Article (November-2018)


Women need to enhance self belief & challenge themselves

Poonam Sharma

Designation : -   Global Talent Management and OD Head

Organization : -  Alkem Laboratories, Mumbai


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How would you define your journey as an HR professional?
PS My journey as an HR Professional has been very dynamic, diverse and interesting. I got to lead large roles early in my career. Prominent ones include the chief diversity and talent officer for Citi Group where I led the agenda for India while working with Citi's regional and global office. Another stepping stone was the role of talent management head at Airtel.
I have had the opportunity to work directly with the top teams including CEOs, leadership and the board to partner with them to realize the organisational vision through succession planning, leadership development and performance management.
Another key aspect of my journey was collaborating with global and cross cultural teams across APAC, US, Australia, Africa and Russia. I liasoned extensively with external bodies like NHRDN, CII, AMCHAM - HR and International D&I firms like Center for Talent innovation and CSW Global.
I have been recognised as a thought leader and have been on discussion panels of prominent diversity and talent forums for building a strong narrative and exchanging best practices on diversity spanning gender, generational and LGBT. One such platform was the Out and Equal Conference with Salisse Berry and other key leaders to build a culture that promotes LGBT inclusion.
How have you seen the HR function evolve in the past few years?
PS With VUCA world becoming a reality, organisational priorities are undergoing rapid transformation and pace of business growth surpassing organizational capability, HR has evolved significantly by being more strategic, changing the way culture, performance and talent is managed.
HR has also seen a significant shift from driving a transactional agenda i.e. ensuring right person in the right job to leading a transformational organisation capability and culture agenda i.e. building capabilities of innovation and agility, being a cultural architect and facilitating collaboration and innovation.
Performance Management has evolved from being focused on individual accountability, periodic reviews and boxing each employee in a category to that of agile goal setting, continuous feedback, coaching culture and emphasis on teamwork.
With talent shortages becoming a key challenge, organizations are looking at an integrated talent management approach which addresses talent challenges arising out of mergers and acquisitions, globalization and changing business models. In a gig economy, HR needs to provide a career value to talent that will be recognised for a lifetime i.e. recognised even outside their regular role.
HR Practitioners are adopting a global as well as a growth mind set. They are constant learners, agile, resilient and inclusive in their approach. 
As a women HR leader what is your opinion of the policies that are there for women employees. Do you think that there is a lot more that needs to be done as far as women's role in the workforce is concerned?
PS In my view, while the narrative around gender diversity is gaining prominence and more men are becoming sponsors of gender parity agenda, there is still a strong presence of unconscious biases and lack of adequate support frameworks which compel women to exit sooner from the workforce. Unconscious biases like "longer face time at workplace translates into higher productivity" and that "marriage, mobility and maternity slow down a woman's career" are key biases that still prevail.
The most effective way to strengthen the role of women at workplace is by sensitising leaders on these unconscious biases and carving out ways to minimise them. As the Diversity Head at Citigroup, my role was to create an inclusive culture and build management accountability towards the same. I started by sensitizing leaders on unconscious biases through a powerful corporate theatre. As a result, leaders openly expressed sensitivity to gender issues but it had to be a continuous and sustainable effort to create an inclusive workplace.
Another aspect is to create inclusion policies and programs that involve men while making organizations a better place to work for women through initiatives like sponsorship, mentoring and advocacy.
What are the current talent challenges in your industry?
PS In the recent years, there has been growing uncertainty about Pharma's future business landscape and the following key aspects contribute to the same.
Healthcare sector is being led by a stringent regulatory framework where policy - makers are mandating almost everything right from what doctors can prescribe to intervening through price controls and other key regulations.
There is immense competition in global markets marked by a large number of domestic and international players as well as requirement for a differentiated market strategy for each country i.e. developed or emerging or underdeveloped.
Another aspect is focusing strategically on innovative pharma comprising bio similars and new molecule introduction while maintaining profitability in the generic drugs segment.
With the above changes in focus, organizations need a hybrid talent profile comprising attributes like innovative and global mind set, specialist skills like driving cutting edge research, agility to anticipate market challenges and creativity to respond to stringent regulatory frameworks.
The other talents challenges include developing an employer brand, focus on specific talent management efforts and inclusion policies and creation of a culture that attracts and retains prospective employees with above attributes.
How do you approach to mitigate these challenges?
PS Future of Pharma depends on talent that can deliver cutting edge R&D, can operate from a global mind set and can be innovative. It also depends on the next generation leaders who can seize market opportunities amidst industry and regulatory challenges.
HR leaders in Pharma need to focus on four strategic aspects. Firstly, by attracting critical talent by building an employee value proposition highlighting a promise for challenging, research driven and innovative roles.
Secondly, conceptualising future focused talent management programs that focus on creating next generation leaders, retaining specialist talent in functions like R&D, driving innovation and creating a long term career value for people.
Thirdly, as Pharma Industry becomes more global in nature, creating diversity and inclusion strategies that promote diversity of thought and contribute to a long term sustainable growth in a multi-cultural and multi country environment is imperative.
Last but not the least, as HR works on creating above policies and programs, building a culture that values and encourages innovation, global mind set and strong research efforts is also important.
In the competitive market, what are the top three skills do you look for when you hire?
PS The top three skills that we hire for include :
Strategic orientation : Potential hires should be able to recognize strategic priorities, trends, opportunities, potential roadblocks and their impact on business to be able to play a critical role in future proofing the organization and articulating a strategy that enables the organization to win.
Global outlook : Globalization and changing workforce demographics will require leaders to demonstrate high intercultural competence and build an inclusive environment that values diversity. Ability to work effectively in a virtual context is also critical.
Innovation : Potential hires should drive continuous improvement by developing best in class practices, thinking creatively about business, offering fresh insights and challenging status quo.
Please tell us something about the employee engagement initiatives in your organisation.
PS I believe an employee is engaged when he/she puts in discretionary efforts because he/she is either emotionally or intellectually engaged with the organization. In my organization, we have developed an engagement framework that drives both through a balanced approach.
We conduct a very comprehensive employee engagement survey which is exhaustive and covers both domestic and international operations to understand employee feedback on 15 key engagement attributes.
There are initiatives like long service awards, connect sessions with leaders, town halls skip meetings and coaching conversations between manager - employee that focus on driving emotional connect. At the same time, there are initiatives like creating challenging roles, rewards & recognition forums like Applaud Brand Awards, and Who's the Next Edison (an Innovation Forum at Alkem) that drive rational engagement organization wide.
Apart from the above, employee engagement encompasses initiatives that raise the profile of our organization as an employer of choice externally thus creating pride, commitment and employee advocacy internally. Participation in Best Employer Studies, industry awards and recognition forums are key components of our external engagement strategy. Last year, we won the award for Best Organization for Cultural Transformation for various efforts aimed at aligning our culture to achieve our vision.
What is your opinion of the approach to employee engagement in the new work world?
PS With the work world becoming more digital, increase in transparency and millennials becoming a key part of our workforce, the best way to engage employees is to ensure an empowering, engaging and an enjoyable work experience. It is essential to develop an integrated focus and create an employee experience by leveraging workplace, role dynamics, and key leadership practices. The cutting edge and most effective ways of engaging employees start by building a strong and unique employee experience brand, using design thinking to carve out a great employee experience, carving out dynamic future roles by considering diverse employee preferences, creating flexible working programs for a multi-generational workforce, enabling employees to balance their work - life needs and involving employees in social and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Also with virtual and global workforce becoming a reality, leveraging artificial intelligence for employee engagement has also become imperative.
What do you think women can do themselves to overcome barriers and grow as leaders in organisation.
PS These are the Top 3 things I suggest to all my women colleagues as well as young women leaders.
No.1 Women need to enhance their self - belief, challenge themselves and opt for aspirational careers without any hesitation. They need to act as self - sponsors.
I would like to highlight a research that specifies that women on an average woman raise hands lesser number of times for bigger opportunities as compared to men even when they may be equally or better qualified.
No.2 There is a unique aspect that women leaders bring to their workplace i.e. the nurturing attribute that enables them to be an empathetic leader. Hence women should leverage this unique attribute to grow as leaders.
No.3 it's imperative that women need to cultivate their personal brand as well as be thought leaders, specifically if they aspire to be on the Board. Tom Peters describes it as "your promise to the marketplace and the world". Women need to be someone who doesn't just participate in the conversation, but lead it?
How can top leadership and HR take a more active role in diversity in their organisation?
PS Top Leadership and HR have to work closely to drive diversity actively in the organisation.
Leaders play the most important role of defining and endorsing the business case for Diversity. Leadership needs to articulate how diversity will enable the organization to better serve a wider range of customers, increase employee engagement by valuing diverse groups, or help reflect the community it serves.
Once the above is established, every leader must embrace the need to change, actively endorse the D&I strategy and role model inclusive behaviours. Leaders play the most important role of setting the right tone organisation wide, driving management accountability for inclusion and approving the Inclusion policies and frameworks.
As indicated above, HR is also a cultural architect and hence before crafting a D&I strategy it is essential to conduct a cultural assessment through employee surveys, focus groups or leadership interviews. It's important to know what currently drives and reinforces diversity, what needs to change and what leadership styles drive or inhibit inclusion.
Identifying and orienting leaders who will propel an inclusive culture down the ranks, creating policies and programs that reinforce inclusion and creating frameworks for management accountability are key enablers that HR can facilitate.