Vidya Lakshmi is an Executive Vice President leading Human Resources at Wells Fargo India & Philippines. Vidya leads all HR services across the two regions and oversees the implementation of country-specific labor practices and effective risk controls. She is responsible for defining and driving the people strategy and priorities of employees in India & Philippines in partnership with local and global leadership.
In her previous roles, Vidya spent over 15 years with Goldman Sachs, where she began her career and has held, among others, the positions of Head of Human Capital Management, Bengaluru, Head of HR Operations, Bengaluru, and Chief of Staff to the CEO in Bengaluru.
In this interaction with People Matters, she shares her thoughts on diversity and what Wells Fargo is doing to support greater inclusion in the workplace.
How do you define a diverse workforce?
A diverse workforce is one where people from different backgrounds, varied attributes and diversity of thought come together. Gender identity, sexual orientation, physical and mental abilities, ethnicity, religion, age, work experience, educational background, military experience, family status are some attributes that contribute to a diverse workforce. I also believe that the core of a diverse workforce is where varied life experiences are embraced and leveraged by virtue of identities or otherwise.
A study by Avtar Group found that though the presence of women at work has gone up cumulatively, their presence in managerial roles is down by 9% at (23% in 2017 and 26% in 2022), further dips to 18% at the senior managerial level, and only 17% at the corporate executive level. How do you look at this?
Most organizations have a fairly balanced gender representation at entry level roles, but the challenge continues to maintain this at managerial to senior executive roles. There are multiple nuances that come into play where the talent pipeline has narrowed, and women may drop out at mid to senior levels.
Globally, Deloitte’s latest report, Women @ Work: A Global Outlook, stated that nearly 80% of women say their workloads have increased because of the pandemic, while 66% of women report having more responsibilities at home.
From an India standpoint, we are aware of the continued impact of the double burden syndrome. Women continue to manage multiple roles – being primary caregivers to children or the elderly, managing household chores and contributing at work.
A lot of this also has to do with the way we are conditioned as a society. Support structures and deconditioning needs to manifest in family and societal frameworks. This enables women to embrace and celebrate their careers and ambitions in a meaningful manner and cherish their successes.
At Wells Fargo, we have made efforts towards focused programs that support women during inflection points, such as the parenting journey, eldercare support, or returning to the workforce. This also needs to be sustainable and evolving for us to see impact over time.
With employees being asked to return to work, do you think that the ratio of women in the workforce will be affected? If yes, how? If not, why?
I think for any individual, returning to work after 2 years is a change. For me personally as well, I know I had to rewire a lot of the ways of managing my family and responsibilities. In my experience over the last year, with people returning to work, there are ways in which an organization can support this transition meaningfully. There is enhanced impact especially for someone with caregiving responsibilities.
We have slowly transitioned to a hybrid model of work, that allows all employees to be able to balance their work-life priorities. I believe that working out of the office fosters creativity and collaboration and caters to our social needs of belonging to a space/community. We also provide access to a range of resources such as caregivers, flexible day care facilities, and resource groups that enable people returning to work a bit more seamlessly.
Many organisations fail to implement DEI policies in the true sense of the terms, but end up focusing only on women’s participation. However, DEI is a much wider concept. What are your thoughts?
Historically, we have seen organizations focus their efforts on increasing women’s representation, primarily because of the easier access to and familiarity with that segment. However, in the last decade we have seen intentional efforts to broaden the spectrum of DE&I to include talent from multiple communities including LGBTQ+, veterans, people with disabilities, generational diversity etc.
There are multiple business cases for organizations to look beyond women’s participation such as competitive advantage from both the talent and business opportunity standpoint. Tapping into a varied talent pool also enables an organization to provide unique solutions as well as attract a wider set of clientele.
What we need to be cognizant of though is the evolving nature of the varied and diverse talent pool. This may mean that organizations need to invest to upskill, mentor and build talent from the ground up. It is also being mindful of the unique needs of under-represented groups and creating an inclusive environment, be it policies, programs or work roles where they can succeed. We partner with industry research leaders to be able to understand these needs and share this knowledge and resources with a wider network of organizations. We sponsored two thought leadership research publications ‘Valuing Veterans in the Workplace in India’ and ‘Understanding and Leveraging Neurodiversity in the Workplace in India’ this year.
For us at Wells Fargo, a combination of inclusive policies and benefits, accommodations, targeted talent attraction/development strategies, and leadership focus has resulted in a steady increase in diverse representation.
We have successfully onboarded 14 neurodivergent individuals in India recently as part of a newly launched Neurodiversity program. Plans for a second cohort are underway.
Over 80 women have joined through Glide, a career continuity program for women returning to the workplace, since the program’s inception in 2017.
What efforts are being put in place by Wells Fargo to create a truly gender inclusive workplace?
Wells Fargo fosters a culture in which all people and their individual differences are not only accepted, but also celebrated. There is a focused effort towards driving gender inclusion across the employee lifecycle beyond policies, structures and frameworks. For example, our GLIDE program, currently in its sixth year, recognizes that a variety of life events — such as the birth of a new baby, medical treatment and recovery, or taking care of an ailing family member — may lead a person to step away from the workforce. It has catered to attracting women who have taken a career break to come back into the workforce.
From a career progression standpoint, we focus on sponsorship programs such as Building Organizational Leadership Diversity (BOLD) that is designed to provide mentorship and sponsorship to employees from diverse representation. In addition, the BOLD program helps develop and increase visibility and mobility of high-potential talent within Wells Fargo.
We also are keen to provide an environment of mentorship that is important for the group to build a community. Our “Table for 10” initiative by the DE&I council enables visibility to senior women role models who mentor a group of junior women and further build on the multiplier effect. We also have the Women’s Connection employee resource group that serves as a culture ambassador to promote gender inclusion in the workplace. They also amplify and partner on key strategic initiatives such as the Care Nine program to support employees on maternity.
While there are intentional efforts across the layers of the organization, we do believe in the power of visible senior advocacy and role modelling to foster inclusive behaviors that creates a wider network of inclusion champions.