Article: Varadharaju Janardhanan on how Flipkart empowers its diverse workforce to do their best work


Varadharaju Janardhanan on how Flipkart empowers its diverse workforce to do their best work

In conversation with Varadharaju Janardhanan of Flipkart, gain insights into their innovative diversity programmes, talent development strategies, and the future of inclusive workplaces.
Varadharaju Janardhanan on how Flipkart empowers its diverse workforce to do their best work

Varadharaju Janardhanan is the Vice President - Human Resources at Flipkart. He is a seasoned Global HR Leader adept at driving growth for start-ups and mid-sized organisations through strategic HR initiatives. 

As an advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), Varadharaju has also been instrumental in Flipkart's journey towards building an inclusive workplace for individuals of all abilities, particularly championing the employment of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) across Flipkart's hubs and fulfilment centres in India. In this exclusive interview, we dive deeper into their initiatives and unlock strategies on how organisations can truly create and champion an inclusive workplace.

Here are some key excerpts.

In your experience, how have diverse and inclusive workplaces contributed to driving innovation and improving organisational performance at Flipkart?

Diversity fosters innovation and progress by bringing varied perspectives and experiences to the table. Flipkart’s focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is all-encompassing. Our workforce reflects a rich tapestry of diverse backgrounds, perspectives and experiences. Our policies are committed to celebrating diversity across the organisation which creates a level-playing field for all employees. 

We believe in the power of diversity as a catalyst to success. Women play an instrumental role in our success, bringing diverse perspectives that enhance productivity and innovation.

In the recent past, our supply chain operations team has witnessed a remarkable transformation, with female representation increasing by 64% over the last 2 years. Further, in our last mile, we have achieved a 25-30% diversity ratio.

Our internal surveys facilitated regularly ensure open and frequent communication with all employees, and results show both male and female employees are equally happy in the last mile. We have also observed that a diverse workforce ensures more tolerance and adaptability in the workplace because there are people from different backgrounds. 

Moreover, our commitment extends beyond gender diversity to embrace various other communities, including Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), veterans, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. We are proud to have a workforce that includes over 2,200 individuals with disabilities who are integral to our operations, serving in roles from team leads to delivery hub managers in our supply chain operations team. The impact of this diverse workforce is not just anecdotal but is tangible.

We have observed a positive correlation between diversity and our business metrics. Embracing diversity has not only boosted employee morale and loyalty but has also enhanced our overall organisational performance.

Another important aspect is that we ensure that the talent pool from which we source from is not homogeneous. Thus, there is a focus on diversity at every level in the recruitment process - which include balanced Hiring panels, diversity representation in the final slate, employee referral to build a stronger organisation, hiring events for lateral candidates etc. 

At Flipkart, we also reward inclusive behaviour regularly and one such example is the workplace equality award in our annual awards - which is awarded to a team that passionately champions DEI. Our people have always been the reason for our success. The ability of every Flipster to scale audacious challenges, take risks and create the best work together enables us to set higher ambitions for transforming commerce in India.

Over the last few years, we have made significant strides in hiring employees from various cohorts and significantly underrepresented groups such as Veterans, People with disabilities and people from the LGBTQ+ community.  The business case for DEI is stronger than ever. At Flipkart, we believe that when diversity is at the table, the discussion is richer, the decision-making process is better, and the organisation is stronger.

What common myths and stereotypes surround persons with disabilities in the workplace, and how can organisations foster a better understanding of different abilities?

Organisations often believe that persons with disabilities have limited capabilities and narrow job roles. However, it's crucial to challenge these assumptions and recognise the diverse talents and abilities of PWDs. At Flipkart, we've implemented a paradigm shift in how we view individual capabilities. We believe in harnessing an individual's strengths and assigning roles accordingly, allowing them to discover and shine through their abilities. Today, we have PwD employees growing at Flipkart in diverse roles,  ranging from overseeing facility operations to team leads, data entry operators, and ground-level activities, such as picking, packing and sorting. Two of our hubs in Bangalore and Delhi are smoothly led by PwD employees.  With continuous upskilling, training dedicated resource capabilities, and sensitisation efforts, we are constantly working towards fostering their growth through opportunities and facilities within the organisation. 

Could you share some initiatives implemented by Flipkart to remove barriers to growth and opportunities for all employees, particularly focusing on ensuring equal access to advancement and development?

We are committed to creating a workplace that is inclusive in all forms. We believe in creating equal opportunities which are both democratic and empowering at the same time. One of the key approaches to achieving this is by closely monitoring the overall performance metrics and providing our employees with the necessary tools and support to thrive in their roles within the organisation.

This process begins from the very basics of goal setting, where we have established clear metrics and goals, including specific targets for different employee cohorts, be it women, or veterans. These targets serve as guiding principles, enabling a fair and qualitative process to track progress and identify areas for improvement. Moreover, we believe in empowering our employees with the resources they need to succeed and become the best version of themselves. Through mentorship programmes, skill development workshops, or access to career advancement opportunities, we strive to provide a supportive ecosystem that fosters personal and professional growth. 

For instance, 'Vidyarthini' - an industry-first programme by Flipkart, aims to inform and create awareness about Supply Chain roles and careers among female students in B-School students. Another initiative ‘FlipMarch’ onboards ex-Army personnel across our value chain, offering them customised induction, sensitisation programmes, and curated learning programmes to enable a seamless transition into corporate job roles.

At Flipkart, we deeply appreciate the invaluable contributions of working mothers, recognising their pivotal roles in both their professional endeavours and personal lives. To effectively support them, we have implemented innovative strategies rooted in adaptability and inclusivity. Our approach to shaping these policies and programmes is dynamic, continually evolving to meet the ever-changing needs of our workforce. Through meaningful conversations with mothers, internal surveys and extensive stakeholder consultations, we've created the Mom-On-Board programme which helps Mothers navigate their motherhood journey along with their career ambitions. This initiative stands as a testament to our support for working mothers throughout their maternity journey, offering tailored career growth opportunities within a nurturing ecosystem. Complementing this are progressive childcare policies such as daycare enrollment and FlexBen benefits customisation, along with amenities like nursing rooms and dedicated parking spaces, ensuring a comfortable work environment for expectant and new mothers. 

At Flipkart, we believe that our diverse workforce is the true strength of our organisation, and we will continue to take proactive measures to ensure each employee is respected for their valuable contributions. 

Flipkart has been a pioneer in championing diversity, equity, and inclusion by employing persons with disabilities across its hubs. Could you elaborate on the inclusive ecosystem Flipkart has built for PwDs and the impact it has had on both the employees and the organisation?

Flipkart’s venture into creating an inclusive environment for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) has been transformative, not just for our employees but the organisation as a whole.  Launched in 2017, our specialised programme was designed to seamlessly integrate PwDs into our supply chain workforce.

Today, with over 2200 individuals working across various roles, including team leads, data entry operators, and sorters, we have witnessed a steady increase in representation each year. Our two PwD hubs in Delhi and Bangalore, managed entirely by individuals with disabilities, exemplify our commitment to creating a workplace that embraces diversity.

To address the unique requirements of our PwD employees, we initiated the inclusion process with sensitisation seminars and specialised classroom training. Additionally, through our 'Aarambh' program, we've trained 275 employees as sign-language interpreters, facilitating seamless communication. We also offer specialised support, including sign-language experts and equipment like wheelchairs and tricycles for deliveries, customised to meet their requirements. Prioritising their safety, we've integrated emergency features on smartphones, distributed flashcards with emergency numbers, and equipped them with reflective jackets for easy identification.

Through these initiatives, we aim not only to empower individuals with disabilities but also to enrich our organisational culture with diverse perspectives and talents.

As we look towards the future, what role do you envision diversity, equity, and inclusion playing in shaping the workplace of tomorrow, and what advice would you give to other organisations looking to truly build an inclusive workplace?

DEI should be embraced as a way of life rather than merely perceived as an organisational mandate. Conversations concerning DEI shouldn't be segregated but instead embedded into the organisation’s culture, therefore becoming an integral part of the business. At Flipkart, DEI assumes a central role in shaping the very essence of our organisation. Our objective has consistently been to foster an environment where every individual, irrespective of their background or identity, feels valued, respected, and empowered to bring their authentic selves to work. A fundamental aspect of promoting DEI is seamlessly integrating it into the everyday operations of the organisation. Rather than treating it as a separate initiative, we've woven it into our policies, practices, and decision-making processes.

Truly inclusive workplaces aren't solely built by adhering to mandates or guidelines. They're built upon a foundation of openness, belief in equity, and the conviction that all employees are equal; and that opportunities are abundant and equally accessible to all.

At Flipkart, we currently have fulfilment centres led by women and Persons with Disabilities (PwD) across the country. However, it has never been about meeting a specific requirement for a centre to be led by women. It occurred naturally as part of our organisational culture, where we attracted top female talent in the supply chain field.

Ultimately, building an inclusive workplace is not just about ticking boxes; but is imperative for driving innovation, fostering creativity, and achieving sustainable growth.

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Topics: Leadership, Diversity, Culture, #HRCommunity

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