Bhageerathi D. R. - IT Director for Collaboration Services, India
Organisations and individuals across the globe today have a fundamental reliance on technology; the potential for its power is something wonderful to be harnessed. Unilever is deeply vested in the evolving technological era. Therefore, it is one of the most exciting times to be a leader in the tech space where one’s passion and interest is intrinsically aligned to the organisation’s goal.
As Unilever’s IT Director for Collaboration Services in Enterprise and Technology Solutions (ETS) based in the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore, I drive the global digital collaboration agenda for the organisation, ensuring that teams spread across 100 countries have the right tools, practices and guidance to function collaboratively in today’s highly digital world. It is critical for teams to be able to work globally and locally without barriers.
Organisations like Unilever are leaders; we are trusted to set industry best practices, think ahead of our time and are focused on proactive development. Investing in policies across Technology, Research & Development, Human Resources & People, and working to anticipate the needs of employees and consumers, Unilever is one of the most desired places to work.
In my time with Unilever ETS, I have experienced three key traits that makes it a great place for female leaders to build their careers.
Throughout my working life I have seen first-hand the importance of having strong female role models in technology and the part they play in career development for women.
Being a positive role model means understanding and encouraging colleagues during crucial and challenging points throughout their careers. I work closely with women’s technology groups and have seen many talented women in my field leave mid-career.
These talented professionals working for other organisations have had to let personal choices take precedence over their own careers due to family commitments and a change of circumstances. According to research from US global management consultancy McKinsey & Co., women account for 53% of corporate entry-level positions but only 37% hold mid-managerial roles.
At Unilever ETS, such life changing questions have been carefully considered. Our policies are flexible and conducive to enabling our female employees to take decisions based on career goals and not because of perceived zero options. For example, Unilever ETS Bangalore Centre has a day-care facility next door making it convenient for working parents to achieve the desired work-life balance.
As a leader, I offer first-hand advice and experiences to allow the women I mentor to continue with their careers, without sacrificing their personal priorities. I believe it is essential for organisations to provide supportive leaders to encourage and inspire this movement.
Flexible working and technology now also go hand-in-hand. Digital transformation has enabled and empowered employees to work from practically anywhere. We can enjoy the balance and ensure that the key parts of our lives get the best of us without having to forgo one for the other. The advent of modern technology means that no matter where I work, I can easily connect to my team and the wider Unilever network.
By embracing agile working, organisations can provide people with the opportunity to work from home, while still collaborating with their colleagues from any location. Employee empowerment, freedom and flexibility is imperative.
Agile working is a key concept at Unilever, with policies in place which allow employees to make choices and adjustments that best suit their personal circumstances. Such progressive, inclusive and gender-balanced philosophies are the winning combination for an organisation’s sustained growth.
Unilever was a proud recipient of the 2016 Internal Innovation Award at the annual Mumsnet Family Friendly Awards, for its Family Friendly Benefits programme which allows agile and flexible working. Recognition of our programmes proves the importance of the matter, and shows that Unilever is doing all that it can to support its employees, whatever their circumstances.
When I first started agile working, I was initially sceptical about how I could make my schedule function successfully. However, with the help of my peers, we made some arrangements and I am now seamlessly connected with my entire team irrespective of geographic location.
A strong diversity agenda
I strongly believe that working for an organisation with a positive diversity agenda greatly contributes to its retention and support of female employees. Hindustan Unilever continues to maintain a diverse workforce, evidenced not least by the number of senior positions held here by women. It is not just my particular business function that promotes this either; every department across the company encourages gender equality.
To foster these values, organisations may benefit from establishing internal networks, such as diversity groups. I myself play an active role in creating and leading activities around gender diversity at work. These help identify where in the business women need more support and ways in which the company can improve.
Hindustan Unilever also promotes groups like ‘Grace Hopper,’ aimed specifically at women in engineering, encouraging employees to participate, network and grow the knowledge tree. The commitment was echoed in 2014 when Grace Hopper’s inaugural session in India had Jane Moran, Unilever’s CIO as the keynote speaker.
It is clear to see that these groups have made a significant impact – promoting new ways of working, opportunities to work alongside mentors and the sharing of experiences.
I would urge women looking to find a broad, challenging and worthwhile role in technology to consider a position at Unilever. You will be given the chance to develop and unleash your strengths under the guidance of a company that nurtures its employees and helps them reach their full potential. Working for Unilever has provided me the opportunity to contribute to a diverse, creative and purposeful organisation.