Article: Prioritise listening: WeWork India’s Priti Shetty on strengthening a system of care for women


Prioritise listening: WeWork India’s Priti Shetty on strengthening a system of care for women

In this insightful interview, Priti Shetty of WeWork India shares why investing in women is investing in progress, and what organisations can do better to drive positive change.
Prioritise listening: WeWork India’s Priti Shetty on strengthening a system of care for women

Priti Shetty, Chief People and Culture Officer at WeWork India boasts a rich HR background spanning over 20 years across diverse industries. With expertise in performance management, talent development, and more, she has left her mark at esteemed organisations such as Flipkart, HSBC, and Shoppers Stop. Priti's passion for fostering inclusive workspaces, particularly through women's development initiatives, has earned her accolades, including the ET HRWorld Employee Experience Award and the Realty+ Women Icon Award in HR.

In this interview, Priti will delve into the challenges women encounter when transitioning from education to work and the pivotal role of investing in women to drive gender equality and spur economic growth.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

Women often encounter unique challenges when transitioning from education to work. In your experience, what are some of these challenges, and how can workplaces contribute to a smoother transition?

Transitioning from education to the workforce presents unique challenges for women, particularly rooted in cultural expectations and societal norms. Despite advancements, traditional gender roles still exert pressure on women, often leading to uncertainty about career aspirations. To address this, organisations can offer career counselling and workshops to help women explore their interests and navigate their professional journey. Support networks also play a crucial role, providing women with confidence and a sense of solidarity as they share strategies for success.

Bias in the hiring process also remains a significant obstacle, with unconscious biases often influencing decisions. Diversity and inclusion training can help mitigate these biases, as can blind recruitment processes. Holding hiring managers accountable for achieving gender balance within their teams is another effective strategy. Additionally, increasing gender diversity in leadership roles and highlighting women's achievements through awards and mentorship programs, as we have done through the Women of WeWork (WOW) awards and mentorship programs pairing young talent with senior women leaders, can inspire and support women as they transition into the workforce.

Work-life balance is another critical aspect, especially for women who often juggle caregiving responsibilities alongside their careers. Flexibility in working hours and remote or hybrid working arrangements, as well as parental policies offering extended maternity and paternity leave, demonstrate a commitment to supporting working parents and fostering a more inclusive workplace culture.

Moreover, providing childcare facilities, as we have done in partnership with Klay, can alleviate concerns for working mothers, allowing them to focus on their careers with peace of mind. While these initiatives may seem commonplace, their collective impact significantly contributes to the productivity and well-being of women in the workforce. By addressing these challenges and implementing supportive policies and programs, workplaces can facilitate a smoother transition for women from education to employment while strengthening a system of care. 

What barriers persist in workplaces that hinder the full utilisation of women's potential, and what strategies can organisations employ to break down these barriers effectively?

Breaking down barriers to the full utilisation of women's potential in the workplace requires a multi-faceted approach. One of the key strategies we've employed is the implementation of development programs tailored specifically for women leaders. Take, for example, our partnership with TransForMe Learning on the "Evolve" program. This initiative offers a comprehensive learning experience designed to empower women through formal education, group coaching sessions, and the establishment of a supportive community.

The results speak for themselves, with a remarkable 28% of women advancing into more senior roles following their participation in the program.

Additionally, we recognise the critical importance of addressing disparities in pay and benefits. At WeWork India , we are committed to closing the gender pay gap by ensuring that women receive fair compensation for comparable roles. We have taken proactive measures to promote transparency in our salary structures and conduct regular pay reviews to rectify any inequalities that may arise.

Can you share specific initiatives that WeWork India has undertaken to promote gender equality and women's development within the company, and what impact have these initiatives had on the workplace culture?

One such initiative revolves around medical insurance and wellness, where we've partnered with Plum to offer comprehensive care. We've enhanced maternity coverage, raised it to 1.5 lakhs for C-section deliveries, and expanded insurance coverage to include IVF and IUI procedures. Moreover, we provide all employees access to telehealth consultations, offering convenient healthcare options, especially beneficial for women juggling multiple responsibilities. Additionally, we offer access to therapy and wellness services focusing on areas such as PCOS, period safety, and sexual wellness, highlighting our commitment to physical and mental well-being.

Furthermore, our thriving Employee Resource Group (ERG) culture plays a pivotal role in advancing diversity and inclusion. These employee-led groups, such as the WeWork Women's ERG, drive initiatives throughout the year, bringing energy and relatability to the cause. This grassroots approach has significantly contributed to our inclusive workplace culture.

The impact of these initiatives is tangible. We're proud to maintain a 46-47% representation of women across the company, with leadership positions comprising around 39% women—a benchmark in our industry.

Moreover, our engagement surveys reflect a positive shift in perceptions of inclusion, with scores steadily improving over the years. We've now achieved a remarkable +88 score, indicating a significant enhancement in the perception of WeWork India as an inclusive and psychologically safe space for women.

How does investing in women's development contribute to economic growth, and what are some tangible examples or case studies that demonstrate the positive economic impact of gender equality initiatives?

One noteworthy endeavour is our commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), where we adopted a lake in Bangalore. Our colleagues actively volunteer to protect the lake's biodiversity and support the surrounding communities. Recently, our legal and finance teams collaborated with NGO partners to conduct legal awareness sessions on domestic violence and inheritance law for the women of Tarahunise village. These sessions, aimed at empowering the community, shed light on crucial legal aspects and fostered interactive discussions, marking a significant step towards positive social change.

Additionally, through WeWork Labs, our incubation and acceleration arm, we've championed initiatives supporting women-led startups in India. Recognising the underrepresentation of women entrepreneurs, we launched programs focused on providing investment opportunities, mentorship, and networking for women-led startups. By facilitating access to resources and fostering professional networks, we aim to empower women entrepreneurs and catalyse economic growth in the startup ecosystem.

These initiatives not only benefit the community but also align with our organisational values, instilling a sense of purpose and fulfilment among our teams. By investing in women's development and community engagement, we not only drive social impact but also cultivate a culture of purpose-driven growth within our organisation. 

What advice would you give to HR professionals and leaders aiming to drive meaningful gender equality initiatives in their respective organisations? What is the one thing they should start doing immediately?

If I were to offer one piece of advice to HR professionals and leaders aiming to promote gender equality, it would be to prioritise listening. Listening can take various forms, from utilising AI-driven tools to conducting focus groups and one-on-one conversations. It's crucial to understand the unique challenges and stereotypes faced by women in different organisational contexts. What applies to one industry or department may not be applicable elsewhere. Therefore, the strategy must be tailored to the specific demographic and experiences of the workforce.

Once you've listened and gained insights into the challenges women face, it's essential to examine the entire lifecycle of a woman employee within the organisation.

This includes their journey from recruitment to promotion, performance management, leadership roles, and balancing family responsibilities. At each stage, evaluate how the organisation can better support and empower women. Even small steps towards creating a supportive environment can have a significant impact in promoting gender equality and fostering an inclusive workplace culture.

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Topics: Culture, Leadership, Diversity, #HRCommunity

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