Article: Struggling to retain female employees for field roles? Airtel’s Chief People Officer offers a multi-pronged approach

Diversity

Struggling to retain female employees for field roles? Airtel’s Chief People Officer offers a multi-pronged approach

Amrita Padda highlighted Airtel's expansion of campus hiring to 30 cities, the launch of a 'Step-in program' for women returning from career breaks, and the provision of remote work options for qualified women in non-metro areas, benefiting over 45 individuals.
Struggling to retain female employees for field roles? Airtel’s Chief People Officer offers a multi-pronged approach

Embracing gender diversity in field roles is not just a matter of equality; it's a strategic imperative for organisations aiming to thrive in today's competitive landscape. That’s why, fieldwork should be made accessible to women rather than being restricted. By enabling women to participate in field roles, organisations can tap into a wider talent pool and benefit from diverse perspectives and skill sets. 

Furthermore, denying women access to fieldwork perpetuates gender stereotypes and reinforces the notion that certain roles are inherently better suited for men, which undermines efforts to promote gender equality in the workplace. Making fieldwork accessible to women is important not only from a diversity and inclusion standpoint but also from an economic perspective. 

Women make up a significant portion of the workforce, and their participation in field roles can contribute to increased productivity and innovation. Additionally, providing equal opportunities for women in fieldwork can lead to greater job satisfaction, retention, and career advancement, ultimately benefiting both the individual and the organisation as a whole, stated Amrita Padda, Chief People Officer, Bharti Airtel during an exclusive interview with People Matters. 

She emphasised, creating a supportive and inclusive environment for women in field roles sends a powerful message about the organisation's commitment to gender equality and diversity. It demonstrates that all employees, regardless of gender, have equal opportunities to pursue their career aspirations and contribute meaningfully to the organization's success. By breaking down barriers and promoting gender-inclusive policies and practices, organisations can create a more equitable and thriving workplace for all employees.

Excerpts from the interview:  

Can you provide an overview of Airtel's initiative to increase its female workforce by 50%? What were the primary motivations or goals behind this initiative?

It has been a company-wide effort, requiring a complete overhaul of our HR practices. We looked at everything from recruitment policies to employee benefits, and even our workplace infrastructure, especially the one we have at the frontend. We have expanded our campus hiring reach from 13 cities to 30 cities, introduced ‘Step-in programme’ for hiring women who took a career break and opened remote work opportunities for qualified women based in non-metro cities through which 45+ women have already been benefited. Moreover we have placed special emphasis on supporting women employees going on maternity and providing the right environment to them to join us back, with the provision of flexible work environment and the provision of on-site crèche facility or child care allowance.

Increasing the gender diversity and ensuring opportunities are made accessible for women regardless of their background and social responsibilities. We have been able to increase women employment by 50%, and this milestone is the testament of our efforts to bring in gender diversity.  We started with a female workforce of only 10%, and in just a year and a half, we have made significant progress, reaching 16.5%. 

What were some of the challenges or obstacles Airtel encountered during this journey, and how were they addressed?

Airtel's journey towards a more gender-balanced workforce presented several initial hurdles. Among these challenges were the deeply ingrained cultural attitudes and biases against women coupled with pervasive belief that women are less competent than men are. Furthermore, for our women employees in field roles, we struggled with the inadequacy of hygienic public restrooms facilities. Additionally as we started hiring women in field roles, it became apparent to us that access to vehicle and possession of driving license was a big roadblock for us apart from other safety issues.

To address this, we implemented a multi-pronged approach. First, we secured strong leadership commitment from the board and CEO, demonstrating a clear and unified vision for gender diversity.  Second, we embarked on a data-driven strategy. We meticulously analysed talent pools across different regions and business units within Airtel's vast operations in India. This enabled us to set targeted goals for each location, considering both the external talent market and our internal infrastructure capabilities. 

Moreover, we prioritised safety of our female employees, particularly those working late at night, by introducing safe and secure travel options. In addition, we took it upon us to upskill our women field force by reimbursing the cost of driving lessons and facilitated access to vehicles as a part of enablement at the front end. Over the year, we have also created access to safe and hygienic washroom facilities at more than 115 Airtel store locations. We also revamped our parental and childcare policy making it more conducive with features like flexi work options and childcare allowances.

This targeted approach, coupled with a strong leadership commitment, allowed us to effectively overcome initial scepticism and achieve significant progress in increasing female representation across various functions within Airtel.

How did Airtel ensure that the recruitment process was inclusive and unbiased to attract and retain female talent?

Airtel has implemented a comprehensive strategy to ensure a more inclusive and unbiased recruitment process, attracting and retaining a diverse pool of female talent. We recognised the importance of casting a wider net and hence made the choice to significantly revamp and extend our campus program. Previously, our campus recruitment program covered 13 cities; this has significantly expanded to over 100+ campuses in 30 cities. 

This diversified approach allows us to connect with universities with strong female enrolment in relevant disciplines. We have also double clicked on STEM jobs as a part of our campus strategy and have added “women only” STEM colleges. This targeted approach ensures our recruitment efforts are reaching the most promising talent pools. As a result, our upcoming campus recruitment program, anticipates a 70% female intake – a dramatic shift from the previous 20%. Furthermore, we have also introduced alternate channels for hiring women such as a remote work model for specific roles, allowing us to create attractive opportunities for talented women based in non-metro cities with mobility constraints. This initiative effectively removes geographical barriers and expands the potential applicant pool. As a result of these combined efforts, Airtel has witnessed a significant increase in female participation in our recruitment process.  

Can you share any success stories or examples of how this initiative has positively impacted Airtel's workplace culture and business outcomes?

We have started working on various initiatives to improve gender diversity and to create an inclusive culture in the last one year and have a long journey ahead for us. One notable achievement for us in this short span has been to attract more women in front line roles especially in tier 2 and tier 3 cities like Haldwani, Morbi, Chapra, Tezpur to name a few. This has been possible by our effort in addressing hygiene concerns and ensuring the availability of well-maintained restrooms across all our stores and thus successfully removing a significant obstacle for female employees. This investment not only prioritises employee well-being but also underscores Airtel's commitment to fostering equality in the workplace. 

Additionally, we have implemented progressive policies to support working parents, including enhanced maternity and paternity leave programs, as well as extended leave options for mothers of young children. Additionally, we have also dialled up conversations on inclusion and role modelling of right behaviour across the organisation. These initiatives have been met with enthusiasm from our team members and have contributed to a more positive and supportive organisational culture.

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How does Airtel plan to sustain and further build upon this achievement in the future?

Our commitment to gender diversity extends beyond achieving initial targets. We recognize the importance of establishing a sustainable framework for continued progress. We are actively developing programs that connect experienced female employees with high-potential newcomers. This knowledge transfer and guidance will empower future generations of female leaders within Airtel. We also understand the prevalence of unconscious bias in hiring and promotion practices. In last one year, we have arranged multiple workshops on inclusion and unconscious bias and will continue to implement comprehensive training programs to mitigate bias and ensure a fair and equitable evaluation process for all employees. 

We are also working on creating curated career paths, ensuring mentoring across levels for women employees and implementing various women leadership development programs to help women thrive in a workforce, which is still admittedly male dominant. We will also continuously analyse our recruitment and talent development pipelines to identify areas for further improvement and ensure we attract and retain top female talent across all levels of the organisation. We are committed to ongoing measurement of our progress. By setting clear and measurable goals, and regularly tracking our performance, we can ensure continued progress towards a truly gender-balanced workforce at Airtel. 

In your opinion, what lessons or best practices can other organisations learn from Airtel's experience in growing its female workforce?

When it comes to bringing women to the workforce, organisations need to have more inclusive thought process to understand the background of the candidate. There is a lot of talent in our country, even in the remotest locations. We opened opportunities to qualified women based in non-metro cities. We also expanded our campus reach to tier 2 and tier 3 cities, targeting over 100+ campuses. Airtel will bring in close to 700 people, with 70 per cent women, through its various campus programmes. We have also provide opportunity to 45+ women to completely work from their homes. 

An important aspect of Airtel’s employee value proposition is around being limitless, which also means that people can join the company from any field or industry without any hiring biases. We thoroughly believe that it’s not possible for a diverse workforce to thrive and bring their best to work every day without intentional, consistent, and continuous efforts around equity and inclusion. We believe a diverse workforce thrives through continuous efforts towards equity and inclusion at every level. Building gender diversity is an ongoing process, but one we're dedicated to every day.

Meet Amrita Padda at TechHR India – where innovation meets inspiration, and where change is not just discussed but executed with precision. Registrations are live!

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Topics: Diversity, #HRTech, #HRCommunity, #PracticalTips, #InternationalWomensDay

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