With close to 20 years of experience in the HR industry, Priti Shetty, Head of People, WeWork India, is a seasoned professional with knowledge and expertise in the avenues of performance management, employee relations, reward and recognition, management and leadership development, talent development, engagement and retention.
With a special focus on the development of women, Priti has been instrumental in spearheading multiple initiatives to make workspaces inclusive and diverse. Prior to joining WeWork India, Priti worked in leadership roles across Flipkart, HSBC and Shoppers Stop and led initiatives at the global and regional levels.
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters on #EachForEqual, Priti talks about an inclusive mindset as a deal-breaker at the time of hiring, the correlation between a diverse leadership team and profits, how organizations can work towards building religious inclusion and diversity and more.
Here are excerpts of the interview.
With a diverse experience across retail, banking, ecommerce and now coworking industry, what in your opinion is key to building a cultural fabric that fosters inclusivity?
I think inclusion is imperative to building a great culture and plays an important role in successful businesses.
When people bring their whole selves to work and can be comfortable with their choices and preferences, it helps them reach their full potential. This is only possible when all these values form the basis of the workspace culture in any organization.
As much as it's important to have a diverse workforce, it should go hand in hand with inclusion. Inclusion is a continuous process where each member of the workforce feels heard and valued, so everyone can work towards the company’s goals and mission. This encourages employees to perform at the optimum, contribute their thoughts and ideas and represent the diversity that an organization aims to build in the long-run in their target customer base.
Do you think organizations are ready to factor in an inclusive mindset as a deal-breaker at the time of hiring?
Absolutely! We just need to consider inclusion to be as important as assessing other skills and capabilities. Embedding “inclusion” into the culture bar in the organization’s hiring process can be an effective way of doing this. Non-inclusive behaviors should be called out and not accepted; leaders play a big role in setting the tone for the team.
A report by McKinsey says there’s a positive correlation between a more ethnically and gender-diverse leadership team and an increase in profits. But not many organizations have been able to build on diversity. What's your take on this?
Yes, I agree that there is a direct and positive correlation between a diverse leadership team to profits and company’s success. Yet, it is unfortunate that we still need to make a business case for gender diversity, even today. This reflects the need for education through workshops/seminars as well as HR and company policies directed towards an inclusive work environment.
Having a diverse leadership team automatically reflects a company’s commitment towards D&I which further helps in hiring and retention of employees from all walks of life. This leads to minimal employee churn, saving time and money the company spends on recruitment and training.
In short, it creates a positive domino effect.
Several studies have also stated that having more women leaders on top will attract more women workforce to join and stay at the company, as they can also see themselves in top positions someday. At WeWork India, we have a 52:48 male to female gender ratio overall and 58:42 at a leadership level. Gender diversity continues to be one of our critical OKRs for 2020.
What according to you is the need of the hour - equity or equality?
I believe the need of the hour is equity and I believe it is actionable today. Through people policies and practices, it is possible to provide an environment of gender equity.
Equality makes most sense when it’s a level playing field and every player is starting the race from the same point. That is not the case in our society, never has been and might take years to be achieved in the future.
Whereas equity ensures people emerging at the same level, irrespective of their beginnings.
What is your take on the progress in making organizations LGBTQIA inclusive? What are the key challenges in addressing this segment of diversity?
I believe this journey is a long one, but equally critical now more than ever. We are taking steps in making everything in WeWork India more LGBTQ friendly, from our policies to our people. With an aim to build a more diverse workforce, we have already introduced initiatives like including the LGBTQ partners of our employees in our medical insurance coverage, celebrating Pride month with great fervor every year and introducing internal forums to support LGBTQ employees, to drive the spirit of inclusion.
I think the key challenges are lack of awareness and letting go of our preconceived notions, stereotypes and unconscious bias. And the only way to do that is through education and awareness.
Another challenge would be the underrepresentation of minorities and diverse sectors of our workforce due to lack of visibility and fear. If we can make our organizations truly inclusive, safe and holistic, people will bring out their most authentic selves, live without inhibitions and feel satisfied with their jobs.
WeWork India recently extended medical benefits to partners of LGBTQ employees. Can you share what went into translating the intent into an actionable organizational policy?
I think it’s critical to take the diversity charter to the next level - from mere conversations to action that makes a difference in people's lives. If we are truly inclusive, benefits should be extended to all employees and their dependents regardless of sexual orientation.
Religious diversity in the workplace is among the least prioritized areas of diversity. How can organizations work towards building religious inclusion and diversity?
In a country as diverse as India, most of us are exposed to different religions and practices. This means awareness of various religions has been established. Similarly at the workspace, the first and foremost way to build religious inclusion and diversity is through acceptance which becomes the everyday reality for everyone.
There are simple ways where companies can build religious inclusion and diversity. For starters, employees should be allowed to include their religious attire in their workwear. There should also be policies to allow everyone to take time off to celebrate their cultural festivities including the ones not covered in public holidays. Talking about celebrations, it can be a good practice to create events during festivals which allow employees to understand the importance of that particular festival as well as allows more interactions within the company.
Lastly, education of the employers and hiring managers is most important in encouraging religious acceptance to avoid bias. Talent and meritocracy should take precedence in all processes like recruitment and selection, performance management and promotions, etc.
Conversation, understanding, advocacy, discussion, acceptance, policy changes, and finally implementation. The journey to translate diversity conversations into a living, breathing and thriving inclusive culture comes with its challenges. What according to you can accelerate this transition?
Awareness and education makes a big difference. Culture setting happens from the top and leaders need to demonstrate behaviors that reflect diversity in thoughts and actions. That sets the tone for the rest of the organization. Calling out behaviors that are not inclusive and taking necessary action when bad behaviors are a pattern, is equally important.
We need to celebrate diversity and make inclusion a way of life and every employee has a role to play there.
Over-communication around unconscious bias and inclusion is required to sensitize people, as more often than not people start hearing and internalizing the messages only when we get tired of over-communicating those core messages.
What different initiatives is WeWork undertaking to create an equal workplace for all?
WeWork as a brand has always believed in leveraging the diversity of our people to help them make a life and not just living. We have various policies to create an inclusive space for our employees which include Day Care policy for our working parents, gender neutral hiring practices, transparent and unbiased performance management, quarterly promotions etc. We are reviewing our parental policies to aid the return of new parents, and assimilate them back into the workspace. With over 500 employees in India, we are the first collaborative workspace provider in the country to offer health insurance cover to partners of all LGBTQ employees. Through all our efforts, I can proudly say that we are on the journey to becoming an almost equal representation of genders working across all our spaces in the country.
Can you tell us in one word what diversity and inclusion mean to you?
It certainly means “empowerment” to me. I believe all our efforts towards D&I lead to empowerment finally.
Only when employees feel empowered, they know that the company values the skill-sets and perspectives that they bring to the table as a result of their diverse backgrounds. This translates into better understanding of the diversity in our members as employees experience greater engagement and reach their full potential.
Happier employees lead to happier members!