How Amazon India is adding Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive talent to their workforce?
Every individual offers a unique perspective to the workplace and adds immense value – With this belief, Amazon India has been building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce across its operations network.
Swati Rustagi, Director HR, Amazon India Operations
Over the last few years, Amazon India has launched multiple initiatives to bring diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce. This includes women-operated and owned delivery station in Chennai and Kadi, Gujarat; centres run and managed by transgender individuals; silent delivery stations in Mumbai; and Military Veterans Employment Program to name a few. Amazon India also launched an all-women Virtual Customer Service (VCS) facility in Bengaluru recently reaffirming its commitment to empower women with flexible and safe livelihood opportunities.
With many such new inclusions, Swati Rustagi, Director HR, Amazon India Operations came on board for a candid conversation with BW Businessworld's Correspondents to elaborate more upon many such initiatives taken for Amazon India's employees.
1. What are Amazon’s plans to nurture its pool of talent?
At Amazon, we maintain a high bar for talent to stay ahead of ever-evolving customer expectations. Finding the right people and investing in their growth is essential to build a team that is constantly innovating on behalf of customers.
We work relentlessly to define products and programs that enable us to objectively identify top talent and ensure that we provide crucible experiences to our talent for them to be the best version of themselves. Leadership efforts are concentrated around removing barriers for talent to perform at the highest bar, enable talent to explore boundaries they may have defined for themselves , encourage them to risk, to fail and learn from their actions so they build ability to make high judgement decisions and lead at scale.
In line with our leadership principles of hire and develop the best, our leaders constantly look to hire people who are smarter than they are, thereby, raising the performance bar to collectively grow.
At Amazon, the relentless pursuit to drive a higher customer impact means we have a dedicated team that constantly innovates, using research and insights around talent internal and external to Amazon to set in motion the ‘Talent fly wheel’, empowering employees to continuously improve their skills and grow by increasing the scope and opportunity for them to demonstrate performance.
2. What are the processes and policies to build a collaborative work culture? What does it take for an organisation to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce?
At Amazon India, we foster a culture that offers people equal opportunities to unlock their full potential while empowering them to do more. Our commitment to equality stems across all communities of talent including focused efforts around women, LGBTQ, military veterans and the differently-abled, amongst others.
We strongly believe that every individual brings a unique perspective to the workplace and adds immense value to our network. Over the last few years, Amazon India has launched multiple initiatives to bring diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce. This includes women-operated and owned delivery station in Chennai and Kadi, Gujarat; centres run and managed by transgender individuals; silent delivery stations in Mumbai; and Military Veterans Employment Program to name a few. We have also launched an all-women Virtual Customer Service (VCS) facility in Bengaluru recently, reaffirming our commitment to empower women with flexible and safe livelihood opportunities. We are continuously introducing initiatives that further strengthens our culture of inclusion and enables us to serve our customers better. Our focus is equally distributed around ensuring diverse employee cohorts are represented in our workforce and in ensuring we have appropriate programs mechanisms for them to thrive at the workplace.
Building inclusion is not simply about policies and programs but about helping leaders and teams reflect on their styles and impact it creates on different employee groups. Collaboration is an automatic outcome of such inclusive efforts across employee types and levels. Data, technology and our culture of using Doc reviews for decisions are great enablers to our flat, collaborative culture.
3. What are the opportunities that a DEI workforce brings?
This is a well-researched topic and we at Amazon have a leadership principle that encourages leaders to seek diverse opinions before finalizing outcomes. We believe in seeking inputs to our proposals from those that we know are likely to have contrary views so that we have thought through all dimensions of a problem before we decide on a course of action. We call this the ability of our leaders to “disagree and commit”. At Amazon India, we are constantly looking for leaders who can invent, think big, have a bias for action, and deliver results on behalf of our customers. We value unique perspectives, experiences and cultural backgrounds across the Operations network - it is this diversity that enables us to better serve the ever evolving needs of our customers.
4. In these uncertain times, do you foresee the pay cycles being transformed in a new sense? Will it change to a daily, weekly, or fortnightly basis?
Pay cycles tend to be defined by legislation in a country. We believe working models will evolve not just on account of the current uncertain times but as a natural evolution of workspaces and the way talent prefers to interact with work. For example, Gig-economy and self-employment has picked in a big way, which is beneficial, both for organizations and individuals. It gives the individuals an opportunity to determine what, when, and, how much they want to do and also an opportunity to explore different kinds of roles. For employers, it opens up opportunities to scale based on business requirements and customer demand.
The change in labor model will also unfold opportunities to tap into different talent segments which have had marginal involvement in active economy like housewives, students etc., and leading to improved GDP. Our employment models like FLEX, ALFA provide opportunities for such workforce. Amazon’s Virtual Customer Service (VCS) initiative creates opportunities for women to work from home while contributing in critical roles and managing their personal responsibility.
We see the government efforts in acknowledging and regulating Gig-economy as a forward looking move which will enable significant innovation in labor models over time. E-Commerce has also opened up opportunities for sellers and I have personally seen so many small and medium enterprises scale as sellers and further create employment opportunities in their ecosystem. Allowing for self-publishing on platforms like kindle has created a whole new generation of writers. These models may translate to impacting pay cycles, but we believe that pay cycles will be a consequence of the labor models.
5. What are the three successful best practices you would continue that make Amazon India an employee-centric organisation and employee engagement as a priority even in this new normal world?
It is hard to choose three practices from an organization like Amazon which is constantly focused on people experience and hence innovating its people practices. The three examples here indicate our current focus in these uncertain times and are a reflection of how we look at our people experiences.
- Listening deeply: At Amazon India, we listening to our employees daily. We believe that deep listening allows us to keep building better experiences for our people. We have a practice called the ‘Voice of Associate’ where all front line associates are encouraged to write their questions and concerns on a board which is kept at all our sites (physical and virtual options available as also anonymous suggestions are enabled). The site leadership dedicates daily bandwidth to read through all questions and comments and to respond to them with a specific action within 24 hours. These queries range from job roles, products/processes etc. It helps us identify patterns and trends and address concerns if any. We believe that the transparent response mechanisms encourages our people to keep using this mechanism. Similarly, we have a mechanism called ‘Connections’ where all employees of Amazon respond anonymously to a question or two each day around a wide array of topics including safety, workplace efficiency, workplace culture, leader preferences, work styles and more. We have transparent review mechanisms on a daily, weekly and monthly basis of this data and we leverage it to provide targeted solutions to enhance employee experience.
- Focus on well-being: Our efforts to ensure the well-being of our employees takes multiple forms, from providing health covers to both direct and indirect employees and extending support to their families. We focus on providing assistance towards the health, nutrition and mental well-being to all our employees regularly. In midst of the pandemic, we ensured that we extended support and information to the families as well on how they could stay healthy and safe. We provided guidance to our employees on ways to ensure safety of their families. We had multiple interventions with children of our employees, given the breakdown of formal schooling mechanisms to ensure that they kept learning. In addition, we safeguarded our employees, partners and vendors with support packages so they felt protected in the times of uncertainty.
- Quality of experience: One of Amazon India’s key focus areas in terms of employee centricity is the access and visibility provided to the employees within the organisation to participate in crucial decision-making processes. This enables them to get the right exposure and experiences and helps them grow into evolved professionals that are deeply valued, not just within Amazon but anywhere in the world across industries.
6. As a HR Leader, what are the three major areas you would focus on to build a more resilient and strong organisation?
- Culture: At Amazon India, Our Day 1 culture and Leadership principles are the foundation of who we are, what we do and how we do it. We believe this approach helps us build a workforce that is self-guided and self-managed and enables everyone from front line associates to senior leaders make the right decisions in difficult and ambiguous situations. We firmly believe that congruence between our focus on our Day 1 culture and our business and people practices , enables us to constantly obsess over what is important- customers, communities and the long term.
- Talent: In his 2017 share holder letter, Jeff Bezos said “One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’.
To meet this constantly evolving bar, we believe, relentless focus on talent makes an organization stronger and resilient. Our focus here is to continue to take on new challenges and raise the bar for talent, irrespective if it is an internal or external hire. This requires us to innovate and identify early trends on talent and evolving skills, building experiences, products and programs that will enable our talent to scale and stay ahead of the divine discontent.
- Focus on diversity, equity and inclusivity: For an organisation to be resilient and strong, it needs to be inclusive and open to diverse points of views. At Amazon India, we recognise diverse talents and bring varied views into a melting pot to build an effective workforce and provide best solutions. Diversity requires a deliberate focus around equity and inclusion to survive and thrive and we believe an organization which can balance this is one that will remain strong and resilient.
7. Witnessing digitisation in every area, how would hiring take the new face in the virtual setting?
Hiring has always focused on “fit”. The definition of fit changes with organization and has the potential to derail the talent bar in an organization. At Amazon we believe, that the hiring process needs to focus on what the candidate brings to the table- their unique skills sets and perspectives. We believe that the “fit” is about checking how they have made decisions basis experiences they have had. We believe that “setting of an interview” and need for physical meeting is passé and what the process needs to focus on is how the candidate can add to what we already have and help reshape our bar on talent. We have been using technology tools and hands of the wheel hiring experiments across our organization and we believe this trend will scale with time.
8. What are the Initiatives undertaken by Amazon India to build a DEI workforce? What are the new policies and initiatives that Amazon plans to introduce in the coming year?
At Amazon, we consistently work towards diversity, equity and inclusion in our workforce where unique perspectives are valued. Our long-term vision for diversity is to develop a balanced workforce. We have designed several initiatives to take Amazon’s vision forward.
For example, here are some of the initiatives across our operations network.
- The launch of Women Delivery Stations in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat: We have taken the lead to engage with women, create unique job opportunities in the logistics space with our Delivery Service partners in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu who run 2 all women delivery stations. These stations are completely managed and run by women. Women deliver packages on two-wheelers, covering a radius of 2-3 km from the delivery station.
- Silent Delivery Station in Mumbai: The first silent station was launched in Mumbai in January 2017, in partnership with Mirakle Couriers, a Delivery Service Partner. Today this dedicated Silent Delivery Station is completely managed and run by these associates. The second silent station was launched in Mumbai in June 2018. These two stations have provided opportunities for more than 30 hearing impaired delivery associates in the city.
- Inclusivity Diversity in Fulfilment Centers: Amazon piloted an initiative designed to create opportunities for persons with hearing impairment in its Fulfilment Center (FC) in Hyderabad. The pilot started with a handful of associates with hearing impairment, who were trained to pack shipments at the FC. This initiative has now rapidly expanded to more than eight cities including Bangalore, Chennai, Indore, Mumbai, Pune, and Hyderabad. NGOs like Youth4Jobs and V-Shesh provide valuable support and resources to Amazon.
- Creating meaningful opportunities for our transgender communities: As we continue to take steps in achieving our goal of being a more diverse and inclusive workplace in India, our operations team has created opportunities for transgenders in our operations network including our Fulfilment Centres, Sort Centres and Delivery Centres.
- Military Veterans Hiring: Amazon India is committed towards creating opportunities for military veterans across various functions of our operations network as well as Fulfillment Centers, Sort Centres and Delivery Centres in India. The company relates to and respects the principles and work ethics of those who have served, and believe they have the ability to think big and invent and simplify on behalf of its customers.
- All-women Virtual Customer Service (VCS) center in Bengaluru: The launch of this all-women VCS site stems from our endeavour to strengthen opportunities for women across all our teams, in this case, Amazon’s Customer Service (CS) community. Through this initiative, we are providing women with a channel to integrate themselves into the professional world as well resume their careers. Be it homemakers, new mothers or single parents - The journey will provide them with opportunities to continuously leverage their skills, strengths and capabilities, from the comfort of their homes, all of which will have an impact that goes beyond economic development.
As we focus on diversity, we have put in significant efforts around inclusion. We have a ritual to start our meeting with an inclusion tip, we provide Inclusive leadership training to our leaders and markers through our deep listening practices on what experiences they create for their teams. We focus on infrastructure audits to ensure that our diverse workforce is enabled to perform at our sites. Our affinity groups like “Warriors”. Women in Operations 9 WINOPS, Glamazon, PWD affinity group provide key insights to our journey on DEI and help us hold the bar high on equity and inclusion for these groups.
9. What role does training & development play for a diverse workforce? How has Amazon India created a successful model?
Training and development plays an essential role in building a diverse workforce. At Amazon India, we have a range of programs like inclusive leadership training, unconscious bias training and more to help our leaders understand what works best. The idea is to build a diverse as well as an inclusive workforce that drives successful and impactful results. We emphasise that diversity is not just about gender, but also about including different cohorts of people who are underrepresented today. We continuously aim to bring them to the forefront and provide them with ample opportunities and support when they enter the workspace. We also provide them with specific training in order to bring the equity that they would need to have a level playing field with everyone else.
10. What does the future workplace look like?
A seamless, collaborative ecosystem that is conducive to innovation and growth. We believe that technology will continue to evolve and change the way we interact with work and with each other. Boundaries between work and home will fast disappear making it crucial for organizations to focus on wellness and choices and creating robust mechanisms to ensure these are available and exercised. With equal data access to all, emphasis on speed, quality of decisions and judgments will become critical and hence weaving in culture and values into guardrails around organization decision making processes will be critical. Workspaces that listen deeply to their talent, provide opportunities to dissent and opportunities to pursue personal passion outside of core work will become critical. Self-managed affinity groups will drive programs that are often “run by HR” today.
We will see a younger workforce who will come with their own belief systems about how work should be designed. The workforce of the future will be more open and friendly, which is based on strengths and ideas and is not very defect focused. Employees will look at opportunities for collaboration and ideation, rather than sitting at a desk and working within boundaries. There will be no differentiation in the mind space of the future workforce with regards to work-life balance, they know how to seamlessly integrate both the aspects can integrate. Hence, a workspace, which provides for that seamless integration will be most valued by the workforce.
11. What are the 5 take-aways from our constitution which can be implemented in successful working of any organisation?
This is an interesting question to answer as one is hard pressed to identify just five nuggets from such a rich document as the Constitution of India.
To me the fundamental guidance around this comes out of the “Intention” of the Constitution which focuses around promoting equality, justice and liberty. This intention is far reaching and has potential to influence private and public organizations alike as they think through their governance mechanisms.
Liberty starts with freedom of enterprise – how do we constantly encourage and remove barriers to innovation, ideation and instill a deep sense of curiosity to question across the organization- this helps organizations grow stronger.
Justice starts with Freedom of conscience and free profession, moves on to rights of representation and access to due process or right to remedy- in any good private enterprise these form the corner stone of “choice” for employees – can they choose their career paths and roles, do they have the ability to voice dissent and without fear or favour raise escalations , concerns to the highest level within the organization, do they have and know they have the right to remedy and do organizations have mechanisms to ensure remedy as part of their evolution.
Right to equality is not simply about no discrimination but is actually about Equity- how do organizations create conscious mechanisms to inspect and correct any form of bias, how can private enterprise play a better role in building access for education and employment on equal terms for under-represented groups.
The other beauty in our Constitution is the fine balance of governance it sets out in two distinct ways, one the separation of the executive and the judiciary – in a private enterprise this often takes the form of a maker and a checker- leading to strong “good governance” on behalf of customers, employees, communities and investors. The second is the fine balance that draws between RIGHTS and DUTIES. At the heart of a well-run enterprise is the sense of ownership by its employees and a deep sense of contribution to a purpose that the organization stands for.
For us at Amazon it’s all about Customer obsession and a duty to keep inventing on behalf of our customers. There are of course multiple other places one can learn from the Constitution