Maria Sitaramayya leads the Human Resources function across Asia Pacific at Unisys. In this role, Maria is responsible for providing end to end Human Resources support for over 8000 associates across 13 different countries in the Asia Pacific region.
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, she talks about the talent challenges in the IT sector where continuous skilling and diversity are transforming the business.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
What are some of the top job related trends you’re observing in the IT sector across the APAC region?
In terms of the changing market from a technology point of view, the shifts are incredibly important. When we look at India, it's about skills and new technologies. So, there’s a lot of focus on technologies like artificial intelligence or augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics, blockchain architecture, etc. And in order to remain relevant, it's so important for us to make sure that we have those skills and are continuously working on developing those skills.
Across the Asian market, the war on talent continues. It's something that we've always been very focused on. The war on talent has also ensured that we work towards developing and retaining our talent in-house just as much as we attract our talent.
The other big trend that we've seen from our marketplace is to do with engagement. How do we make sure that we are engaging our employees across diverse markets? Because what engages employees in one market might not necessarily work in another market.
And then the third trend is the rising focus on diversity and inclusion. We’re looking at how we make sure that we have a diverse set of people. We focused on gender over the last twelve months and are now looking at expanding that definition in terms of different cultures, skills and opportunity areas.
Diversity is about being invited to the party, but inclusion means feeling free to dance at that party.
How are you enabling some of these new skills and what do you see things that companies are doing right and what are some challenge areas there?
The way we've done it is by having a learning path platform where we have enabled certification. And we are investing in our technology and making sure people actually can get certified so that they constantly grow these skills. It's important for the employee as well because they want to be marketable.
I think the bigger challenge for us is to keep up with technology updates. Often, when people are upskilling themselves, they’re also working on their current role and that can be challenging. And there’s also a constant focus on how do we retain them once we've invested in skills? And it comes down to enabling a continuous learning culture.
Could you also talk about creating the continuous learning culture that you're trying to build? How are employees balancing work and learning? Do employees have specific mandated skills or it’s up to them?
We did both, meaning some skills are required, and we push people to be certified in those areas. But we also focus on the individual’s development plan by making sure that there's that discussion which happens between a leader and the employee to understand personal aspirations.
The culture aspect is that it’s not just a once a year conversation, but it's a continuous discussion between a leader and their employees about what those skills are that they need to develop and also link it to their passion.
There’s a trend in IT where there’s a reduction of jobs at the middle to senior level management. This is again, probably related to skilling. How do you see this?
Our focus is really on making sure that we’re engaging in early career training for graduates. They're often the ones who come in and understand these technologies and are very willing to take on challenges. We don't have a mandate in terms of reducing a certain percentage of the middle management, etc. But what we make sure that we are skilling at all levels of the pyramid.
Companies need to make their gig workers feel engaged and aligned to the company values and mission.
In the IT sector, studies have shown that even if the entry field is 50:50 in terms of gender representation, the ratio keeps getting skewed towards the top. How do you look at diversity and inclusion?
Diversity is about being invited to the party, but inclusion means feeling free to dance at that party. And so we don't just want diversity and, we want people to feel included and be part of something. The way we've tackle the challenge is to look at it across the employee life cycle – what are the things that we need to do from an attraction point of view, from a growth and development point of view and from a retention point of view.
From an attraction point of view, we've looked at things like unconscious bias because leaders don't go into an interview or a meeting if they will not hire that person. For leaders involved in hiring, we've made them aware of unconscious bias by using bite-size videos, and it is a part of leadership training.
We also look at something called the ‘belonging index’ – where we pulse the organization to see if people feel like that they belong at Unisys.
We started a women leadership development series, with the idea to bring together our future leader, across Asia Pacific and we conduct forums with them on topics like – how do you put together an individual development plan? How do you brand yourself as a female? We truly believe that we need to develop those middle and senior level female leaders.
Although we did start with gender, our focus is now on going beyond gender - to different cultures, ways of thinking, age groups, skills. For example, in Australia, we're working with veterans and indigenous culture groups to ensure that we bring that in. In the US, we look at US minorities.
Could you talk about the belonging index a little bit more? Is this an internal index and what do you measure?
What we do is we actually post randomly, globally. Every six weeks, we ask them a set of questions – which is around do you feel heard at the company, what are these things that are motivating you and engaging you? And we target our high potentials. We look at the data by gender. The belonging index, like the engagement index gives us data to look at retention and engagement.
There's another trend, within the IT sector which is the rise of gig workers. Is that something that you are seeing in the context of your company?
It's something that we as a company need to really focus on. We absolutely do see it as a trend, and actually something that we're starting to talk about. But in terms of the developing strategy, that's something that we need to work on.
One of the challenge areas with gig workers seems to be about how do you align gig workers to the culture of the company. How do you think HR leaders should address that?
I think it is about making sure that when they are with the company they feel engaged and aligned to those values and the company. Again, that's going to be a huge challenge, because we are an organization that hasn’t done a lot of work on the gig economy.