Amit Prakash is the CHRO of Marico Limited. He has over 20 years of experience and has been associated with Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages prior to joining Marico. He has also worked with Delphi, ITC and LG in various roles. Over the years, his experience has covered various aspects of human resources – from performance management & improvement, talent management & planning to career & succession development and organizational development.
In an exclusive interview with People Matters, he talks about the experience of setting up D&I initiatives in Marico, the role of multiple stakeholders in the process and the right ways to measure the impact.
Q1. There’s a shift in D& I programs. Organizations are going beyond the focus on gender diversity, and are looking at disability, minorities, etc., In this context, how should companies go about identifying priorities?
Every business will have their own priorities and it’s entirely dependent on their reality and needs. From a business perspective, new initiatives should not just be seen as a ‘human resource initiative’, because then it’s going to be short-lived and not sustainable. There are three factors which we consider as the pillars that we need to focus on:
- As a consumer organization, we realize that our consumers come from various backgrounds and represent different parts of the society. So how does that get reflected at work? That’s where we started, the need to represent the society that we are currently trying to serve. It helps us create an efficient decision making structure, more innovation, which will be relevant to the consumer.
- The second pillar is to be aware of the talent economy. If you continue to hire from a small pool of talent (it may be certain colleges/ universities), you may miss out on equally talented candidates elsewhere. If you look at the numbers, it’s clear that we need to spread the talent pool, not only gender, and other abilities and preferences that people have.
- The third pillar is to focus on building flexibility within the organization. There are specific requirements that need to be taken care of. Are we creating an inclusive culture? Are we enabling policies, processes and infrastructure to hire these people?
Q2. How do you make the employee ‘feel’ like they belong to the company? Especially when they belong to a marginalized or minority group?
We need to focus on building an inclusive culture. And having an inclusive culture has nothing to do with access to gender, sexual orientation or specially-abled talent. It is about having a thought process in the organization wherein I'm sensitive to the needs of an individual, and that has been the biggest journey for us in the last twelve months.
As we spoke to people within the company, we realized a need to sensitize the larger organization around inclusive culture. Another thing we did is to create an enabling environment around systems, policies and infrastructure.
We are also becoming extremely strong in our communication with both sets of people (people who belong to these diverse groups and those who don’t) in terms of having open conversations and identifying challenges. That’s because people may not always want to come and talk about the issues and challenges that they are facing. We are also building communication around creating sensitivity through drama-based, theatre-based programs.
Q3. What is the role of employees in taking the D&I mandate forward?
We have very open conversations around why change is needed and how we should enable it. Sensitization is a critical process, since that’s how mobilization will happen.
There are three factors where the members will focus on –
- Being proactive in the process, around education, sensitizing the team, identifying the enablers and pushing for the changes in the system.
- Being responsible and aware of the fact that there are a few members in the team who may not appreciate change, but still be responsible to driving change.
- Being alert – its less specific, and about identifying issues with a focus on addressing them.
Q4. What is the thought process on changing HR policies to gender neutral pronouns?
When you make D&I related change, you need to change every part of the organization, so when people prefer a non –binary way of addressing people, it is only apt if we change the way we are writing a policy. It is about being up to date in a way that it doesn’t antagonize people.
The other piece of change that we picked up was from a privacy factor – whether that’s continuous need of medical treatment, offering flexible benefits, there are other such policies we are reviewing which will help us create a more inclusive workplace.
If you continue to hire from a small pool of talent (it may be certain colleges/ universities), you may miss out on equally talented candidates elsewhere”
Q5. What is the role of the wider business ecosystem. Do other stakeholders play in delivering the mandate?
In Bangladesh, for example, we are focused on differently-abled talent and have partnered with Adamya Foundation (a non-profit organisation), through which we have enabled this youth to find sustainable and meaningful employment and improve livelihood through skills training and capability development. Merchandise training was imparted for a month to these beneficiaries with speech and hearing challenges, using sign-language. Although, it will require partnering with NGOs or Govt agencies and some investments in building skills, you can create a social equilibrium in that particular geography.
Q6. How do you track all of these initiatives and programs?
We track input and output measures. The input metrics are around the culture of inclusion – which can be tracked through our annual engagement survey, and the Chatbot conversations. I keep track of this data on how the culture of the organization is moving.
The second metric as an input is how many new candidates are we meeting who aren’t a reflection of the population within the organization. Our target is to have 50 percent of our conversations with new candidates.
In terms of output metrics, we look at the diversity targets – for gender, thought and ability, and we are tracking it over a period of three to five years. The other outcome metrics we track include retention and people growing internally within the organization.
Q7. Can you explain thought diversity – What all do you track?
It is defined by us as an organization and it’s not a global definition. What we are looking at is how do we create a workplace that is fairly representative of people from different backgrounds?
Is it possible to have lesser representation of a particular education stream? Can we employ retirees? Can we have employees who are not working fulltime? We have profiled the entire organization. Which then drives a better and a more open culture leading to high innovation rates in the organization.
Q8. If you had to give advice to any HR leader embarking on D&I initiatives, what would it be?
My suggestion is to make sure it is not driven as an HR agenda but business agenda. And since D&I is a diverse and upcoming area, it’s important to spend time and learn about the area.