-dory. The biggest challenge was in breaking the immense amounts of hesitation and apprehension that managers had in having a PWD in their team. As Meenu puts it “Some of the behavioral issues that continue to plug us include doubts about the capabilities of blind and deaf people. While those with mobility issues get absorbed quickly and become part of the system, placing and integrating people with vision and hearing issues remains a constant challenge. Lateral movement of employees with disabilities is another area of challenge.”

The company has moved away from standard approaches to disability like the ‘business sense’ argument. Meenu believes that such approaches can lead to stereotyping disability and consequently not treating disabled people as individuals. Believing that disabled people have better productivity, low attrition etc can also be counter-productive as this approach sets benchmarks and any deviation from the benchmark results in denial of opportunity to lot of others belonging to this diverse talent pool.

A 360 degree approach. In this area, MphasiS has moved far away from chequebook philanthropy, to an integrated approach to diversity and inclusion. The objective is not charity but a commitment towards becoming an employer of choice for all disabled and non-disabled people alike.

For example, performance and work satisfaction are not measured differently from how it would be measured for other non-disabled employees. Career progression is based on performance and merit. Right support (accommodations, workplace solutions etc) is provided to employees to perform for the role. For grievance redressal, employees reach out to the Head of CSR and Diversity. This is in addition to other avenues for grivance redressal like the Whistle-blower scheme, reaching out to the team’s HR partner and so on.

No one illustrates MphasiS’s successful integration PwDs as much as Ashwin Karthik Nagaraj, who has been on board since October 2007, and who received the NCPEDP Shell Helen Kellar award in 2011. Being afflicted with cerebral palsy, Ashwin has problems

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with speech and motor skills, but he manages to work with support, use a computer, and is a successful member of the testing division of MphasiS’ offshore deliveery team.

The MphasiS case proves that a sound and thoughtful business-aligned CSR strategy, deliberate and focused interventions, and a long-term view are the only ingredients to become a successful corporate citizen. Necessary AND sufficient! MphasiS may have made major strides, but Meenu opines “We have a long long way to go”.