Article: Deepti Varma of Amazon on how to create an inclusive work culture


Deepti Varma of Amazon on how to create an inclusive work culture

Leaders and employees should be sensitised to the importance of eliminating non-inclusive terms and behaviours, as it contributes to fostering a more positive and inclusive workplace environment.
Deepti Varma of Amazon on how to create an inclusive work culture

Deepti Varma, Vice President, People Experience Technology Amazon India, Japan and Emerging Markets, believes that organisations should ensure that managers undergo inclusive leadership training to equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to create and sustain an inclusive environment. In an exclusive interview with People Matters, Varma emphasised that leaders should be encouraged to lead by example and promote inclusive practices within their teams and across the organisation.

Edited excerpts:

What have you learned about providing LGBTQ+ individuals equal opportunities and a supportive work environment over the years?

The importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the workplace cannot be overemphasised. There is a sea of qualified talent, and it is important to tap into these pools to bring in a wider diversity of skills, experiences, and opinions. We continue to focus on providing individuals from different backgrounds, demographics, and social strata with equal access to opportunities and resources enabling them to expand their horizons. While diversity, equity and inclusion are good for business, this commitment is based on something more fundamental than that – it is simply right.

Over the last few years, Amazon India has launched multiple initiatives to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion into the workforce. For LGBTQIA+ employees, Amazon offers a Same Gender Partner Coverage Program, which helps employees enroll their same-gender partner in their health insurance program. Employees also have the option to choose a Gender reassignment surgery or sign up for Infertility treatment, both of which are provided as part of the health insurance benefit.  We focus on conducting sensitisation workshops for our leaders and all employees to eliminate the usage of non-inclusive terms and behavior, which in turn helps build a more positive and inclusive workplace environment. Amazon also supports LGBTQIA+ employees with resources and access to counsellors through its Employee Assistance Programme. The program provides them with resources, counselling, support, and guidance in their journey should they want to open up about their sexuality with their family, friends, or colleagues.

Our commitment to equality has continued to grow through our Glamazon affinity group which exists to provide support to the LGBTQIA+ community at Amazon and to provide a space for the community to network, socialise and develop. It acts as a vital resource for the community within Amazon India, as well as the broader LGBTQIA+ community where our chapters exist. In addition, we have also invested in infrastructure facilities, such as ‘Everyone Washrooms’, for the benefit and comfort of employees from the community.

How are diverse perspectives and experiences actively embraced and integrated into the overall organisational fabric?

At Amazon, we recognise the value of embracing various visible and invisible identities, including gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, physical and cognitive abilities, sexual orientation, military veterans, education, age, and generational differences. We are dedicated to fostering a workplace culture that prioritises equal and equitable opportunities for a diverse workforce. By bringing individuals from different backgrounds into our teams, we aim to build an inclusive environment that reflects and understands the needs of our diverse customer base. Finding the right people and investing in their growth is essential to build a team that is constantly innovating on behalf of customers.

We work towards providing fair opportunities for everyone and have mechanisms in place to ensure that we hire for the skill and capability without any bias and prejudice offering parity of opportunities for all talent. It starts with the job descriptions itself, which we continuously inspect to ensure the language and details do not inadvertently imply a preference for a particular gender or demographic over another. Our hiring process provides an equitable ground for all to share their skills demonstrated in different scenarios. The panels are designed to ensure a healthy mix of tenure, background, and gender who are trained for Inclusive hiring. This detailed training is mandatory for all hiring members and covers aspects of removing unconscious biases, using inclusive language, and focusing on candidate experience while raising the bar of hiring.

As we continue to take steps in achieving our goal of being a more diverse and inclusive workplace in India, our operations team has taken another step in this direction by creating meaningful opportunities for the transgender community in our operations network including our fulfillment centres, sort centres and delivery stations in the country. Our internal transfer policies are transparent and robust, allowing employees from across all cohorts to apply for open jobs across job families and locations globally. We continue to look for ways to scale our impact as we grow by providing opportunities to diverse cohorts.

How does your organisation ensure that policies are effectively communicated, implemented, and upheld across all levels of the company?

We ensure that all managers undergo inclusive leadership training to equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to create and sustain an inclusive environment. It is equally important that leaders should lead by example and promote inclusive practices within their teams and across the organisation.

We indulge in teaching by action, where we conduct role plays where people try communicating about things that make them uncomfortable. We also build interactive dialogue-based sessions between two or more employees engaging with one another to impart lessons on the usage of inclusive language.

We ensure to regularly review and update our policies and practices with employee feedback to provide equitable opportunities for all employees. Our Glamazon affinity group, an employee body aims to foster an inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community and raises awareness. Furthermore, we came up with a concept called ‘Human Library’ through which we actually asked senior leaders to have conversations with people from the LGBTQIA+ community where they simply shared their stories which acted as an awareness exercise, as people had no idea about the challenges this community was facing. It resulted in an immersive learning experience for them and built increased awareness around the life experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community. The exercise helped our leaders in leading with a lot more empathy and build more practices in teams to foster inclusion towards the community.

How does your organisation measure the long-term impact and success of its diversity and inclusion efforts, particularly in relation to LGBTQIA+ inclusion?

We have various continuous listening mechanism to seek employee feedback on processes, policies, and culture from all employee cohorts and build actions basis feedback. This helps us in ensuring that the practices for inclusion we are implementing with good intent are being followed. We also follow a close loop mechanism with clear success measures to see needle movement on overall sentiment for the team and ensure to regular review and update policies and practices to eliminate any bias for all employees. We understand that creating a truly inclusive workplace where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to thrive requires continuous effort.

What metrics, data-driven insights, and feedback mechanisms are utilised to gauge progress, identify areas for improvement, and drive meaningful change within the organisational structure and culture?

Amazon ‘Connections’ is a real-time, company-wide innovative internally built platform that provides our workforce an effective way to share continuous feedback in a confidential manner, which helps us in our quest to make ‘Every Day Better for Employees’. By asking employees quick questions every day, ‘Connections’ leverages real-time feedback with the help of machine learning tools to learn more about our employees’ experiences and introduce positive changes in the workplace. We develop a variety of engagement, feedback, and remediation mechanisms that help us continually improve our work experience basis the inputs we receive via ‘Connections’ platform.

We work with the goal to help develop leaders, earn the trust of our employees by building actions based on their feedback, remove barriers to excellence, and make our organisation an inspiring place to work for all. Employee experience is fundamental to our success as they are our biggest stakeholders who innovate rigorously on behalf of our customers and help us build customer delight.

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Topics: Culture, Diversity, #Work Culture

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