To drive the D&I agenda, leaders need to be ‘fearless’: Intel India’s Head HR
Anjali Rao leads HR at Intel India and has been with the organization for about 15 years. She has held several portfolios within HR prior to assuming her current role. Rao’s passion lies in engaging with organizations and their leaders, enabling them to achieve their strategy and goals. Throughout her 15-year career in Intel HR, she’s shown incredible leadership and acumen managing leadership transitions, landing new engineering teams at the India site, supporting key initiatives and driving organizational change and development. Anjali brings a tremendous degree of personal drive and energy, impeccable accountability, and is valued for her results orientation.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Rao shares her views on how for organizations of today, diversity goes beyond gender and how inclusion is becoming a critical element of the D&I picture in the evolving world of work. She also gives some insights on how to create a diverse and inclusive workplace and the must-have leadership imperatives for doing so.
Diversity and inclusion become absolutely indispensable to any organization's business or growth strategy. What is your view on D&I becoming so critical to a company today?
There are two key things: The first one is having a diverse workforce which is a representative of the kind of diversity that is available in the market that your customers are in. Therefore, it represents the diverse customer needs for which you are engineering products. If you look at a company like Intel, it is everywhere. It powers up different technologies to deliver different kinds of products and experiences. If that has to be truly represented in the way we make, design and engineer those products, we really need to see the diversity in the workforce we hire, we groom, and we grow. It is representing the market, the needs of the customer through a diverse workforce. Secondly, I firmly believe that diversity leads to innovation. Innovation is critical today for any company. You need to keep challenging how you do your work, how you bring efficiencies into your work, and how you tap into newer markets, etc. For this, you need to be able to get people from diverse viewpoints that can challenge how you are doing things today and look at how you can do things differently tomorrow. You cannot do that without having diversity of thought in a room or when you are designing your product. It doesn't matter whether the company is tech or FMCG or any other industry. The last and a slightly smaller part is talent availability. Every company today is facing a war for talent, and there is no doubt about it. Talent is scarce and limited. When you have a diverse approach to hiring and bringing talent in and making your culture more inclusive, what it does is, it opens up avenues for you to tap into diverse talent that may not be there if you do not have a diverse perspective.
Diversity leads to innovation. You need to keep challenging how you do your work and for this, you need to be able to get people from diverse viewpoints that can challenge how you are doing things today and look at how you can do things differently tomorrow
A lot of thought leaders and experts believe that diversity goes beyond gender, and that there is a lot more to diversity today. What are your views on that?
I completely agree with this. I do believe that diversity is beyond gender. The way I see it is that the way for us to quantify what diversity means is being able to give it some header. We also need to take certain goals in order to measure diversity. I think from that standpoint, gender may be one place to start. But beyond, gender, I think there are other areas such as whether your workplace is inclusive of ‘diverse-ability’. This means whether you tap into people with disability. I prefer to call them ‘diverse-ability’ rather than disability because I think they bring a lot of strength. The other thing is generational diversity, which is tapping into the generation that is not really a part of your workforce but can bring a different perspective. A third angle is the LGBTQI+ community which is really a population that is oriented differently. Since their orientation is different, the perspectives and diversity of thought they bring to work is yet another angle. I think these are the categories that help measure diversity. But beyond this, if you look at the heart of it, it really is about diversity of thought. It is also about how you make sure that there are very many thoughts coming on to a table when you want to solve a bring problem or when you want to impact bottom-line in a different and positive way.
Diversity is only half of the D&I picture. How crucial is inclusion in today's changing world of work? And how does an organization like Intel look at inclusion?
I think inclusion has to go hand-in-hand with diversity. If you don't have inclusion embedded into your culture and therefore, flexing in different ways, it is just a waste of having a diverse workforce. For Intel, inclusion is a focus area that we have completely called out in our culture tenets. It cuts across different things like how our benefits are shaped and what kind of development programs we are giving to our managers and educating them about what is inclusion. It also cuts across the kind of leadership we have hired and how we make sure that they are inclusive enough to bring their thoughts and differences to the table.
Inclusion is a bit nebulous, which means that it is a bit hard to measure unless the company and the culture take it upon themselves to develop some sort of an index to measure this. This could be something as simple as asking employees questions from time to time. It could be leaders talking about inclusion in their organization and depicting it in the way they run meetings, in the way they put project teams together, which includes people of different thought processes and viewpoints. It is also about asking the people whom we think as diverse if they feel included.
Also, inclusion is institutional. You may have a very diverse workforce in your organization, but you may not necessarily have policies that are inclusive. That is where the angle of institutionalizing inclusion becomes very important.
What is the D&I philosophy at Intel and what are some D&I initiatives being followed?
At Intel India, we do look at diversity in the form of numbers. For example, we have had goals around ensuring that we have a good tech female representation or generally the right female headcount from a gender diversity standpoint. We have also expanded the definition of diversity at Intel India by including the ability to hire and nurture people with diverse-abilities and people who are part of the LGBTQI+ community. In these two categories, the numbers are slightly challenging to measure because it is very private. We respect that since we don't want to force employees to reveal their orientation or their disability. Beyond this, from an inclusion standpoint, we have taken some definitive steps. We have included certain benefits to exemplify our commitment to inclusion, especially in the domain of health benefits. The first one was being able to enroll same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partners, irrespective of gender, as a dependent in our hospitalization health insurance policy. We also extended outpatient coverage to these domestic partners, irrespective of gender. The second benefit that we included in our health and benefits coverage was gender reassignment procedure. This included hormonotherapy, surgical intervention, psychiatric consultation and any medication that followed such a procedure. The third one, which is the most interesting, is the one where we included coverage for mental health conditions and any hospitalization due to mental health conditions. This could be stress-related, anxiety, depression, psychosomatic, etc. Very few companies actually provide this but we did this because we really believe that we need to help our employees understand that mental health is as important as their physical health. And lastly, we have also expanded our medical insurance coverage to include genetic disorders and external congenital conditions of life-threatening nature. We wanted to reaffirm our commitment to inclusion by making sure that we influenced our insurance partners to include these additional things in the health benefits. Beyond this, we have also expanded our hiring approach to have methods that attract people with disabilities and the LGBTQI+ community. Also, in the space of gender diversity, among other things, we introduced a program call ‘Home to Office’ wherein we wanted to enable women who had taken a break in their careers to get a chance to come back into the workforce. In addition to this, we have also endeavored to have senior technical women as leaders.
How can organizations create and drive an inclusive work-based culture?
Firstly, there needs to be a very strong voice from the top. I think that is super critical. Whether it is about bringing talent in or about nurturing the diverse talent that we have, a strong voice from the leadership team kind of drives the thought process and actions around diversity and inclusion. At Intel, we have been marching ahead taking big, bold goals, and looking at diversity and inclusion year on year.
Moreover, it is important to measure, take goals, track them and hold people accountable for them. And then, all actions are geared up towards those goals. Also, inclusion needs to be spoken about at various levels and it needs to reflect through actions. I think it should start with leaders and managers talking about inclusion and practicing inclusion in the way they manage people and work. It is also to look at processes and channels where employees can voice if they are not feeling included.
Inclusion has to go hand-in-hand with diversity. If you don't have inclusion embedded into your culture and therefore, flexing in different ways, it is just a waste of having a diverse workforce
What do you think are the leadership imperatives for a diverse and inclusive workplace?
The first imperative is about being fearless and challenging one’s own assumptions — all of these are critical at the leadership level. When you challenge yourself and challenge how your managers hire, the kind of profiles you hire, etc., you push the boundaries by being fearless and hence, you can actually include people who are diverse. Second imperative is driving the vision that you have regarding topics like D&I as a leader. We need to ask ourselves as leaders what does it mean for me in my organization, and if I had to talk about this at my organization with a lot of weight behind it, I need to be able to articulate that with complete conviction. The next one is about being really bold enough as a leader and create and track your goals related to people in the diversity space and link it back to the bottom-line. And lastly, one very critical imperative is how you address concerns regarding inclusion when things are not in line with the philosophy of the organization. Your actions need to reflect your philosophy and your words.