Tanushree Mishra is People Director – India & South East Asia at AB InBev.
Tanushree has worked with some of the most well established global brands in the likes of Network18, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors, where she led total rewards and HR transformation. She joined Ab Inbev in 2016 and rose through the ranks.
In conversation with People Matters, Tanushree reflects on Ab Inbev’s proudest accomplishments as an employer, highlights diversity concerns for the APAC region and advises diversity advocates on breaking down ceilings and myths.
Here are excerpts from the interaction.
How has the beginning of 2021 been so far? What are some goals and expectations you are moving forward with?
2021 has had a turbocharged start for our big ambitions. Our business results have started reflecting the buoyant market scenario, driven by positive consumer sentiment and the gradual upswing of the country’s economy. Our key focus areas for talent are capabilities and workplace of the future, significantly improving diversity of our teams along with championing inclusion like never before. In 2020, we invited all employees to participate in a D&I committee to work along with the leadership team on this important agenda. About 60+ colleagues worked together to diagnose problems and crafted solutions in the areas of talent attraction, talent development and nuances in the work environment that we are excited to launch in 2021.
With greater awareness, advocacy and assessment of inclusion efforts, what does AB InBev have in store for D&I in 2021?
In a true spirit of dreaming big, we have some bold, and ambitious initiatives planned in 2021 including some industry-firsts that we are excited to unveil. With a strong belief of making a difference where it matters, we are improving representation at every level in every part of the business. For 2021, we have in the pipeline an outstanding Women's Leadership Development Program and Dual Mentorship program with all genders participating in this, to help us develop our female talent pool. Apart from this, we also have crucial policy rollouts that strongly exhibit our commitment to building a best in class diverse and inclusive organization.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments as an employer when you think of inclusion and belonging?
In a remarkable manifestation of our commitment to diversity agenda, one of our factories in Maharashtra has achieved a 50:50 gender ratio on the shop floor.
We set this commitment in early 2020 and worked along with educational institutes, parents and the local community and educated them about our company, our products, our culture, workplace and policies. In parallel, we worked on providing best-in-class infrastructure and policies to foster inclusion. Now, we’re so proud to have ambitious, talented young women who are deemed to be leaders of tomorrow and set the path for many more to come.
Much like soft skills, D&I is often looked at as the softer aspect of talent management and culture, and unsurprisingly that deters the growth and dims the significance. How can diversity advocates break through this ceiling?
I am a believer of Peter Drucker’s management principle of “What gets measured gets managed”.
The business case of diversity is obvious and D&I champions need to move to tangible and measurable initiatives that will take us closer and closer to an equal world.
It is possible to break down a concept like an inclusive culture into elements and measure progress over time. At AB InBev we are obsessed to track metrics like equal pay, equality in performance ratings and growth opportunities to ensure we have an environment that truly fosters meritocracy and diversity in equal measure. It has helped us to stay true to our commitment, diagnose challenges in time and create action plans to get back on track. We also ensure that we share our progress with our leadership committee and employees.
AB InBev partnered with app-based coaching platform BetterUp in 2020 to foster inclusion and diversity. With a focus on coaching leadership in this direction, what triggered the need for such association? Can you share some noteworthy changes since introducing the platform?
We have become leaders in the beverage industry by putting our people front and center. As the world’s leading brewer, we are dedicated to becoming a more diverse and inclusive company, in line with our 10 Culture Principles. We bring this commitment to life through various programs, one of which includes crafting strong women leaders. Through the BetterUp coaching program, we continue to raise the bar to achieve an even more supportive, inclusive, and innovative workplace. We had 150 female leaders from over 18 countries at various careers levels participating in the BetterUp program. The program tailors each participant’s coaching journey to suit individual preferences and learning styles. This has helped create a climate of trust, positive relationships, and high performance while assisting employees to navigate the uncertainty and difficult circumstances associated with the current health pandemic.
With tech being the enabler for a multitude of HR functions today, it has started making a way into the D&I space as well through providing avenues for bias free hiring, eliminating the scope of bias at the stage of resume screening. Do you see tech playing a greater and more integral role in the D&I space?
Like all other parts of our life, I am counting on Tech and AI solutions to give solutions that will support progress for D&I.
Tech can be a big enabler to provide equal opportunities to everyone.
A great example is a tech-led intervention that has helped us to remove gender-coded words in job descriptions. We have also incorporated an AI tool for our campus programs that uses machine learning to screen candidates and removes unconscious bias during hiring. Tech will have a major role to play in this journey and that day is not far away where AI can validate all human decisions and help us reach a stage where we truly eliminate bias.
Have you come across any region specific diversity concerns in the APAC region? What is your approach to address those aspects?
The levels of gender inequality in the Asia Pacific region continue to remain discouraging. Especially in India, the labour force participation is dismal. We need to work together as a society to combat this at every level. We want to approach this problem starting from the people whose lives we can directly influence, i.e. our employees, their families, prospective talent and the larger community. Across our company, we have Diversity & Inclusion committees led by senior leaders, who help us catalyze change through programs, initiatives and external partnerships.
What myths continue to exist and dampen the growth prospects of diversity, inclusion and equity?
While in general the advantages of having a diverse workforce are widely understood, there are some barriers that, if not understood and addressed, will threaten to derail any well-meaning effort. First, we need to be clear that diversity cannot exist in isolation from inclusion and meritocracy. Too often, leaders get mired in the goal of increasing their diversity targets – it is certainly important to set tangible goals and targets to guide action. But diversity should not be the only metric.
It is imperative to create a culture that is inclusive, where all employees feel respected, valued, and empowered. There should be equal focus on providing equitable opportunities based on meritocracy for employees to learn and grow.
Diversity and inclusion should be embedded in a company’s ways of working and should not be looked at as a check-the-box initiative. It is also important to advance D&I not just in the workplace but also prioritize it in other areas of the business such as the supply chain and customer demographic.
There is also a tacit perception that steering diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts rests solely with the Human Resources department. D&I is everyone’s responsibility. It should be spearheaded by the leadership—which has the onus to articulate the company’s beliefs and set the direction, aligning such initiatives with the organization’s strategic priorities—and it should be embraced by all. Every employee at every level has a role to play in building diverse and inclusive teams.