Smitha Subhas is currently the Head of Human Resources-Technology in Uber India, where she leads people practices for the rapidly growing Engineering and Product teams that build innovative products and services for global markets across multiple domains. She holds an MBA degree from IMT Ghaziabad and has been working in the field of Human Resources for the last 16+ years. Before joining Uber, she has been with global technology organisations such as Dell and Wipro, and most recently with Cisco as the Chief of Staff for the Vice President of APJC Human Resources.
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Smitha shares some incredible insights on leading talent management practices driven by inclusivity and flexibility and how digital solutions are designing an authentic, employee-centric work culture at Uber.
Here are some excerpts.
What are those emerging talent trends that will redefine the way we recruit people today? What has been the impact on Uber’s hiring strategies and policies?
One of the first things we look at is our Employer Value Proposition. One interesting thing about Uber is that we work at the confluence of physical and digital worlds, so our engineers and employees who work hard across a range of technology charters to build products and services for our global customers and partners can see the tangible impact of their work in real time.
The second thing we emphasise is incorporating inclusiveness in our recruiting practices to create a space where employees feel that they belong, can bring in their authentic selves and thrive. We believe there is no singular success profile for any role; instead, multiple success profiles exist. One of how this gets implemented is our ‘Bar Raiser’ philosophy, where expert interviewers make critical hiring decisions to identify potential and coachable skills. Another thing we follow is the ‘Mansfield Rule’, which ensures a diverse candidate portfolio at every stage of the hiring process.
Coming to digitisation, our recruitment process has been redefined through AI and chatbots and predictive capabilities that clearly outline our gaps and strengths. Data helps us create talent maps, and run focussed talent campaigns to support our sourcing strategy that forms the bedrock of our hiring strategy and achieve our hiring goals. Technology has also been fundamental in eliminating biases in our job descriptions and rolling out hackathons for 34,000 students to participate in, thereby expanding our university graduates talent pool. Finally, given the rise in employee flexibility and autonomy and the Great ReCalibration, which questions the work culture ethos, Uber has ensured that our work philosophy centres on employee choice and flexibility.
With technology being a critical enabler in recruiting a diversified workforce, what are some digital innovations that are changing talent management practices at Uber?
Technology is an enabler in leading talent management practices at scale, driven by actionable insights in a more personalised fashion and with greater accessibility and inclusivity to all employees regarding the opportunities offered to them. Given the dynamic world we find ourselves in, technology empowers you to pivot your talent management practices in line with these changes while making them more human-centric, authentic and able to drive the conversion around. At Uber, we believe in ‘Building with heart’, and we do this with the power of technology.
Some of the ways in which we have accomplished this is our Gig Talent Marketplace, where employees have the chance to learn beyond their regular teams and get matched with potential opportunities across the globe. To drive DEI, we use tech in our sponsorship program to help map sponsors with sponsees basis the skills they bring to the table and want to build on. Another example is our people analytics teams, where we’ve shifted to a more continuous listening forum where we can keep a pulse on employee feedback and engagement as we roll out programs for them. This is critical in ensuring that our talent management practices stay relevant.
When we talk about technology and DEI, how can organisations ensure an inclusive, accessible and equitable employee experience today?
One of our key Uber values is ‘Great minds don't think alike’, and the reason why this is so important to us is that it underpins our entire D&I policy. On our platform, we have millions of customers dialling in, so we want our employees, the way we design our products and the way we run our business to reflect that diversity in the communities we serve. So when we talk about the Uber perspective on D&I, we talk about the workplace, the workforce and the marketplace.
D&I gets incorporated into our business strategy by starting with CEO commitment, followed by every executive leadership member incorporating these values into their comprehensive plans and targets and finally, incorporated into our product design pieces by our Product Equity Design Team. We do this to ensure that before any product launch, the product managers in the group can clearly articulate the impact on historically excluded communities. We also ran an ‘Inclusion Day’ initiative where we brought in NGO partners, product content teams, industry experts and users from diverse backgrounds. We took their insights on making our digital platform more accessible and inclusive.
Our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are communities that represent different forms of diversity, aren’t limited to career and cultural elements. We take one step further to ensure they are also part of design feedback and add value to communities outside the organisation. Transparency is also a core value to us, and we ensure this by rolling out a report internally and externally on our site to show in granularity all our human capital practices, our culture-related reports, gender and diversity metrics, data programs, processes and more. This enhances our commitment and accountability as an organisation. Lastly, to ensure our D&I programs stay relevant, we launched the ‘Global Self ID’, where employees can identify themselves, contributing data to design more comprehensive programs.
Given the many discussions and experiments around the four-day work week, what is your take on this? What do you think are the pros and cons of this much-debated policy?
Any policy, including the four-day work week policy, must be understood from the organisational context. An employer needs to have clarity on the organisational construct, the nature of the business, the phase of growth and what benefits will accrue to the employee. This single policy can have a positive impact on wellness but does it holistically incorporate into all your wellness policies needs to be considered.
Like any employee policy, even the four-day work week has pros and cons. The pros are improved morale and attracting the kind of talent that seeks this flexibility, more time to do things outside of work, and even lowering utility costs. However, at the same time, one needs to ensure no burnout due to the shortened work week. One also needs to see if there is adequate time for informal connects and the kind of conversations that spark innovation. This policy might not work for some business models, and there may be additional overtime costs in logistically managing all the work. Ultimately, as long as the organisation is conscious about why they’re implementing a specific policy and how it fits into their organisational construct, it will do the work for you.
Finally, what would be a word of advice or lessons you learned in leading talent management that you would like to share with our community?
One of the sound lessons I have learned over the years is that your talent management strategies are only as strong as your workforce. This calls for building a robust workforce plan that has clarity on bridging skill gaps in line with the business growth plans. Secondly, I would emphasise building agility by utilising the most out of the information leveraged from the digital solutions and continuously instilling mechanisms to improve your talent management practices. Third, for the success of your people practices, many forces need to come together and work in tandem to create that impact. On an individual level, one must have a growth mindset and a willingness to learn continuously. For a leader or manager, one needs to be able to bridge the gap between employee aspiration and organisational needs. And if you’re an employer, there needs to be clarity on your mission and business strategies.
One of our Uber values is “See the forest and the trees”, which means to have the ability to zoom out, look at the big picture that helps to define your approach and then go into the details and make those continuous improvements so that there’s a compounding effect.