'Change in thought process, social norms key for gender diversity at workplace'

Updated on Apr 06, 2021 10:17 PM IST

Gender inequality is a major area of concern the world over and India’s diversity only exacerbates that issue. Historically, women have been denied many opportunities because of deep-rooted biases in the social system.

Increasing economic participation of women will require priority, resource allocation, and a change in thought processes and social norms. At the organizational level, a sense of fair play should be integral to its culture.(Handout image)
Increasing economic participation of women will require priority, resource allocation, and a change in thought processes and social norms. At the organizational level, a sense of fair play should be integral to its culture.(Handout image)
ByNilesh Mathur

The covid-19 pandemic has impacted the recruitment scenario in many organisations in the country and around the world. Companies are also facing challenges in ensuring the safety and security of its employees. The Human Resource department of any organisation plays a very important role in recruitment of staff, taking care of their well-being and implementing good HR practices at the workplace. In an email interview with Hindustan Times online, Seema Trikannad, Chief of Human Resources and Management Services, SBI Life Insurance, talks about the various challenges faced by them during the Pandemic and how they are trying to overcome them. She also discusses the importance of gender diversity at workplace and important traits which organizations should look for while hiring a person.

How has the pandemic impacted the recruitment scenario in the insurance sector, especially at SBI Life?

While the initial impact was significant, over the past year, the sector has recouped. The confidence is returning as the market is adjusting to a new working format and becoming increasingly active.

In this recovery, technology has been a major driving force, both within the insurance industry as well as in recruitment. Embracing work from home and investing significant time and energy in building a secure technological environment were the most important steps taken by all organisations for the safety and well-being of its employees and protection of data in the WFH context. Similarly, even in recruitment, we have relied heavily on technology.

The digital interventions start right from the hiring stage with the on boarding process which helps in operational ease and efficiency. Also, the induction process is a blend of both classroom and e induction model. This helps in guiding the new employees with regard to the Company’s policies and processes at a pace that they are comfortable with. We also have an HR ChatBot which is an AI powered HR chat assistant to address employee queries at the click of a button. Last year, we on boarded more than 3500 candidates ranging from entry to senior levels.

Technology is also helping in ensuring uniformity in employee experience and engagement. This year, we conducted the first ever virtual employee engagement event- our annual in house talent show- in which employees from across the country participated and which was witnessed by employees from even the remotest location. The online games, talent hunt and performances by our employees on the virtual platform helped us in keeping their spirits high even in such times.

How do you ensure safety and security of employees during the pandemic?

As an organisation, our core philosophy is that the safety and well-being of our employees is our priority at all times, as we do for our partners, distributors, customers etc. Providing a secure work environment, one that demonstrates emergency readiness and a strong security framework, is paramount. With increased covid cases and rising uncertainty, last year, SBI Life launched an emotive ‘WE CAN, WE WILL’ anthem, to lift the spirits at a time when the nation’s morale was at its lowest. This one of a kind initiative saw 27 local celebrities from different parts of the country singing the WE CAN, WE WILL anthem in nine different languages that was broadcast on over 30 television channels nationally. Additionally, we have constantly striven towards bettering the work environment for our employees through a number of initiatives:

Steps taken by the company:

Embraced work from home: To contain the spread of the infection, we embraced wfh and empowered all our employees with necessary digital tools to stay connected with our customers and to address any of their immediate insurance needs

Special leave on account of COVID: We introduced a special leave policy over and above the annual leave entitlement, to support our employees in this hour of need if they or their family member was infected.

Isolation facilities: At the time when cases were on the rise, doctors advised the asymptomatic patients to isolate themselves in their homes, rather than the centres and take prescribed treatment. As an immediate step, we approached renowned hospitals for providing isolation rooms to Covid positive asymptomatic patients (employees) and their immediate family members so as to contain further spread of infection

Consistent communication: Our leadership actively engaged with the employees ensuring constant communication and immediate solutions to any pain points brought forward by the employees.

Counselling and mental health support: Mental health has also been affected to some extent just like physical health during this period. With the help of our NGO partner, we facilitated a platform where our employees could anonymously seek the required help, guidance and counselling, when felt stressed and anxious due to the ongoing situation.

While we are constantly striving to better the environment in which our employees work, we will leave no stone unturned to keep them safe and protected.

What is the importance of gender diversity at the workplace, especially in the insurance sector? How do you achieve this at SBI Life?

Gender inequality is a major area of concern the world over and India’s diversity only exacerbates that issue. Historically, women have been denied many opportunities because of deep-rooted biases in the social system. Over the past few decades, women’s participation in regular or high-skilled jobs has improved. Increasing economic participation of women will require priority, resource allocation, and a change in thought processes and social norms. At the organizational level, a sense of fair play should be integral to its culture. The senior management should constantly reiterate amongst the workforce the need for both genders to work synergistically and reward efforts towards the same.

Over the past three years, our employee strength has gone up from around 13,200 to 17,500 and during this period, we took consistent efforts to improve our gender mix. We have actively been recruiting women staff. This year, we are taking it a step further to run a targeted hiring plan aimed at on boarding female employees. In fact, the number of female employees in the company has gone up by 35% over the last three years. We have been consistently working towards building a more equal and inclusive organisation. Our initiatives are aimed at increasing the number of female employees so as to build a more inclusive workforce within the organisation. We also try to ensure that women have a congenial work environment and consistently appreciate and applaud efforts aimed at achieving inclusivity.

What in your opinion are the most important traits that an organization should look for while hiring a person?

In the process of securing top notch employees for an organisation, attracting qualified applicants is just half the battle. Organizations should focus on selecting candidates who can think out-of-the-box and fit well in the company’s culture. Some of the traits that are crucial in a hiring process are:

Communication skills: The importance of effective communicators in a company environment cannot be emphasized enough. Having good communication skills, both written and oral, is essential for any employee to sustain in a team environment.

Team Work: Team work contributes in an organisation’s success and development. Therefore, it is very important to hire candidates who are team players. This becomes even more relevant in the current WFH scenario, where there is a constant need for cooperation with your team members. A person who is capable of working in a team setting will enhance the productivity of the organisation by bolstering the work of others. 

Agility: Everywhere today, industries are facing disruptions. The pandemic has taught to be agile and ever ready for any kind of upheaval caused by external factors. Thus, having candidates who are adaptive in nature and are receptive to change is essential for every organisation.

Creativity: Creativity is the essence of every successful business. Being able to think out-of-the-box is a valued trait in today’s job market. Organisations should look for versatile team members who can apply their learnings towards finding creative solutions to a business problem. Candidates with a creative thought process will always prove to be beneficial for a company in setting industry benchmarks. 

Proactive and independent thinking: Apart from team skills, a candidate’s ability to work on their own with nil or minimal supervision is also an important trait. Many times, companies face situations which require their employees to work proactively. In such scenarios, only people with independent thinking can lead the charge and challenge the status quo.

While I don’t downplay the importance of the traits listed above, as an HR professional, the first thing I would look for in a candidate is attitude and cultural fit. While other traits can be learned or cultivated, these two are part of a person’s nature.

What in your opinion are some good HR practices? How is SBI life working to achieve and maintain them?

HR plays a vital part in the success of a business and so is an important department in any organization or business. Good HR practices help in building strategic human resource management, increased employee’s engagement, improved retention in the teams and enhanced productivity.

Some of the required HR practices that every organization, small or large, should have are:

Playing fair: This is easier said than done. But it is absolutely important to create and nurture a feeling among employees that their employer is fair and does not display any overt or covert biases towards any group or individual. As a corollary, you also need to have an intuition of when to follow the book and when to provide some leeway.

Keeping employee’s safety and well-being in the forefront: An organisation progresses when they consider the safety and well-being of their employees as an important factor in taking any important decision. Last March, when lockdown was a fairly new word, all measures that we took were dictated by two principles- the health and safety of our employees and the security and continuance of our operations. Work from home, flexible working hours, dedicated transport facility for employees were some of the measures we adopted. Due to the distancing norms, we ensured that our buses carried only 30-40% of the regular capacity.

Diversity & Inclusion: Having a diverse workforce should be a priority for HR departments in every organisation. In the BFSI sector specifically, we have a skewed gender ratio, especially in the senior management. The efforts we put in now to improve the situation will show results 12-15 years later. Besides having the appropriate HR policies to ensure this, the senior management of the company should foster an inclusive culture and create a conducive atmosphere for gender diverse teams. Similarly, opportunities should be provided for people with special needs.

Any advice you would like to give to new companies which are trying to establish themselves, and a new generation of employees?

People management is a challenging task if you’re a relatively new company. You have to constantly work towards finding the best talent and fit for your company. In their initial years, new companies do not have much traction. Hence, the hiring process is very challenging. Such organisations need to leverage hybrid working models such as on-boarding freelancers. Often freelancers are keen on joining a growing organisation because of an elevated learning curve. Through this, you will save on your costs to a great extent. Also, you will get a chance to judge their performance before your hire them for a full time role.

People with risk taking abilities, who can think out of the box, are best suited to work in a new organisation because of the constant need to take crucial decisions. Thus, it’s important to look for self-starters who can work unsupervised and take charge if need be. 

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Nilesh Mathur is online news editor with Hindustan Times. He has worked on the online news desk for the last 21 years. Presently, he covers education and career related news.

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