Inclusivity Often Hinges On Securing The Right Input To Get The Desired Outcome, Says Deepti Varma, VP – PXT, Amazon

Advancing gender equality is a complex and multifaceted issue that involves a range of challenges, with representation being the biggest one
Deepti Varma, VP – PXT, Amazon Stores India, Japan and Emerging Markets
Deepti Varma, VP – PXT, Amazon Stores India, Japan and Emerging Markets

On Women's Day, we hear powerful calls for gender equality and empowerment, yet too often, these sentiments fade away as mere echoes in the corporate world. However, there's a shift happening. With more women stepping into leadership roles, those echoes are becoming real conversations, sparking concrete actions toward equality and empowerment.

In conversation with Outlook Business, Deepti Varma, VP of PXT at Amazon Stores India, Japan, and Emerging Markets, talks about the role of technology advancement, acting as a catalyst for gender inclusivity. She also discusses about how robust women's programs contribute to achieving equality in participation.

Do you think the growing advancements in tech. and AI can act as a catalyst in promoting DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) at workplaces, as compared to conventional working methods? 

Tech. and AI have exponentially advanced in the last several years, with the potential to aid DEI efforts at the workplace by enabling unbiased decision-making and providing opportunities for more diverse talent recruitment and advancement. 

DEI is part of top goals driven by leadership and is tracked across all processes, right from hiring and performance reviews, to development and growth. We ensure the representation of women and other underrepresented cohorts across leadership teams and forums to enable the exchange of diverse viewpoints, especially during talent reviews and hiring decisions, with initiatives supported by tech and AI. For example, to make unbiased hiring decisions, we have a tool to make sure our job descriptions are drafted in a manner ensuring no sentence or the way the role is defined reflects preference for any gender bias. Not just recruiting, we have expanded the usage of technology and AI to build our HR Products that proactively surface any unconscious biases and help leaders make thoughtful talent-related decisions. Our talent rhythms have built-in inspection and audit points, which keep managers and leaders honest and help them with data points to flag off any unconscious bias or opportunity areas. 

Despite increased attention towards women's participation, the percentage of women in the workforce remains low. Is there something bigger that we are overlooking?

As far as the inclusion of women is concerned, we believe that it is important to ensure the right input, to get the desired outcome. Advancing gender equality is a complex and multifaceted issue that involves a range of challenges, with representation being the biggest one. 

We understand that the challenge of representation needs to be solved at the grassroots level. And hence, our efforts to bring diversity and build equitable opportunities for women go beyond Amazon and across the community. ‘Amazon Future Engineer program’ is one of our biggest community initiatives in India which works towards providing computer science education to those who face disproportionate barriers in accessing it. We also have a networking platform that provides a space for women in engineering to connect with Amazon leaders, recruiters, and the broader Amazon community. 

The safety of women is a key tenet of our DEI practice, and we are committed to maintaining a safe and harassment-free workplace environment for everyone. We recently announced the launch of Women in Night Shifts (WINS) at one of our large Sort Centres in Haryana. Amazon India has actively engaged with state governments to advocate for equal work opportunities for all. 

How can the negative perceptions surrounding working mothers, particularly regarding maternity leave and shift hours, be addressed to improve their inclusion and opportunities in hiring processes?

We acknowledge the complexities faced by working mothers and have taken proactive steps to enable women to navigate challenges in both their personal and professional lives, to achieve their full potential. We have curated various programs and touch points across key moments for women such as – ParentEx program to support parents including expectant women, new mothers, and fathers, and improve their workplace experience, enable affinity and peer group support, provide expert consultations on parental topics, and extend organization support during moments that matter to employees in their work and parental journey. We are also enabling managers to build empathy and extend support to parents in their teams, define career paths in the context of parental breaks, audit talent management practices to ensure equity, particularly in cases of extended parental leaves, and define enabling policies and workplace infrastructure. 

Returning to work post maternity leave can be difficult for working mothers, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and uncertain, hence we have our ‘Ramp Back’ program which enables our women employees to transition smoothly to work, post their maternity leave. Under the program, employees can have a modified work schedule for up to 8 weeks. We also focus on addressing the flexibility needs of women understanding that they have their unique challenges and need support. Managers are educated and encouraged to be sensitive towards new mothers working in specific shifts and understand travel limitations owing to the need to attend to their children. Our childcare benefit policy also enables access to a network of childcare providers such that employees can select a childcare center as per their requirements and avail of their services at a discounted rate. 

What policies must be prioritized by the corporate world to increase the pace of equitable participation in the workforce, ensuring inclusivity for individuals of all genders? 

At Amazon, we believe that it must be everyone’s priority to continuously think about inclusiveness. Our leaders have both a moral and strategic responsibility to promote gender equality within the organization. To continue being the champions of change, we offer a wide variety of jobs for individuals across all walks of life and experience levels. 

We have mechanisms in place to ensure that we hire for the skill and capability without any bias and prejudice.

We have also introduced various leadership development programs, mentorship opportunities, and targeted recruitment efforts aimed at increasing diversity at all levels of the organization. Women in leadership roles play a crucial role at Amazon in shaping this culture of inclusivity and diversity. They serve as role models and advocates for gender equality, championing initiatives that support the advancement of women within the company with initiatives such as –‘Power of 10’, a mentoring program, where once a group of 10 women graduate from this program, they further support the next 10 women and this time a mentee becomes a mentor, 'Ask Me Anything' one-on-one sessions which provide fresh women leaders an opportunity to seek guidance from senior women leaders, and platforms like ‘Listening Circles’ to support women employees through open conversations with leaders. 

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