In this intriguing interview with All Things Talent, Raj Aradhyula, the Chief People Officer at Fractal Analytics talks about how digitization has disrupted the HR field and what recruiters can do to better utilize data and make informed decisions. She also talks about the importance of gender based equality and equal representation of women at workplace and what role corporates can play in ensuring the same. Read on as Raj also delves on issues like menstrual leaves and continuous improvement in corporate culture.
Raj is a people leader and a leadership coach who believes in bringing love to the workplace. A feminist by belief, she wants to build a workplace that offers equal opportunities to everyone, irrespective of any biases. She has over 18 years of experience in people and leadership management, and is currently serving the Chief People Officer at Fractal Analytics. In the past, she has been a part of organisations like Prudential and Gridstone Research.
Q. With your work experience of nearly 2 decades, how would you define the trajectory of your professional life? What have been the key takeaways which helped you evolve into a leader?
A. When I started off my career (18 years ago), I felt very independent and confident, maybe even arrogant, thinking I can get everything done and by myself. Over time, I have come to recognize the interdependent nature of things, and realized how little one can achieve with a superhuman attitude like that. When I look back at the many key milestones in my life, the happiest and most fulfilling ones were when I was around people I cared for and loved. Because that creates an environment of trust and helps one rise above the challenges and doubts. So, my biggest takeaway is to invest in people and nurture relationships.
Q. With the coming age of digitization how important has it become for HR professionals to understand and apply data analytics greater than ever? According to you, how well can data be used to inform, transform and empower HR decisions?
A. Firstly, there has been explosive growth in data and information. We all know that. We want to make sense of it to find signals and patterns that will inform our understanding of the world and guide our decisions. However, we also understand that our minds are riddled with cognitive biases.
For example, we are prone to confirmation bias, where we selectively process data to reconfirm our existing beliefs. Or the halo effect, where we lazily extrapolate our impressions in one area to inform all other areas and form incorrect perceptions. It is impossible for our brains to accurately examine all the evidence, assign probabilities, and decide logically. These type of biases impact all business decisions, whether in sales and marketing or HR. So, institutionalizing data-driven decision making is a business imperative, and just as applicable in HR as in other areas.
There are several interesting application areas in HR – for example, at Fractal, we receive 100,000 resumes a year and it takes an enormous amount of time to go through and screen each resume, and many times we are not able to get to all of the resumes. We built a tool using machine learning models to algorithmically screen resumes, and have had pretty good results. There are plenty of use cases like this. The need is for all leaders of people, including the HR community, to embrace and encourage the idea of bringing science into people decisions.
“I believe we can make a meaningful dent to the situation if governments focus specifically on addressing the issue of girl education and incentivize creating employment opportunities for women. Corporates can play a meaningful role by hiring more women and having more women in senior leadership roles who serve as role models.”
Q. At Fractal Analytics, how do you ensure success in building a continuous improvement culture? What measurement metrics are being set up when initiating a cultural change policy?
A. We are very measurement focused. For every organisational priority area, we define a metric and track it over time to understand progress. Our values and ‘people principles’ define our culture. People principles are a set of 7 codified principles that define and guide the Fractal DNA. Introducing people principles was the biggest cultural milestone at Fractal. It tested our inhibitions, conviction, and courage. It required relentless focus, open debates, and discussions. Today, it is Fractal’s central and most distinguishing feature.
We regularly measure how true we are to our values based on employee feedback surveys. The two biggest focus areas we have are our clients and our people. We use NPS to measure client advocacy and we also measure employee engagement regularly. About a year and a half ago, we decided to double down on learning and development. We created a metric to measure the overall level of skill in the company and we have been regularly tracking it.
Q. In your opinion why do women still fall behind in the corporate world even though gender-based equality with equal representation of women is now considered one of the ‘must haves’ in almost every corporate strategy? What can be done to break this cracked glass ceiling entirely?
The core issue that requires attention from corporates, governments, and the society at large, is for all sections of societies to be included in and benefited from economic growth.
Having a diverse workforce is the first step in this direction. We have all kinds of diversity issues in corporate India today, based on gender, caste, ethnicity, and also things like rural-urban divide, type of college, sexual orientation etc. Specifically, in terms of gender, it is true that we are far behind when it comes to representation today. Unfortunately, there are obstacles in every step of the way, and girls and women drop off at various stages – from the womb, from the classroom, and from careers. I believe we can make a meaningful dent to the situation if governments focus specifically on addressing the issue of girl education and incentivize creating employment opportunities for women.
Corporates can play a meaningful role by hiring more women and having more women in senior leadership roles who serve as role models.
For example, at Fractal, we ran a campaign focused on hiring women in tech, and 75% of our hires were women from that campaign. That number is usually in the 25-30% range. Finally, I don’t believe it is a ‘must-have’ priority in the corporate strategy. It is nice to have one that can be attended to once the “core” business issues are addressed. And that needs to change. Diversity must become a core priority, and our institutions – government and corporate – must develop the collective will and resolve to address the issue.
Q. Can you describe a time when you implemented an HR initiative, new policy or program that didn’t stick? What did you do differently to make it work successfully?
A. Our engagement surveys and feedback discussions told us that people lacked appreciation and tend to be too self-critical. So, we wanted to focus on appreciation, and encourage the habit of noticing the good in the world and feeling grateful. We ran a challenge last
Thanksgiving called the “gratitude challenge”, in collaboration with the Greater Good Science Centre of University of California, Berkeley. People had to log in to a website and express their gratitude publicly or privately. While there was some buzz initially around it, that initiative did not stick at all, and very few people actually used it. In hindsight, a program like that needed intuitive technology to create a “safe space”, and behavioural science to nudge people towards logging in their feelings of gratitude. The right kind of nudges in a program like this would have made all the difference.
“Introducing people principles was the biggest cultural milestone at Fractal. It tested our inhibitions, conviction, and courage. It required relentless focus, open debates, and discussions. Today, it is Fractal’s central and most distinguishing feature.”
Q. How do you ensure the HR department’s objectives are aligned with strategic goals at Fractal Analytics? What sets it apart from the other companies?
A. We have an interesting way to create alignment and shared interest across leaders. As an HR leader, I am measured on exactly the same outcomes as the rest of the executive team. This type of shared goals automatically increases the focus on strategic priorities of the company and helps us set the rest of the company’s goals accordingly.
Q. With few companies now endorsing paid ‘menstrual leave’, there have been few people who are opposing this initiative. According to you, should women be entitled to such leaves or be provided with the flexibility of working from home?
A. Firstly, I think leaves should not be categorized – privilege, sick, menstrual or whatever else. People need to take time off for various reasons, and they should be free do that without the fear of judgement. Secondly, talking specifically about menstrual leave, it is not a new concept or initiative. It has been common, at least in theory, in East Asian countries like Japan, Indonesia etc.
Even in India, as early as 1912, Kerala had permitted menstrual leave during annual exams to girls. The reason it is discussed is that it is a real health issue for women – 80% of women suffer from dysmenorrhoea (heavy and painful periods) and are unable to do much work during that time.
They need that time off, and have been taking it (in corporate workplaces) by stating they are “not feeling well”. Another reason is that there is a lot of shame associated with menstruation and it has been a taboo topic.
The general point people are trying to make with the menstrual leave is to raise awareness that it is a biological need for many women, to create a positive body image, and to remove the shame associated with menstruation. I think that message is important to understand and communicate. I do not know if menstrual leave policy accomplishes that goal, and what the results have been.