In this special interview with Pradnya Kulkarni we explore the ever-sensitive topic of workplace diversity. She gives us a lowdown on why diversity is not only an HR function but a business imperative. She also talks about unconscious bias and why, despite organisations pushing hard to bring about a change, we still have a long way to go. Read on to know what Pradnya thinks about role of gender in determining pay in India and what she feels can be done to bring about a significant shift in workplaces.
Pradnya is an established HR and change leader specializing in building the human capital capability to drive growth, innovation and continuous improvement. A strategic and commercial business partner, she has 18 years of experience and is skilled in organisational change and culture development, leadership and talent management, and building diverse teams across various lines of business and regions. Pradnya currently leads Talent and Learning for APAC region at Western Union. In the past, she has held various leadership positions at UBS, HSBC, and Tech Mahindra.
Q: You’ve 20 years of experience working at organisations like UBS, HSBC, and Tech Mahindra. Please tell us about your journey thus far. Is there an instance that left a lasting impact on your professional life? We’d love to hear.
A: I’ve had a fulfilling professional journey and have had the privilege of working with some good leaders and global organisations. I would broadly break down my last two decades of experience into three distinct pockets–(a) the low-touch, high-volume part which involves driving activities across organisations that directly touch the lives of our workforce, (b) being the HR Business Partner for largely virtual teams where you may not be able to put faces to many names and yet you need to connect with them as well as you would with physically co-located teams, and (c) being the trusted advisor to the business in helping translate the business vision into a coherent people strategy. I have traversed a vast spectrum of operating models that have been fit for purpose for the organisations and their level of maturity. I’ve had exposure leading great teams across Recruitment, Talent, Generalists and HR Transformation and Change; however, D&I has always been closest to my heart. And let me tell you the trigger –we were interacting with Enable India as part of our inclusion strategy for differently abled. During this, we had the opportunity to meet some really amazing candidates who have transcended their physical challenges in inspiring ways. What one of them said has remained etched into my mind –he said that we have had to face so many challenges through our life that finding solution to any issues is like second nature to us. That’s when I truly became a convert.
Q: From what we’ve read and heard at one of your talks at an event last year, diversity is a topic close to your heart. And your work experience seconds this. What do you think makes diversity an important, or should we say must-have, aspect for every organisation’s HR framework?
A: Diversity is not an HR deliverable. It’s a business imperative. It helps you get a better understanding of your customers–one of often cited examples of D&I is the fact that in 2014 nearly 12 million disabled people in the UK were estimated to have a combined disposable income of 80 billion pounds. Yet, in 2017, it was shown that only 25% of the total disabled population was employed. The businesses which actually employed people who identified as disabled are better able to appreciate their needs and therefore, design products or services that suit their needs –thus giving the company a competitive edge. The same principle applies to gender diversity and cultural diversity. Therefore, no wonder the 2018 LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends survey showed nearly half of the organisations saying that the primary reason they focus on diversity is to have their workforce mirror the larger society that they are part of. (Source:Business Disability Forum.Org.UK)
A focus on diversity also results in greater innovation and creativity, access to wider talent pool, and a boost to the brand. –In the current world, where the workforce is very clear-headed about what they want to do, where they want to work and how they want to work –an organisation that focuses upon diversity has a much better brand to attract candidates.
Diversity is not an HR deliverable. It’s a business imperative. It helps you get a better understanding of your customers.
In a 2017 survey by PwC, 54% of women and 45% of men said they researched if a company has a well-defined D&I policy when deciding whether to accept the employment. A further 61% women and 48% men said they assessed the diversity of the leadership team while taking an employment decision.
Q: Diversity is fundamental to Western Union’s workforce DNA. How do you create an atmosphere where all people of every ethnicity, social background, religion, gender, age or disability feel welcomed and valued?
A: We believe diversity is a core strength at Western Union and consider it an asset in fostering WU’s core values to be globally minded, purpose driven, trustworthy and respectful. It starts with our leadership and manifests throughout our global workforce and our Board. The diversity of the people who work at Western Union represents our commitment to creating and maintaining a versatile and global workforce where everyone is treated fairly, with trust and respect, while also rewarding and recognizing individuals based on high quality results and effectiveness.
Q: The company has been recognized by 2020 Women on Boards for helping foster an environment where women can get ahead. How has this impacted your D&I initiatives? Any particular initiatives you plan to introduce in 2019 or any past programmes that you’re proud of?
A: In 2015 Western Union set an aspirational company goal, informed by Mercer data and pipeline availability, to increase representation of women at the director level and above. Since that time:
- Female VP+ representation has increased
- Female Director+ representation is higher than average benchmarks.
- In 2018 WU ranked among Mogul’s top 175 worldwide honorees for Top 1000 Companies with the Strongest Female Leaders
WU’s representation of gender and ethnic diversity is good, but we are continuing to increase transparency with our aspirations, programs and commitments. We continue to evaluate new programs and experiences that will drive long-term value for both our employees, customers and shareholders. The WU Way is helping to create a more transparent and open culture with:
- High potential leadership development program – (launched in 2014) – 50/50 gender representation
- Women@WU advisory committee (launched in 2015)
- Mentoring circles and forums (launched in 2016) – (Senior Managers + Directors and above).
Q: How can good leadership change the conversation around diversity and inclusion and can help in creating a meaningfully diverse and inclusive environment?
A: The Tone at the Top is a very critical element in driving any change. As I mentioned earlier, diversity is a business imperative in the sense that businesses that reflect the composition of the society at large are best placed to develop product and services that satisfy the needs of most of its constituents. Therefore, making D&I a part of your company’s DNA is a leader’s job. Then, the senior management steps in to ensure that the message is contextualized for their respective business lines and driven forward.
Q: Do you think that soon companies will be creating positions like “chief diversity and inclusion officers” to drive impactful change?
A: Well, that future is already here in some sense. Many global organisations already have given this role a seat at the table. And what that does is act as a lighthouse. However, I personally believe, it’s best when we create champions of change across the different levels to carry the message and weave it into the fabric of the organisation. That way everyone comes together to own the agenda and find ways to contextualize the diversity and inclusion aspect in every decision and action.
Q: While it is emphasised that diversity is good for the organisations, why are companies hesitant of acknowledging bias and addressing the gender pay gap?
A: I see most companies aggressively adopting measures to remove or reduce unconscious bias. It is a change which takes time to incorporate throughout the organisation. Therefore, in my view, what is more important is to ensure that thoroughness takes precedence over speed. Changing attitudes, especially in a strongly patriarchal society like India, is easier said than done. What is important, and I see it happening, is to ensure that organisations stay the course on this long haul journey.
Things are not going to radically change overnight. What is important to note is that most organisations are focusing on ensuring gender parity in various things like promotion, pay reviews etc. Increasingly, there are roles being published which are diversity-only roles.
Q: When we talk about equal pay for equal work, women in India earn 20 per cent less than men. According to you, how does gender plays an important parameter while determining salaries in India?
A: Again, reiterating my earlier point, this is an evolutionary journey. Equal pay for equal work, as a reward principle, is widely accepted and I don’t see instances where salary budgets are gender dependent. What is important to note is that most organisations appear to be focusing on ensuring gender parity through promotions, pay, reviews etc. Companies are increasingly hiring roles that focus upon diversity at leadership levels within the organisation.
Q: People in general, think that men make better leaders and managers whereas women make better caretakers. Does such type of unconscious bias play any role when determining pay or promotion?
A: That’s precisely the reason why D&I is so important in today’s world and why many companies are laying great emphasis on driving it from the very top. As human race, we are on an evolution journey and the gender and role stereotypes are changing. However, it would be naïve to believe that there are no unconscious biases in any organisations. We have a long way to go to build a truly egalitarian society. Having said this, the last several years have seen significant efforts and improvement in breaking down these cultural and social barriers. To cite a very recent example, though from the political domain, the latest US congress is the most diverse both in terms of gender and ethnicity which is a great advert for the progress that I am mentioning in wider society. The other new development is that new code of conduct brought out in UK for advertising which inadvertently tends to perpetuate some of the gender stereotypes. These are very welcome developments that accelerate our journey to a more equal society that would inevitably find its reflection in our corporate world.
Fundamentally, it is important to understand and appreciate that every single person is a unique combination of their race, gender, upbringing education and social circumstances. Until we get curious by listening to others’ perspectives and points of view and learning to respect them, we will not be able to move away from overt biases. Unconscious biases can be managed by minimizing stereotypes, assumptions and structures that maximize the possibility for more a multi-dimensional workforce.
Q: Learning and development are one of many workplace dynamics that needs to be more inclusive. How can modern training methods help in achieving so?
A: The rapidly evolving technology does indeed play a major role in making L&D more inclusive. In most organisations, trainings are now on a self-service model. People can benefit from these at a place and time which is most convenient to them. Additionally, with the advent of voice assistants, on the fly language translations etc, the reach of the learning function has also expanded substantially.