India Is Striving Hard To Get Diversity and Inclusion Right: Director HR, Flex

India Is Striving Hard To Get Diversity and Inclusion Right: Director HR, Flex
Organizations in India are still struggling to navigate and understand the real meaning of an inclusive culture, says Sandra Andrews, Director HR, Flex.

Sandra Andrews is the Director for Human Resources, at Flex India. In her role, she oversees Human Resources for four manufacturing sites along with Global Service Solutions (GSS) and NEXTracker (a Flex company that provides intelligent solar tracker solutions). She is an empathetic leader and has shaped high-performing cultures at major brands with progressive technical resources, prolific communications, and robust development programs that improved productivity and profitability.

She comes with over 25 years of work experience across FMCG, hospitality, and automotive sectors.

Here are the edited excerpts of the interview.

COVID-19 has brought in many new trends in terms of how and where work gets done. What trends do you think will matter most in the long run?

For the immediate future, we see that safety measures will have to be maintained until we enter a new stage where the virus is not such a looming threat to us, in our day-to-day lives. People who can work remotely will most likely continue to do so. We anticipate that the workplace of the future will be hybrid. In the post-COVID-19 era, we will focus on increasing productivity, enhancing manufacturing processes, and overall operational efficiency.

What have you learned from this crisis in terms of talent management and the role of technology?

Technology has deepened human connection during this pandemic. The crisis actually accelerated the use of technology in all areas of talent management from hiring to performance and building culture. Technology has untethered talent from location. Human resource being the most valuable commodity, HR professionals now have a larger pool of talent to choose from and are not limited to the employees who live in the city that the company is located in.

Flex is primarily a manufacturing company, hence the majority of our employees had to physically work at our facilities, adhering to social distancing and other precautionary measures during this period.

We have deployed technology at various intersections of the employee engagement /management journey. One such example is our HCM (Human Capital Management) tool which has moved to a manager self-service system that provides access to workforce data for quicker decision-making.

Key learning from this crisis would be:

  • Upgrade and invest in technology to stay with the Volatility Uncertainty Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA) world
  • Communication is key to get work done smoothly
  • The importance of virtual collaboration and learning was a key takeaway
  • Keeping employees engaged and motivated became a critical area of focus
  • Employees get more organized with tools such as Microsoft calendars
  • Regular online surveys are a great way to gauge employee well-being and productivity

How do you see the current diversity, equity, and inclusion scenario in India?

India is striving hard to create a footprint in the diversity and inclusion bandwagon. While we are as a country are striving to increase the diversity percentage, organizations are still struggling to navigate and understand the real meaning of an inclusive culture. The crisis has set a reset button to the diversity and inclusion concept which needs to go beyond gender. Organizations need to create an open and inclusive work environment, removing the stigma and discrimination barrier to embrace diversity and inclusion at the workplace.

Flex takes great pride in creating an inclusive, diverse, and equitable workforce because it’s the right thing to do and we also acknowledge the undoubted benefit to our company that diversity of thought and talent brings. Our PwD (person with disabilities) employees are a source of great pride and joy to us. We have over 100+ PwD employees in India and have them represented across HR, IT, engineering and finance, and procurement verticals. Our focus was on empowering our workforce.

We ensure to not only include a diverse workforce, but also go beyond to analyze if we are paving a career path for them. The Individual Development Plans (IDP) have helped HR professionals and managers have a regular engagement with PwD employees to discuss their careers and the direction they would like to go ahead in. Inclusion and diversity strategies have managed to get a second wave of focus amidst this crisis. We are witnessing a paradigm shift, especially in the Indian context where work from home and flexi working hours were previously considered as perks instead of normal modus operandi for an organization.

In the post-pandemic world, do you think, we need leadership that recognizes the potential of diverse talent and understands its implications on inclusion and culture?

Definitely. Companies have become more cognizant of the fact that more diversity supports stronger growth. Diversity is more of a continuously evolving process rather than a promotional step. It demands that the organization brings in multiple dynamics and thoughts from within the team on how best to identify, adopt and deploy the right diversity and inclusion guidelines.

We need to have thought leadership that recognizes the potential of the existing pool of diverse employees. Championing diversity and inclusion would need to be the core leadership competency to be a differential organization.

We are today one of the leading employers of PwDs in India in the electronics industry, and Flex India has been recognized as the “Best Private Employer Award for employing Specially-abled” by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 2015.

What are the biggest challenges in embracing diversity and inclusion at a strategic level? How can the challenges be surmounted?

One of the major challenges in embracing a diverse workforce is overcoming communication barriers. With a diverse workforce, there comes a responsibility to ensure that miscommunication does not create conflicts in the work environment. It is important to sensitize employees to the fact that what is considered innocuous to one culture, could be considered an affront to another. Unconscious biases are another challenge in creating a truly diverse workforce. This again needs to be addressed by educating employees on what unconscious bias is and how employees can be more aware of how they interact with peers.

A great way to deal with these challenges would be that companies create a clear rule book that defines the company’s stance on diversity and inclusion and then cascade those messaging to employees, to adhere to. Defining culture is the onus on the company.

We had rolled out our company’s new vision, mission, purpose, and values last year and as part of the communication plan to reach out to employees, we ensured to include sign language interpretation for the corporate key messages in our presentations, through videos displayed on LED screens at our sites as well as through Zoom calls sessions for our PwD employees.

What initiatives has Flex taken to build a diverse and inclusive workforce culture? Are they paying off? How do you measure the impact?

Flex India is a proud employer of 100+ PwD employees. Right now, our focus is on hiring Orthopedically-challenged and hearing and speech impaired employees. At Flex, we train the manager and assign a buddy (help guide) while enrolling a PwD employee to ensure comfort and communication for them. Across sites, not only the manager but every employee on the shop floor is made aware of where a PwD employee is seated, to help in case there is an emergency evacuation or even otherwise.

Every employee (Director and above) has a personal goal attached to their goal setting for the year 2020-2021 to improve Flex Diversity and Inclusion. Our talent review process this year has specific actions to develop diverse employees. Increasing female leadership is another initiative with focused groups working towards creating a measurable impact.