Adobe For All, India Style

Shanmugh Natarajan in conversation with Katie Juran at the Adobe For All India Summit.
Adobe For All, India Style

India is one of the most diverse countries on Earth, with 22 officially recognized languages, numerous ethnic and tribal groups, and six widely practiced religions. Yet it still faces a journey toward equality in society as well as the workplace.  Women in India participate in the workforce at a much lower rate than men (~29 percent vs. 82 percent of men, Catalyst), and homosexuality was only recently decriminalized by the government.

For our Adobe employee community in India, we took a big step forward this week with the inaugural Adobe For All India Summit. The event was loosely modeled on our recent global Summit event, but it was local to India in every way.  As one of two non-Indians in the room of more than 350 Adobe India employees — the other one was a member of our San Jose security team who happened to be visiting India!

I had a front-row seat to witness transformation unfold, and here are a few insights that struck me the most:

India’s long history and rich culture shape the diversity and inclusion conversation

As an American counting our history in the hundreds of years, it is fascinating to hear about our employees whose cultural traditions reach back many thousands.  The India dialogue around diversity is not just gender or ethnicity, but also regional identity (North vs. South, East vs. West), native language, religion and customs.  Ideas about gender roles, LGBT status, and other areas are not easy to change quickly when they sometimes go against the backdrop of long-held beliefs. That doesn’t mean that positive movement can’t happen; in fact, at Adobe India, we’re proud that we’ve grown our female employee population by over 4 percent in the last three years on an already rapidly growing footprint. We have a thriving AdobeProud employee LGBT network only months after launching it.  But it does mean that we need vocal leaders to help spearhead progress.

Some of those leaders who spoke at the Summit included our own Shanmugh Natarajan (MD — Adobe India), who shared his personal story of struggling to master English at age 12 when he first attended private school; Neelam Dhawan, who shared her courage of being the only female on a global Board; Anubhuti Banerjee, who went through gender transition while advancing her career at male-dominated Tata Steel; and George Abraham, who overcame visual disability to organize the first ever Cricket World Cup for the blind. These leaders were touching, inspiring, and most of all relatable — coming from a culture that could have made life difficult for them, but instead they rose against all odds and transformed into exceptional role models.

Diversity Roundtable in session — From left: George Abraham — CEO, Score Foundation; Tridib Roy Chowdhury — Sr. Director of Products,Adobe; Anubhuti Banerjee — Lead LGT+ERG, TATA Steel and VanLalFela Chwangthu — Group Manager, MCC, Adobe.

Interaction is the fastest way to break down barriers

One of the most unique aspects to the India Adobe For All Summit was its focus on ‘interaction as a way to become more comfortable with differences’.  Throughout the day, there were “experience zones” — focused on giving employees up-close and hands-on understanding.  Three of the most popular were a table where employees learned to punch “Adobe For All” in braille; a station staffed by deaf individuals who taught and interacted with attendees in sign language; and an area where employees could interact with members of the transgender community and “Ask them anything.”  It was amazing.

Delegates of the AFA India Summit learning sign language at one of the experience zones.

There were also two focused sessions, “Theatre in Action” and “Social Mirror.”  In Theatre in Action, actors played out workplace scenarios and then engaged the audience in dialogue about how to best handle difficult workplace situations.  I attended Social Mirror, which was a unique exercise designed to challenge participants’ view of key issues and their own identity.  It started with sorting into region of the country, native language and religion (the variety was truly astounding).  But it then became a fluid movement of people who acknowledged their life experiences and prejudices in an open and courageous way.  I could see minds changing, perspectives opening, and people being surprised about things they had perhaps never consciously acknowledged.

Diversity is inherent to history and the human experience

The final speaker of the day was Devdutt Pattanaik, a well-known business author and historian who specializes in Indian mythology.  His presentation was sprinkled heavily with Hindi, so fortunately a colleague helped translate for me.  But the message was universal:  Whether it is in culture, food or politics, the most progress happens when different groups come together.  By harnessing tension, while working in tandem toward a common goal, society moves forward.

India is a remarkable culture, and our Adobe India employees are some of the most open and engaged people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.  I’m excited to see #AdobeForAll move forward, India style.

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