Why is Diversity important at the workplace?
There is a compelling business case for Diversity. First, our Customers are diverse and our ability to serve customers is enhanced when the team that designs products and runs operations to serve Customers suitably mirrors the heterogeneity of our Customers. Second, multiple studies have proven that diverse teams take better decisions and deliver better results than less diverse teams. Third, companies compete for talent. The ability to attract, retain and develop talent is a competitive advantage that is enhanced when we are perceived as a workplace that values diversity. Translated into Amazon’s Leadership Principles, these three reasons correspond to three of our LP’s – Customer Obsession, Are Right a Lot and Hire and Develop the Best. The business case for Diversity is thus entirely consistent with principles of our Culture.

Building gender diversity – how can it be done right, rather than just being done?

office Amazon India

There is a wrong way and there is a right way to build Gender diversity. A wrong way is to impose and act on “quotas” and quickly recruit and promote women to hit a certain top down goal. This can seemingly achieve quick results, but cause collateral damage elsewhere that would slow down the diversity journey.
Diversity has several actionable constituencies which it needs to serve – Gender, Socio Economic, Ethnic and Caste, Socio Economic, LGBT and Differently Abled. While each of them is important and true diversity is delivered when each of these groups are visibly represented and valued in workplace teams, the first and most important step for an organization starts with fostering Gender diversity.
At Amazon, it is second nature for us to have a goal in mind but focus our energies on inputs that we identify that will deliver the desired output, rather than attempt to tinker with the output directly. Likewise, it’s important to have a gender diversity goal in mind but set in place initiatives that move the needle on the right inputs that will organically lead to the desired outputs.

At Amazon, it is second nature for us to have a goal in mind but focus our energies on inputs that we identify that will deliver the desired output, rather than attempt to tinker with the output directly.

At Amazon what are the inputs that Leaders drive to get to their Diversity goals?
The people and talent management process (“Hire and Develop the Best”) has three pillars – Recruitment, Retention and Development. Initiatives that Leaders should drive as inputs to strengthen diversity should naturally align to these three pillars – Recruitment, Retention and Advancement.

On Recruitment, the input initiative serves to widen the recruitment funnel so as to attract more women into the recruitment consideration set. The Recruitment team is consciously working on tracking and connecting with women alumni who may have attrited from the organization for various reasons, including life stage related reasons, and support if they wish to rejoin (in Amazon, we call this the Re-Kindle program).

On Retention, the input initiative seeks to improve Work-Life harmony among employees in the organization. Studies indicate that as quality of workplace environment deteriorates (long working hours, disproportionate travel quotient, lack of congenial interaction among co-workers), largely driven by social reasons, women attrite as a faster pace than men.

The goal to improve diversity can never justify lowering the performance or merit standard in an organization, and Leaders need to guard against such perceptions being created.
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The third People pillar is Advancement. Initiatives that foster the right initiatives in this pillar include training to remove unconscious bias many of us have at work. Leaders – both men and women – when evaluating similar behavioral traits among people in their teams, evaluate and appraise people differently depending on the gender of the person demonstrating that behavior. Women are socially conditioned to curb adopting an assertive style, and this often results is them being passed over for promotions.

Yet another unconscious bias in meetings pertains to men interrupting women more often than the other way around. Such behavior – often subconscious – when reiterated over multiple situations risks reducing the pipeline of women candidates for a promotion slate. Leaders need to drive training to recognize and correct for such unconscious biases and reinforce an enabling etiquette that supports visibility for women team members.

A targeted mentoring program – often for women – is another good example of driving the right input initiative that will strengthen advancement of women in workplaces and improve women representation in leadership roles. Yet another input initiative pertains to workplaces creating regular speaker forum offering a platform for women leaders to share leadership and life lessons with younger audience – thereby reinforcing visibility for role models to inspire younger women.

While you have mentioned various ways to improve diversity at the workplace, what are the measures you would caution against?
While, Leaders at workplaces strive to set in motion such initiatives to improve Diversity, it is equally vital to stay away from certain Sins. Specifically, there are five Sins that could torpedo well-meaning Diversity initiatives.

First, the goal to improve diversity can never justify lowering the performance or merit standard in an organization, and Leaders need to guard against such perceptions being created. Second, Diversity initiatives must not alienate Men. Strategize to induct men as allies to actively support Diversity initiatives. Third, while is acceptable to have Diversity goals for senior leadership, the risks of setting these goals to junior levels in the organization often outweigh the advantages. Fourth, do not ignore Change Management needed to foster the enabling environment for driving Diversity initiatives. Fifth, never shy away from copying best practices that have worked elsewhere.
Mao Zedong famously said, “Women hold up half the sky”. If so, why not at the workplace?

(Raghava Rao, is VP Finance, Amazon India)