The need for diverse teams that can embrace different perspectives and collaboratively create innovative solutions has never been greater. Plus, tapping into the best thinking of a wide array of people is only going to become more important as problems become more complex, competition increases, and the pace of just about everything accelerates. In fact, the ability to build diverse and collaborative teams may just be the most important management skill of the decade.
In this interview with Swati Rustagi, Director of Human Resources, Amazon India Operations shares how the company is creating an inclusive workplace for military veterans, persons with special needs, etc.
Q1. Do you think organizations’ perception about diversity has changed over the years? In your experience what has caused a shift in perception?
There has definitely been a shift in perception about diversity over the years. Initially the word diversity was synonymous with only women today organizations are embracing the fact that diversity goes beyond gender. Another perception was the unfounded belief that an organization must sacrifice quality to meet criteria. This perception is changing as organizations have realized that there is high quality diverse talent, waiting to be discovered. This shift in perception has been driven by the tangible benefits the organizations have realized through effective decision making that diverse workforce drives naturally.
At Amazon, we strongly believe that every individual brings something new and unique to the workplace. We relentlessly work towards creating a culture where individuals feel safe, valued and supported to share their unique perspective thereby helping us to drive innovation to serve our customers better.
Q2. Amazon was in news recently about their Military Veterans Employment programs. Tell us more about the program?
The Military Veterans Employment program is aimed at creating opportunities for military veterans and their spouses across our Fulfillment Centers, Sort Centers and Delivery Centers in India. We have partnered with the Office of the Director General of Resettlement (DGR) and the Army Welfare Placement Organization (AWPO) to create continued work opportunities for military families across the country. We relate to and respect the principles and work ethics of those who have served, and believe they have the ability to think big and invent and simplify on behalf of our customers.
Q3. What made the company come up with this program and inclusion of this form of diversity?
We are committed to diverse and inclusive hiring, creating opportunities for all individuals to realize their potential. Over the years we have hired military veterans into various roles across the company – in Transportation, Customer Fulfilment, Facilities Management and Security Operations to name a few. The commitment and value they bring to the table are excellent and a driving force behind our partnership with DGR and AWPO. This partnership will help create hundreds of fulfilling and exciting career opportunities for our military families who have relentlessly served the country. With these pilot programs underway, we are confident of scaling the Military Veterans Employment Program, and extending our engagement to hire talent from the Army, Air force, Navy and Police families in the future.
Q4. What are the other diversity cohorts you are targeting? Do you have any dedicated programs and initiatives around these diversity groups?
Over the years, we have launched multiple initiatives to bring more diversity of thought in the workforce, whether it is enabling more women or finding opportunities and avenues for the differently abled community, we have carefully curated several initiatives to create employment opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds. These initiatives have helped us bring unique perspectives, experiences and cultural backgrounds across the Operations network..
We have taken the lead to engage with women, create unique relevant job opportunities and enable them to be achievers in this field. Some of the initiatives include:
- Women Delivery Station, Chennai: There was an un-founded belief that delivery operations are not an area where women talent is easy to find. We questioned this belief and successfully built an inclusive workforce with the launch of our women-only DS in Chennai. With the learnings we gain, we hope to be able to expand this initiative across several cities & towns in the year. These stations are completely managed and run by women. Women deliver packages on two-wheelers, covering a radius of 2-3 km from the delivery station.
- With a growing presence of women in the workforce, an affinity group has been created within India Operations, to facilitate networking and skill development. Affinity groups are employee-led groups that are designed to foster inclusion and to strengthen networking and community participation. The groups are organized around a shared characteristic like gender or type of work.
We have been relentlessly disrupting our workplace with initiatives to bring the differently-abled community into workforce. We have opportunities for these individuals throughout our network to empower them with financial independence and help them realize their true potential.
- Silent Delivery Station in Mumbai: The first silent station was launched in Mumbai in January 2017, in partnership with Mirakle Couriers, a Delivery Service Partner. Today this dedicated Silent Delivery Station is completely managed and run by these associates. The second silent station was launched in Mumbai in June 2018. These two stations have provided opportunities for hearing impaired delivery associates in the city.
- Inclusion in Fulfilment Centers: In April 2017, we piloted an initiative designed to create opportunities for persons with hearing impairment in our Fulfilment Centre (FC) in Hyderabad. The pilot started with a handful of associates with hearing impairment, who were trained to pack shipments at the FC. This initiative has now rapidly expanded to more than eight cities including Bangalore, Chennai, Indore, Mumbai, Pune, and Hyderabad. NGOs like Youth4Jobs and V-Shesh provide valuable support and resources to Amazon in this initiative. We also have interpreters and train managers in these stations in sign language skills to make the workplace more inclusive for our hearing impaired associates.
- Internship Program for individuals with Autism & Intellectual Disabilities: In September 2019, we announced our partnership with Sol’s ARC, a Non-Government Organization (NGO), to launch an industry first pilot program to train young adults with Autism & Intellectual Disabilities. The program is aimed at collaborating with Sol’s ARC to build a specialized curriculum for e-commerce trades, and create employment opportunities within the e-commerce sector. This will enable their successful integration into the workforce and help them gain financial independence.
Q5. How do you measure the effectiveness of these diversity programs? What kind of impact have you been able to create on the above diversity groups through your programs?
We stay committed to creating opportunities for individuals to realize their potential and transform their lives and will continue to build inclusion as a core theme across our delivery operations. Today, we have over 2500 women and 650+ people with disability in our operations network playing important roles across our Fulfilment Centers, Sortation Centers and in the Delivery Network.
We continue to use our resources and infrastructure of innovation and technology to support people from all walks of life. Amazon India had pioneered the ‘Silent Delivery Station’ through the Service Partner program.
We are humbled to have several impact stories of the changes brought about in the lives of our partners. Whether it is Sanjukta, our delivery Station partner in Guwahati whose business has expanded from 1 to 5 stations across 4 states, or Jamuna Rani, who has been able to transform the lives of 10 women through the all women delivery station – all these stories are a testimony of significant impact in individual lives and encourage us to continue working on our D&I initiatives. As our business grows in the country, we continue to enable people across demographics and social strata to expand their horizons and create a meaningful, fulfilling and successful life.