“A few years ago, an incident got me to reflect on what it meant to create a truly inclusive environment, when an employee came up to me and shared a very personal experience of how often they felt like they had to hide a part of their identity when stepping into the workspace. “
Diverse representation is non-negotiable. However, I have come to realize that representation alone does not create an equitable organisation. Representation simply means getting a seat at the table, but it takes a culture of deliberate inclusion for all voices to be heard. It is the role of organisations to ensure that there is a level playing field and a culture where people do not feel the need to conform.
Biases are usually deep rooted and not easily apparent. Recognizing this, at HUL we have taken a bold approach to breaking stereotypes by consciously introducing women into roles typically dominated by male bastions- e.g., roles in sales and supply chain. Right now, three of our factories are led by women and we continue to groom female talent to step up to leadership roles across the board. Additionally, we have introduced Project Samavesh, which is our program to provide the infrastructure and policies to push for greater representation at shopfloor level and the Ahilya program to introduce more women in our sales frontline.
“Recently I had the pleasure of going on a trade visit to one of our key markets in Mumbai and while learning about our channels, customer platforms and consumers of the future I had the privilege of working the market with one of our young & talented Ahilyas – Kiran Shinde. Our Ahilya Program is a passion project that focuses on equal opportunities for women to join frontline roles in our sales force. The Ahilya program is also about making a positive impact to the communities we work with and empowering women in our outer core to be financially independent & shape their own future. Today the Ahilya program is 420 women strong & gaining momentum across the country with an ambition to build a frontline salesforce that is truly diverse & inclusive.”
In a modern economy, gender differences in employment are overwhelmingly driven by policies and norms rather than any innate differences between men and women in average suitability. Understanding this, at HUL we proactively audit our systems and processes for structural biases while making conscious choices to introduce progressive policies and practices that help level the playing field for all. We have significantly invested in infrastructure and services to support employees across different life stages – including best in class creches and day cares across all our offices and 16 of our factories, subsidized virtual childcare, access to employee assistance programs and counselling services. We have been speaking to our employees and many more men are sharing household chores and I see this as a great opportunity for us as organisations to lead for progressive policies on inclusion and lead and support the spirit of a more balanced household.
Finally, I believe that change starts at the top. At Hindustan Unilever we proactively take part in in-depth exercises to better understand diverse lived experiences and identify inherent biases. For example, all our senior leaders have gone through a rigorous, 3-month program to understand and overcome their microaggressions and implicit biases while exploring ways to understand and leverage their privilege to support advocacy for less privileged groups.
While organisations have come a long way there is still much to do in reshaping expectations and stereotypes. A more equitable future is possible, and it will be determined by the actions we take now.
Anuradha Razdan, Vice President Human Resource Management, Hindustan Unilever Limited