India’s First Virtual Diversity Job Fair Offers Hope During Lockdown

Bhushan Rumde, an ambitious young man with a bright career ahead of him, had to quit his job because of the constant discrimination he was facing in the workplace. Rumde is a queer activist — a fact that didn’t sit well with his co-workers.

“My colleagues used to stalk me on social media and make fun of me behind my back,” said the 22-year-old engineer. “They would also tell me not to talk in front of clients because my voice was too girly.”

Rumde has been unemployed since January and had almost given up hope until he found Vividhataa, a diversity and inclusion (D&I) consulting firm, to support his job search. The company is specifically focused on finding job placements for women, differently-abled people and the queer community.

Vividhataa helped Rumde secure a few interviews and personally called him to participate in their biggest undertaking yet: a three-day virtual diversity job fair.

With all on-ground job fairs cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Vividhataa has stepped up and created an alternative way for minority candidates to find work during lockdown. The online event — scheduled to take place via Zoom from Aug. 1st to 3rd — is believed to be the first of its kind in India.

The virtual fair will include everything from a panel discussion on representation to elevator pitches by prospective candidates. On the final day, companies will have the opportunity to hold online private interviews with their short-listed candidates and hand out offers by the end of the day. Vividhataa has incentivised hiring by waiving the event participation fee for companies that hire on the spot.

Future Generali, a leading Indian insurance company, has signed up for the job fair to access a bigger pool of diverse candidates at once. It’s not the organization’s first time recruiting new employees through a D&I consultant.

“Having a diverse workforce has its advantage in terms of better idea generation, problem solving, boosted innovation and a positive culture,” said Sunil Wariar, Chief People Officer at Future Generali India.

Vividhataa Founder Ratnaprabha Sable

Vividhataa Founder Ratnaprabha Sable has participated in many traditional on-ground job fairs in the past. This time, she felt ready to do things her way.

“Very honestly, I see this as more of a revolution,” said Sable, who has travelled the world observing different work cultures. “We want to create a ripple effect by modeling how to do a diversity job fair virtually.”

Vividhataa’s event will not be accepting drop-ins. Each candidate will be asked to register beforehand by filling out a form, submitting their resume and having an applicant number assigned to them. This approach allows Sable to help match candidates more effectively. The choice to use applicant numbers instead of names was also intentional to help eliminate the possibility of recruiter unconscious bias.

Sable started her organization in 2018 after seeing how a lack of equal opportunity was affecting her own career in recruitment. She also felt passionate about helping Indian companies shift their mindsets toward diversity and inclusion. 

“I want people to start seeing the value in it from a business perspective, not as a charity case,” she said. “They won’t be able to innovate as a company if they don’t have diversity of thought.”

Since its inception two years ago, Vividhataa has become a major player in the market, providing an easy way for multinational companies like Accenture and Future Generali India to find diverse candidates they might not otherwise come across.

While regular consultants could also provide queer and differently-abled candidates to hiring managers, that is currently not the ground reality. In India, only 15 percent of people with disabilities (PWDs) have regular, salaried jobs, according to a 2018 survey conducted by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. With few measurable diversity goals in place, consultants often stick to the status quo (straight, cis-gender men). 

For someone like Arzoo Jaiswal, a visually-impaired recent graduate, finding a job without Vividhataa’s support proved to be quite difficult. Jaiswal cleared many aptitude tests, but during in-person interviews, she would hit a dead-end after explaining her need for a touchscreen laptop to ease the strain on her eyes. 

“Recruiters would get visibly uncomfortable after I told them that,” said Jaiswal, 23, of Navi Mumbai. “They never preferred a differently-abled person and it became very disheartening.”

After Vividhataa found Jaiswal, she was gainfully employed at Godrej Properties within 15 days. The organization matched her with a good job opening, helped her prepare for her interview, and even negotiated on her behalf to secure the touchscreen laptop.

“I used to call them twice a day,” Jaiswal said, describing her experience with Vividhataa’s team. “They were so helpful and patient with me.”

For this year’s inaugural event, Sable said she is expecting more than 800 participants because of the low barrier for entry — candidates can join from across the country without ever leaving their couch. Vividhataa has partnered with 11  NGOs and community networks for support, and has hired eight new team members just to keep the fair running smoothly behind-the-scenes.

At this job fair, even a bigwig gaming company like Aristocrat Technologies India is eager to impress its prospective employees. In light of the global Black Lives Matter movement, corporations know that the time is ripe to be pushing for diversity.

“You cannot expect people to check part of themselves at the door — that’s not how humans work,” said Rajiv Sharma, Country Director of People and Culture at Aristocrat Technologies India (he also happens to be queer). “It’s our moral responsibility to be really intentional about inclusion.”

Rumde has been practicing his interview skills in front of the mirror and can’t wait for this weekend’s event. Networking and new job prospects are great, but what Rumde is most looking forward to? An opportunity to be himself.

“I’m excited to find a job where I don’t have to feel shy about who I am … and where the company also feels proud to have a great candidate working for them.”

Sign up for the job fair here:

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