How Comviva is empowering women employees by enabling them

Anchored to the concept of individual merit, Comviva’s women-centric initiatives are based on principles of ‘two-way communication’ and ‘respect for individuality’

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Comviva, a subsidiary of Tech Mahindra and a global mobile solutions provider has launched a string of initiatives designed to build a more supportive, bias-free and enabling environment for women at the workplace. In a candid discussion with HR Katha, Vaishnavi Shukla, head of HR, Comviva, sheds light on some of these programmes, elucidating what and how the Company – with a workforce that is over 1800 strong in India – is doing differently.

‘Diversity & Inclusion’ talks

The organisation regularly holds ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ talks aimed at dispelling bias and increasing acceptability. According to Shukla, the talks — typically conducted by team leaders — are focused on removing bias on the basis of issues, if any, flagged by female colleagues.

They could also pertain to something the leaders may have noticed. Diversity is often at the centre of these talks. “Our customer groups are diverse and we would like our product development team to be just as diverse,” explains Shukla.

Moreover, instead of being held as an annual, pan-organisation event with the participation of all employees, the talks are of an informal nature and conducted as frequently as twice a week. This is to ensure that such subjects seamlessly flow into everyday conversations, pervading the company culture and collective mindset.

Is there any way of knowing whether the talks are yielding results?

According to Shukla, Comviva largely relies on surveys and anonymous analytics to dig into issues such as unconscious gender bias and prejudice, fair talent ratings, as well as equal pay and compensation benefits for equal work for both the men and the women in the workforce.

She also elaborates that each such discussion is typically followed by an instant feedback survey, giving an opportunity for unresolved issues to be addressed by the leadership.

“The surveys have revealed that the concerns raised by male and female employees are organisational in nature and not gender-specific. We have made an emphatic effort to mete out equal treatment to both sets of workers,” she underlines.

Motherhood & the workplace

From managing household responsibilities to experiencing workplace-related burnout, working mothers are on constant ‘double-shift’ mode. According to a Mckinsey survey, the pandemic saw a growth in this double-shift burden, with mothers increasingly having to shoulder an overwhelming majority of housework and caregiving responsibilities.

Shukla says that Comviva’s slew of women-centric programmes are designed to help women — both new and expecting mothers — overcome the dual challenges of managing home and work. The organisation’s initiatives include flexible working hours, providing crèche facility at subsidised rates, and covering nanny expenses for all new mothers for their first two babies —up to 2 years of age — without having to furnish receipts.

“Surveys have revealed that the concerns raised by male and female employees are organisational in nature and not gender-specific. We have made an emphatic effort to mete out equal treatment to both sets of workers”

Vaishnavi Shukla, head of HR, Comviva

“Launched about four years ago, the ‘Transition Support to Motherhood’ programme is commendably progressive,” opines Shukla, her voice tinged with pride. She further elaborates that the policy was shaped by a desire to help ambitious and capable women who wanted to return to their career after childbirth make a guiltless transition. “This programme is about providing an actual support mechanism; enabling new mothers to meet the obligations of their job, while fulfilling the duties of motherhood,” she adds.

Other progressive measures at Comviva include the facility of a specially-designated office parking space for expecting mothers and female staff, and assessing women employees who go on maternity leave mid-year, only for the duration they were active and present at the workplace.

Communication is key

A 2015 survey, by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, demonstrated that a growing number of highly qualified urban Indian women were quitting work to become full-time mothers, avoiding walking a tightrope between raising children and pursuing a career.

According to a more recent study conducted by the Genpact Centre for Women’s Leadership, 50 per cent of working women in India gave up their jobs to take care of children. The study further revealed that merely 27 per cent of women progressed in their professional lives after attaining motherhood.

What is Comviva doing to retain talented women workers who may be in the family way?

Retention at Comviva is achieved by an enabling environment, replies Shukla. “Enabling mechanisms include offering a sabbatical, flexible working hours, a role change, job rotation, or even providing help in terms of technical upskilling and training,” she elaborates. “These options exist for any talent – man or woman – who wants to grow,” she adds.

Moreover, stressing the importance of communication, Shukla explains that HR managers are instructed to engage in conversations with women employees right before their maternity break and at the time of resuming work, with the idea of making them feel comfortable. “We don’t leave them to their own devices!” she jokes. “In fact, we have had multiple cases of women being awarded and promoted while they were on maternity leave for the exceptional work they did. There are several instances of women having risen through the ranks following the break,” she adds on a more serious note. Eventually, the word spread, reassuring other women employees that it wasn’t difficult to continue being their best at Comviva even after becoming a mum.

She also mentions easy access to counselling sessions conducted by the organisation’s professional well-being partner. Aptly called, ‘Your Dost’, the sessions help address emotional and mental health challenges faced by employees, both female and male.

“Moreover, there is palpable camaraderie at the Comviva offices,” Shukla points out. “New mums resuming work often reach out to their peers, team leads, managers and HR business partners, frankly sharing their doubts, fears and misgivings. This is the culture at Comviva!,” she emphasises.

Respecting individuality

According to a 2019 study highlighted by Forbes, an important reason women were quitting their jobs was “lack of effective communication with management”.

Shukla shares that not only is regular two-way communication facilitated at Comviva, individuals and their individuality are deeply respected. “Each person in a six-member team may be in a different life cycle with unique goals, needs, problems and aspirations,” she notes. “We have never believed in the broad-brush approach. Solutions to employee concerns are uniquely tailored,” she reveals.

She goes on to point out how the performance management system (PMS) at Comviva is known as PDED, short for Performance Development & Engagement Dialogue. “We make sure there is a quarterly — not annual — connect between an employee and her manager. This is a dialogue based discussion,” she highlights. “The dialogue focuses on goals and objectives. Is the worker’s progress in alignment with her goals? What are they headed for? Allowing such conversations gives employees a chance to articulate what they want”. Moreover, she highlights that the last few years have seen HR business partners ally with managers to iron out issues, if any.

Interestingly, the tech organisation’s hiring policy includes a target of recruiting 35-40 per cent women employees at the entry level. However, at present, women comprise 19-21 per cent of the total workforce with no more than 13 per cent in senior managerial roles. “Comviva is an unequivocally merit-driven organization,” emphasizes Shukla. She adds that by ensuring equal opportunities for all, Comviva enables each employee to become the best they can be. “Subsequently, we allow the natural trajectory of growth,” Shukla offers.

‘Enabling’ may indeed be empowering after all.

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