Dr. Parul R Pandey is Director HR APAC, Director Diversity & Inclusion Global, Oxford University Press (OUP). At OUP, Parul holds two roles - Director HRBP APAC & ANZ and Global Head Diversity & Inclusion. As the HRBP, she partners with Country Heads in HK, China, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, and Australia and additionally supports employees in six more countries in the rest of Asia. As the Global Head of D&I, she leads the agenda for OUP across all countries globally.
In her last 25 years of experience as an HR professional, Parul has played multiple roles in HR, with the last one being Director Talent Management at Diageo India, leading all HR Centers of Excellence from Talent Acquisition, Talent Management, OD & D&I. Prior to that she held senior roles in Microsoft and Deutsche Bank.
Besides her corporate roles, she has also been an entrepreneur for almost a decade leading an HR consulting company as Director & Co – Founder of People Factor Pvt. Ltd. where she led the consulting solution practice and was involved in HR Strategy design, Organizational Transformation, Leadership Development, Learning and Development Strategy design, Competency Frameworks, Training Needs Assessment, Competency Based Module Design & Instruction Design and other facets of HR.
In addition to her work with the corporates, she has been active in various social initiatives and held executive positions in that field. She was the Chandigarh Tricity Chapter Chairperson for CII Young Indians (YI), and Executive Council Member for Youth Technical Training Society (YTTS). Passionate about giving back, Parul has been a faculty at multiple business schools, a keynote speaker at industry forums both in country and global, and a mentor to numerous budding women leaders.
In conversation with People Matters, Parul talks about how 2020 shaped D&I globally, the business case for employers to invest in D&I consulting, and recommends short-term and long-term strategies that corporates can build on in their journey of becoming inclusive, especially in a post-pandemic workplace.
Can you tell us about your top three realizations from 2020 that left an impact on you and have driven your ideas and work during the year?
Our workplaces have changed significantly because of the pandemic and some of these changes are here to stay. My biggest realization has been that a huge percentage of our work can be done from anywhere. Simply put, a large proportion of our jobs are location agnostic. With people working from their homes, our workplaces have also become more humanized. We know more about each other’s families, homes, pets leading to a much better understanding and consideration for personal circumstances.
Secondly, the role of the employer has significantly expanded to now include not just financial but also physical and emotional well-being of employees. Organizations today have a greater responsibility towards their staff and are expected to be extra considerate on the parameters of overall well-being.
Lastly, every organization needs to shift towards being more resilient and responsive to the external environment. Adapting to unexpected changes allows every individual to constantly evolve and harness their creative side.
I think in future years there will be a near equal focus on building resilience and grit along with being more efficient.
Once we get back to our earlier ways of working, either in part or in full, these factors will continue to impact our thinking and the development of new organization policies and frameworks, hopefully for the better.
With a change in how the world essentially functions, do you see inclusion in a different light? What does inclusion mean to you today?
With online platforms like Zoom, Teams, Meets & Skype the world of work has expanded beyond geographies, time zones, languages, and cultures, far more than ever before. From the everyday employee experience perspective, on one hand virtual meetings offer a level playing field to all team members, making inclusion inherent; on the other, people also experience a loss of serendipity, and chance meetings with leaders, colleagues, and friends at work. Inclusion in this context definitely means much more conscious effort and nuanced attention.
At the strategic level, we should leverage this new opportunity to be more inclusive of how we attract talent that would otherwise stay underleveraged, such as women who have taken a break for maternity or men who have taken off due to caring responsibilities.
Finally, the concept of inclusion is interlinked with creating a more equitable work environment. It is about recognizing and appreciating the unique nature and ways of living which may differ based on family situations, geographies, regions, infrastructures, personal responsibilities; and helping employees create a balanced work environment as they work from home, while also ensuring that they have the organizational support through these times. Being inclusive also implies extending this consideration to contractual staff, vendors, business partners, and the wider ecosystem.
Several conversations have surfaced around how the year 2020 and the circumstances it created resulted in putting diversity and inclusion on the back burner. What is your take on this?
If we look back across the year, aside from the impact of the pandemic we have also seen unprecedented socio-economic challenges defining our year. The Black Lives Matter movement, which originated in the US, is just one high-profile example. Conversations around D&I are still very much front, and centre of people’s and organizations minds.
At OUP, our employee well-being and D&I are paramount, and we have gone full throttle on both through the last few months. We conducted in-depth Listening Sessions for D&I, and surveys for well-being. Our managers are going through learning sessions on how to have authentic and empathetic conversations; understanding and supporting employees unique emotional challenges; and creating psychological safety and exhibiting care. We have also launched special webinars around the world in different languages on mindfulness, resilience, neurodiversity, talking race, being an active bystander, identifying unconscious bias and allyship.
Creating an inclusive culture is an organic journey – and one that takes time, and collaboration.
It is paramount to keep the D&I agenda on the forefront of people’s minds. For that reason, with many of us continuing to work from home across the world, we transformed our flagship Global Inclusion Programme – which aims to help all employees recognize and tackle unconscious bias – into a virtual format, and we’ve been so impressed by the enthusiasm of our people for embracing it virtually and developing themselves.
Moreover, our leaders and HR have been connecting with employees on a weekly basis to see how people are coping with the new reality and what kind of support is required from us. I would say most progressive organizations know that D&I goals are interlinked with business success, as a more global mix of employee voices among other things provide a better understanding of diverse stakeholder and customer needs.
Recent times have witnessed several startups in the D&I space, empowering organizations across the globe to be more diverse and inclusive through awareness workshops and several other services. How can HR leaders build a business case for an economically viable investment in this space today given the continued focus on cost control?
‘Diversity & Inclusion’ has to be embedded in business. There is significant research showing that diverse and inclusive organizations perform better than those that are not. According to a recent 2020 PwC survey, 76% organizations believe that diversity is a definite value area to grow; Catalyst published a recent report saying that Fortune500 companies with more female board directors outperform by 53% and researchers from McKinsey & Company discovered that executive teams ranking in the top 25% for racial and ethnic diversity were 33% more likely to reap financial returns.
While D&I is a responsibility for the larger good, it is also good for business. If our employees represent the markets we serve, and our leaders represent our employees, we know we’re in a good place.
D&I is constantly evolving, and OUP has the power to influence minds and shape societies through its knowledge, content and education. We want to celebrate visible and invisible differences that make us all unique. It is more important now than ever that we keep our focus on improving D&I internally, while also making a difference externally through our partnerships and products.
While we may seek help from specialist organizations in areas where we may not have specific, internal expertise for most parts, our efforts are anchored on ‘listening to our employees and our customers’. These efforts don’t necessarily need heavy monetary commitment but do require an honest effort.
Our consumers could have diverse characteristics, different experiences, needs, aspirations, ways of thinking and personas; they could be any gender, race or religion; or speak any language- each one wanting to see a bit of themselves in what they read. The more I think about learners around the world, the more compelling it feels to include them in our work!
How do you perceive the representation of diverse leaders across global organizations? Where do you see the silver lining and where do you see a lag?
This is difficult to generalize given that different organizations are in varying stages of their D&I journey. On the whole there has been growing prioritization of D&I goals across most organizations such as representation of women in the boardroom and a much greater emphasis on having people of colour in senior leadership roles. Likewise, there is growing support for helping people with disabilities join mainstream roles, as well as greater awareness around LGBTQ+ diversity too.
As for a lag, I would caution organizations not to consider D&I purely a HR focus area and deliverable.
HR can play the role of an enabler in establishing a diverse and inclusive culture, but it needs business buy-in, a clear display of intent from senior leadership, and support from the wider employee population to firmly embed D&I principles in the organizational fabric.
Within diversity there are several segments, however, often the most spoken about are gender, LGBTQ+, PwD, and people of color. How has COVID impacted the progress in these individual segments? What are some areas of diversity that you sense need greater focus?
The pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on the daily lives of everyone in the world. However, research suggests that some communities have been hit more likely than others as a part of the all-pervasive impact of COVID on business and people – LGBTQ+ people - in particular, those in older age groups – are more likely to be socially isolated and may lack contact or support. Equally, LGBTQ+ people and women are more likely to experience domestic abuse during lockdowns. Additionally, BAME groups and women are more likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic. (Source: LGBTFoundation|Forbes|UNWomen|McKinsey|WeForum)
There’s a lot that organizations can do as part of their D&I work going forward. There is an opportunity to look at employee and leadership demographics in terms of representation based on sex, colour and ethnicity. There is also a case to hold functions and departments accountable that may not demonstrate high levels of diversity and inclusion, even if that is not by design.
And finally, we need to create secure feedback mechanisms that unearth instances of D&I violation as they are counterproductive to the genuine efforts being made in the space.
What are some short-term and long-term strategies that corporates can build on in their journey of becoming inclusive, especially in a post-pandemic workplace?
The pandemic has developed a new interpretation of inclusion. We have become much more sensitive towards time zones, individualism, cultural and linguistic nuances, family requirements, and living situations.
Looking at our own short-term goals for D&I, we created a safe, bottom-up channel by listening to what our employees want, connecting employees’ own ambitions for D&I with leadership goals, identifying areas where we need to direct our efforts, and achieving some quick wins such as moving our Global Inclusion Programme online, and developing growth opportunities to support our diverse population into leadership positions.
Talking about long-term, our vision is to create a truly inclusive culture, and a diverse talent pool, and support D&I within our wider industry too. We want to reach a place where we no longer need focused efforts to support specific groups, and where we have a pipeline of diverse talent, right from entry-level roles, to the most senior roles in the organization.
On a more global scale, as an organization we have a valuable societal role to play in helping people to make sense of the world around them but sharing the voices and perspectives of others through everything we publish. We want to continue to open people’s minds to ideas and information, to inform conversations and thinking, and to drive progress in the wider society.
Considering this, I would recommend organizations to take a bottom up, listening approach and identify quick-wins that will make a lasting difference. Then in the long-term, they should reflect on their future ambitions and vision, and then identify the key steps they need to take to reach that point.
What is the one thing you most look forward to in 2021?
I look forward to embracing the opportunities that technology offers in enabling more equity due to remote working.
This pandemic has taught us that we can work as effectively remotely as we do in the office. Managers are now more equipped to support and lead a team remotely. We all have unique living situations and working patterns, and I look forward to exploring an inclusive environment where all employees can work in a way that suits them.