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How to deal with age, gender diversity at workplace

Leading HR executives from Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore discuss ways to deal with age and gender diversity at workplace, and also how to handle a mobile workforce.

Aligning aspirations

Dealing with youth: (From left) Wipro's Sunita Cherian; Google's Arijit Sarker; Sripada Chandrasekhar of Dr. Reddy's Labs; Shamni Pande of BT; Facebook India's Bharat Jayaraman; Rajita Singh of Broadridge Financial Solutions (India); and Ramanand Puttige of Cyient (Photographs by: A Prabhakar Rao)

It was a Friday evening with a difference. Padma, a banquet hall at the Trident hotel in Cyberabad, the IT hub of Hyderabad, was packed to capacity on February 13. The reason: It was playing host to the Business Today Knowledge Forum on Human Resources (HR). The event involved two panel discussions, each moderated by Shamni Pande, Senior Editor at BT. Both sets of panellists were introduced by Alokesh Bhattacharyya, Deputy Editor at BT, who urged them to be frank and feel free to differ.

The first panel, comprising Sunita Cherian, Vice President - HR and Global Head - Diversity and Inclusion, Wipro; Arijit Sarker, Director, India Operations, Google; Bharat Jayaraman, HR Lead, Facebook India; Sripada Chandrasekhar, President and Global Head of HR, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories; Rajita Singh, Head HR, Broadridge Financial Solutions (India); and Ramanand Puttige, Vice President - Business Fulfillment, Cyient, discussed how companies are dealing with Generation X and Y at the workplace.

Wipro's Cherian said it is important to get the new generation into the workplace as a "newer version of anything is better". It was equally important to have a collaborative work environment between generations at a workplace to ensure best results for an organisation, she added.


Workforce challenges: (From left) DDI India's Anu Zachariah; ITC's Sibsankar Bandyopadhyay; Gopalji Mehrotra of Ashok Leyland; BT's Shamni Pande; T. Karunakar of Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad; and Kumar S. Krishnaswamy of Medwell Ventures

"I was Gen Y to my grandfather," said Chandrasekhar of Dr. Reddy's Labs, who wanted to go beyond the description of a Gen X or Y. The real point, he said, "is that people evolve almost every five years... I am the same individual, but not always the same generation". He felt that differences will exist and it is mature and wise to be both sensitive and emphatic about them.

Most Internet companies, such as Google and Facebook, have a largely Gen Y employee base, so one has to make a conscious effort to represent that view during the hiring process, felt Google's Sarker. It is important "to hire great talent, give them an environment that they have an ease with, and then get out of their way".

For Facebook India's Jayaraman, it is important to hire talent that has ambition and potential, and not just get out of their way to let them perform, but also ensure there is transparency within the organisation on the next best or the next cool new initiatives it is looking at. "It is all about making sure people know about the opportunities and they always have something better and cooler to look forward to because that is the world we want to represent and the products we want to build, and you have that here."

Cyient's Puttige felt that aspirations differ from person to person, and it is really about catering to the needs of that person rather than classifying individuals into Gen X or Gen Y. Referring to the Enron example and a culture that did not allow differences to come up, Puttige said there is a need to get organisational processes that help people to cope as well as express themselves better.

Chandrasekhar believed that "people work for professions and not for companies". "If I want to be a research scientist in pharmacology, there is no sense for me to work in Google unless they invest in medicine and research..." Companies, he felt, must allow "career resilience" beyond their environment because professions will outlast companies and people have to build careers across companies. Gen Y, he said, has a world of choices. "At home, they are treated with greater love, affection and freedom and if managers don't give them the same at the workplace, they will feel miserable."

For Jayaraman, managing differences lay in not burying them, but in getting them into the open and having hard conversations.

Cherian, referring to a recent survey at Wipro, said the key drivers for people joining the workforce today were still around two questions: Career growth and the learning and development that they get in an organisation.


Quote unquote at Knowledge Forum

The second panel discussed the challenges involved in handling an increasingly mobile workforce. The panellists included Gopalji Mehrotra, Senior VP - HR, Ashok Leyland; Anu Zachariah, Managing Director, DDI India; Kumar S. Krishnaswamy, Group Head - HR, Medwell Ventures; Sibsankar Bandyopadhyay, Head HR, Paperboards & Specialty Papers Division at ITC; and T. Karunakar, VP - HR, Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad.

Mehrotra of Ashok Leyland referred to a four-point formula, that is, hire the best that you can, pay them as much as you can afford, give them an environment that helps them perform, and develop them to the best of their capability. After that, he said, people will inherently be mobile. "Do what you can and don't worry about what you cannot control."

DDI India's Zachariah asked: "When we select, when we hire, when we promote, plan careers and successions apart from 'fit-for-the-job', are we also listening to what location-fit or mobility-fit looks like, what motivates an individual? Not many companies have a planned strategy."

ITC's Bandyopadhyay said that, based on his experience, most people hired like to be involved in a project-kind of an assignment with specific accountability and objectives. But this may not always work in a group-kind of environment in manufacturing.


Quote unquote at Knowledge Forum

Krishnaswamy of Medwell Ventures emphasised on the importance of building trust among potential employees, especially if they come from remote locations - getting them ready to move and to be prepared to learn something new.

Apollo's Karunakar felt success lay in planning mobility, and here one could also involve families of the employees and spend time with them to match their expectations. "This helps in knowing the challenges in advance."

SRM University was the presenting sponsor of the conclave.

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