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“We Hire Women Because They Are Good At Their Work”
Swati Rustagi, Director, Global Talent Strategy and Development for Worldwide Amazon Stores, delineates the fine dividing line between affirmative measures and true empowerment that Amazon is bringing about for women
Swati Rustagi is Director Talent Strategy and Development for Worldwide Amazon Stores. She joined Amazon in 2018 with over 25 years of experience in leadership roles across HR, operations and business in FMCG and healthcare in India and internationally. Her experience spans across various specialties of Human Resources Management with stints in Talent, Learning, DEI, Rewards and Employee Relations. Rustagi has previously held leadership positions in Hindustan Unilever Limited, DSP Merrill Lynch and Max Health Care. She holds a Master’s degree from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and an OD certification from NTL, USA. She has won several awards and recognition during her career around her work in the field of Human Resources. She serves as the Southern Region President for the National HRD network. In an interview to BW People, she describes the impact her team is creating through several programmes that are empowering frontline women workers and women in rural areas. Excerpts:
How Amazon is empowering its women workforce? And what is the role that technology is playing in this empowerment story?
When we talk about Amazon, we’re talking about a wide variety of jobs that women are engaged in. While at one end of the spectrum, we have our frontline workforce for whom we have created some very interesting engagement models, and at the other end, we have women in leadership roles, and in between these two segments, there are women who are engaged in mid-level or mid-senior level tech and corporate roles. We are aware about each segment and have different kinds of roles to offer women with unique skills and experience.
We believe that when we have women in leadership roles, it influences how we look at policies, programmes, mechanisms, job opportunities for women across the spectrum and across job types. It's not about saying we hire women because of their gender and again, that's something we are very conscious about. We cringe at the talk of ‘diversity candidate’ for a job. We hire people because they are really good at what they do. Recruiters just have to take extra effort in finding that right person for the job, and the right person do exist. And when they don't exist then the message for us is to influence a talent pipeline for that particular job so that a year or two from now we can actually have the right talent. And that has been our conscious effort.
To that extent, for example, we have some very interesting programmes, such as Amazon Rekindle. This is a programme wherein we bring in women who have strong career backgrounds, but who may have stepped back from their careers at different points of time, for personal responsibilities, or for whatever reasons. But they actually bring in strong credentials. We've re-engaged with those women and brought them back to the workforce through a sort of internship arrangement initially. The program has a success rate in the top quartile in terms of conversion of those women into full-time leadership positions in the organisation.
Other programmes are steered towards participation of tech talent, for campus hires as well as lateral hires, where from early on, we engage with women who have a background in technology. In such programmes too, we have seen tremendous success rate in terms of women who cleared our ‘tech bar’ and were offered employment at senior positions as well as for other tech roles across businesses. These are investments that we do ahead of the curve.
For our frontline workforce, such as in our Customer Service business, we developed a new model of ‘shift hours’ wherein women can work for four hours in the morning, take a break in the afternoon and then login for the remaining four hours later so that they can take care of their personal responsibilities around lunch or picking up kids from school during the non-working hours. It's about genuinely creating opportunities for women to participate in the workforce.
Another interesting model for our frontline associates is the ‘adaptive labour model’. We realized that there are a lot of women in villages or areas surrounding our fulfillment centres who seek economic independence. For them, we created a flexible labour model wherein the women can come in for few days in a week and work for four hours to six hours a day. Under this model, we provide flexible timeslots for women to select a slot which is convenient for them. This way, they are participating in the labour force of the country and has positive implications in terms of building their confidence and financial independence.
We've also gone beyond and worked with women in communities. Through our program ‘Amazon Saheli’ which is aimed at empowering and enabling women entrepreneurs, Amazon offers extensive training and skill development workshops to help them understand the nuances of online selling and develop skills & capabilities necessary to grow their business. We also work with women in villages to make them aware of various government enablement platforms that are available for them so they can start earning livelihood.
How do you work on technological empowerment, and how do you bring all of the people on a single platform? There will be people with different levels of technical comfort. So, what kind of training is provided and how do you empower on that front?
At Amazon, we don't believe that women need special trainings due to their gender. As far as technical or functional training is concerned, it's something that we provide to anybody in our organization who needs that kind of skilling to be able to do their job.
We do not believe that competence is linked to demographic identity. Women may not be the first person to speak or may not necessarily always table their ideas hence, to address that, what we do is that we urge senior leaders to consciously make effort and sponsor the talent in the room. Making that additional effort and letting women know that ‘‘I value your opinion’’ could be that one fillip that could boost their confidence. You have to make that additional effort to provide the right visibility, and to make them realise that their opinions are valued.
We encourage our leaders to be data-driven when it comes to assessing the progress the organization makes as a whole in regards to women talent. When we are looking at creating opportunities and supporting women in their career growth path, data helps to identify the exact deterrents and fix them.
There are also various women-focused affinity groups at Amazon formed with the vision to bring one step closer to being an inclusive organization by impacting every stage in the life cycle. Some of the affinity groups are:
· ‘[email protected]’ - aimed to facilitate the change and be advocates for women employees and share anecdotes/data with the organization to impact changes whenever needed.
· ‘Amazon Women in Engineering’ - for women to engage by creating networking, training, leadership, and community building opportunities for both employees and interns.
· ‘Momazonian’ - for working mothers to share knowledge, foster career growth, and cultivate community connections among parents, while advocating for policies for women with children.
How is the organisation helping bring out your best potential? And what drives you?
I firmly believe that if we have been blessed to be in a position of influence in an organisation or in a community or in a society, then that comes with a responsibility. And that responsibility is to make sure that others can have many more chances at a better life.
Although our discussion is around International Women’s Day, I would say that when I mean ‘others’ it would not only mean for women but also hold true for persons with disability or members of the LGBTQI community or those who are economically backward. So, I believe it is about helping individuals across the spectrum. We want to bring about a fundamental shift and I think that's what drives me and a lot of my colleagues at Amazon.
For us, STEM education, financial literacy and wellness for women are important. We ensure that we include contractual workforce in our communications related to mental wellness, health and menstrual hygiene. We do that because we believe that all we can do with our resources is to be able to create a better life for them.
I remember one of our delivery associates recently recounted how his daughter felt when she received the education scholarship from Amazon. I think it’s wonderful to be able to support our people in their desire to create a better life for their children. It’s like we're contributing to a bigger dream…And that drives me personally.
I would be proud if I were to look back 20 years from now and see tons of young women in very senior corporate positions, and be able to say that Amazon had a role to play in their journey. I think that would be a very proud moment.