IBM To Advance Skills And Career Of 2 Lakh Women In STEM Fields: IBM HR Head

For those with the right skills and for those willing to gain these skills the future holds great promise of being in a position to drive the next generation of new technology: Chaitanya Sreenivas, VP and HR Head, IBM India


Millennials have a tremendous amount of choice, and if the organization can offer personalized choices based on preference and skills, there can be a vast impact in attracting and retaining millennials. 

Chaitanya Sreenivas, Vice President and HR Head, IBM India talks to BW People on a range of topics around the HR industry, hiring and maintaining diversity in the organization.

Can you explain about the AI-based tools helping HR? Has it been accurate and successful? How do you think it will revolutionize the HR industry?

The workplace of today is very different with the availability of enormous amounts of data and the influx of a multi-generation of workforce which is necessitating a re-look in every aspect of human resource management including hiring, retaining, performance management and employee assessment.

AI has significantly revolutionized the HR Industry. It has complimented our Talent Acquisition program as well, making it more objective and less process oriented apart from removing personal biases on candidates. It is a boon for managers who are now well equipped to make a quicker and well-informed decision. AI also enables to do a deep dive on decisions related to pro-active retention, compensation, and engagement. Various HR tools like Chatbots have digitalized the process. People can now access records, approve leaves and everything on mobile and that is where a big impact has been made. Lastly, our learning systems have been revolutionized with AI where this has helped us customize the content and delivery at an employee level.

How do you think are the job roles going to change? How can employees safeguard themselves from the change?

Workers at all levels need new skills to meet the ever-changing market demands. The intersection of technologies like AI, Machine Learning, Security, IOT, Cloud, Blockchain and Data Analytics is opening up new applications, like the ability to launch new products faster and test them better.

AI is viewed as one of the most pressing workplace skills necessary for success in the coming years. Organizations and educational institutions have created tailor-made courses focused on imparting such skills to students and to those who have already embarked on a career in tech. For those with the right skills and for those willing to gain these skills the future holds great promise of being in a position to drive the next generation of new technology. So it is imperative that employees continuously learn and stay relevant.

How big a challenge is it finding and retaining a diverse workforce? How does the management overcome it?

An inclusive and Diverse workforce is no longer a nice to do but a business imperative.  We have always been supportive of People with Different Abilities, LGBTQ+ and Inclusion in the marketplace to remain an employer of choice in the fight for the best talent pool. IBM has always been a workplace where everyone can bring their whole selves to work, and this is where ‘inclusion’ comes into play. We have embedded diversity and inclusion as a conscious element of the equation in every aspect of work decisions because they simply can’t afford to be afterthoughts. Not just unconscious biases, but conscious biases, too, can be quite pervasive at the workplace, and it’s these that we’re looking to create a heightened level of self-awareness about.

More than half of the women quitting their job never return to work. Is it the lack of opportunities and growth prospects that women find challenging when returning to the workforce?

Women who have taken a break from work often find it difficult to cope with new trends and to acquire a new skill set. At IBM, we have various initiatives like “Tech Re-entry Program", to help women return to work after a long career break. IBM trains them on new technologies and mentors them on projects so that they do not feel left out and are current with their skills as they return to the workplace. 

Another initiative that IBM has is “Charisma” which provides new mothers free access to an online portal, where they can get guidance on taking care of their newborn child from experts all over the world. The new parents also have free access to gynecologists, psychologists, and physicians for counselling. It also provides facilities, such as well-equipped lactation and restrooms where women can express milk so that they do not have to go to washrooms all the time.

Why do we need to rethink about women in technology? How can organizations promote women in STEM fields?   

The demand for a highly qualified workforce in India is quickly increasing with the acceleration of emerging technologies like Cloud and AI. There is an impending need for collaboration between government, industry, and academia to bridge the skills gap in the workforce. IBM is committed to bridging the skill gap and empowering women with STEM Skills.  Opportunities for women in STEM are driven by inclusion across career environments, empowerment to think freely, and the ability for women to bring their "whole selves" to work. 

At IBM, we have announced significant collaborations across India that will advance the skills and careers of more than 2 lakh female students in STEM fields. Partnering with the Indian government, we are also investing in the empowerment of millions of young women and their teachers with training in STEM skills, so that India’s growing economy has the right resources and more women in the workforce. By engaging with the government and academia, we are equipping India’s women with the right skills for jobs of the future, keeping in mind the diverse nature of the country.  IBM is working closely with the ecosystem to upskill the next-gen workforce. 

What role does HR functions play in decoding the skills of the future? How has the role of CHRO changed over the past year?

HR today is characterized by speed, personalization, and democratization. In the pre-digital era, HR optimized for efficiency and standardization, with shared services and the separation of front and back office activities but today in the digital era, it is focused on the end to end experience and this can be delivered seamlessly with the new technology and personalization.

At IBM, we self-disrupted our processes with AI and automation, recognizing that incorporating this into our work could help us tackle the challenges – particularly skills - much more quickly.  We adopted AI throughout the employee lifecycle, from how we attract, engage and develop to how we grow and serve. This has helped us to solve pervasive talent issues, reacting quickly to employee hot spots, matching internal employees and external candidates with career opportunities.

Additionally today, there are newer roles in the HR field, some are now coding, many are trained in analytics and applying it to their work. Others in HR have created chatbots to answer employee questions about benefits, onboarding and performance management. This freedom to innovate has resulted in higher value contributions for the HR team members and they’ve gained new skills in the process. HR as a function has now moved away from transaction support to more of a strategic role.

How difficult is it to hire engineers meeting your skill set requirement?

There is definitely no dearth of talent in the Indian market. There might be a mismatch of skills but that can be picked up on the job as well. In fact, to bridge this skill gap, we are building strong relations with leading universities, government agencies and professional organizations to help academia keep pace with the rapid advancements in technology, relevant to the industry. We also offer curriculum consulting by industry experts and technologists, training and certification.

Additionally, IBM believes that by sparking students ‘passion for STEM learning’, we can help prepare the next generation for the jobs of the. For school children, IBM offers training on STEM with an aim to build digital literacy and inspire the next generation of developers and coders. The demand for a highly qualified workforce in India is quickly increasing with the acceleration of emerging technologies like Cloud and AI and hence Industry, students, candidates and universities have to be prepared.

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