“We often talk about employees or individuals having a learning mindset. I feel that Flipkart as an organization has a learning mindset,” insists Bijoya Roy, General counsel and growth accelerator at Flipkart. “At times like the COVID-19 pandemic, when we are trying to juggle multiple roles — I mean, I’m a cook, a teacher, a lawyer and a mum right now! If my organization didn’t have that learning mindset, I wouldn’t be able to say, ‘Folks,I can’t take this call right now, I have to feed my son.’ Or ‘Can we juggle this up a bit, I need some flexibility here.’”
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As a majority of the global working population signs in from their homes amid the pandemic, lines between the professional and personal are beginning to blur for many. More so for women, who often handle multiple responsibilities not just at work, but even at home where the workload has historically been split unevenly.
Studies show that challenges heralded by the COVID-19 crisis could have multiple implications for women in the workforce, including the risk of women being compelled to downgrade their work responsibilities to meet those at home or even drop off the workforce altogether. As a pandemic threatens to undo years of work towards gender diversity and equality, responses of companies towards its employees are set to have a long-lasting impact, far beyond 2020.
From Day 1 of the pandemic and the subsequent WFH directives, the well-being of its diverse workforce and their work-life balance has been a priority at Flipkart. And it’s perhaps a testament to this mindset that Bijoya and a panel of women, hosted by former RJ, writer and content creator Sucharita Tyagi, spoke of during a recent virtual discussion about diversity and inclusion at Flipkart in the backdrop of the pandemic.
“Initially it was a big learning curve with work, household chores, no external help and kids. But Flipkart gives you that flexibility to plan your priorities,” says Shilpa Gupta, Director, Large and Furniture, speaking about the early days of the mandatory work from home. “There are times when I know I have to take a break to feed my son in the afternoon or the evening,” she says, adding: “There are so many times that my manager accommodates his schedule around it. At Flipkart, we understand that your personal life and your work is of equal importance.”
Deepti Agrawal, Senior Engineering Manager, too attests to the flexibility at Flipkart that helped her sail through WFH challenges. “People trust each other. They understand that you are putting in your hard work, and when the time comes, Flipkart gives you the support you need,” she says.
Part of the central platforms team, Deepti is charged with ensuring that all of Flipkart’s platforms are chugging along perfectly at all times. A job that’s easier said than done, she insists. “It’s a fact that Mr. Murphy will keep visiting you!”
Most of the women employees on the panel were also part of the teams that ensured safety for both employees and customers when the pandemic first hit.
“People don’t stop shopping. And we had to ensure that they were confident that the online platform is safe,” says Brand Strategist Nikita Prakash. “For that, we came up with a campaign called Thank You India. Flipkart has always been an enabler, and we wanted to say, ‘Relax, while this is happening, don’t stop doing what you do. We will support you no matter what.’”
Nikita works with the brand team, which strives to create a genuine connect between Flipkart and its customers. If you’ve seen any of the Flipkart ad campaigns, chances are, Nikita has been part of the team that’s worked on them.
For Nupur Roye, Design Manager, the most important task at hand during the lockdown was to communicate to customers on the Flipkart homepage about the stringent safety measures in place. “We also had to ensure that people in different zones – red, green, yellow and so on – were seeing information regarding products and delivery that was relevant to them,” she says, adding, “It was a lot of agility, sleepless nights and uncertainty, but we’re past it and it’s been good so far.”
Shilpa, who is Director for the Large and Furniture category, says that during the lockdown, her category was unable to function as it was not deemed essential. “That gave us some time to scale up. But that also meant that there was a steep increase in demand,” she explains. Add to that, many had travelled back to their hometowns and were requested to come back — a mammoth task that required collaboration of various teams, vendor partners and Alternate Delivery Models. “But our teams took this as a challenge and we were able to scale up to demand,” she adds.
Big Billion Dreams
The women are now busy preparing for India’s biggest festive event, The Big Billion Days. The sale is also the busiest time of the year for Flipkart’s employees. As Nikita puts it, “Agar cricket ka IPL boss hai, toh shopping ka BBD boss hai!”
“The first few days of the lockdown were difficult to say the least. But The Big Billion Days will bring its own set of challenges,” adds Nupur.
The Big Billion Days are synonymous with stress tests, rapid scale-ups, sleepless nights — and yet, for many, it’s also the most exciting time of the year.
“A lot of us put in all-nighters at a time like this, but no one really asks us to do it. We do it because we have that sense of ownership. Because we know that it’s as much our company as it is anyone else’s,” explains Deepti.
Neha Wali, Director and P&L lead for Large Appliances, echoes the sentiment. “As long as you are happy and content doing what you do, what truly matters at Flipkart is ownership and values,” she says, adding: “We truly feel that this is our own company and work like that.” Neha, a Flipkart ‘veteran’, has been with the company for 5 years. “The Big Billion Days sale is not new for me, but a virtual one sure is!” she adds.
The ownership that they speak of stems not just from professional but also personal experiences at Flipkart.
Lalitha KC, Senior Manager, Flipkart Security Team, joined Flipkart in June 2019 and attests to the unique Flipkart culture that makes her feel a sense of belonging. “Within a week of joining, I went into surgery. My managers were flexible with my leave arrangements and supported me. My team got me chocolates and made me feel at home. And I barely knew them!”
Lalitha served in the Indian Air Force for 10 years and retired as squadron leader. At Flipkart, she looks after last mile security — the security of the shipment from the warehouse until it reaches safely to the hands of the user — and oversees more than 170 delivery hubs in Karnataka and 93 plus in Kerala. “I took a career break after I got married, and I credit Flipkart for bringing me back on my professional track,” she says. “Recruitment was tough but Flipkart was able to understand my expertise.”
Shlipa talks about the trust that she has received from peers and leaders at Flipkart. “Everyone understands and supports each other. Till now I have not felt that because I am a woman, I can’t do xyz at Flipkart,” she stresses. In the middle of her stint at Flipkart, a difficult pregnancy kept her away from work for a year. “When I came back, I switched functions and took up a role in the control tower, and the way the leaders supported me was amazing,” she adds.
What makes Flipkart a great place for women?
In the past few years, Flipkart has won multiple laurels for being among the most sought-after places to work in India, including Linkedin Top Companies 2019 and, for the third year in a row, Working Mother and Avtar 100 Best Companies for Women in India. This year, Flipkart was certified as a Great Place to Work®
Bijoya explains that the accolades are, in part, a testament to the robust and forward-looking policies. “We make sure that we have the policies and structure in place that women never feel scared to speak up. And when they do, they feel secure and protected. Also to let them know that this is the kind of environment where you need not worry about gender.”
Flipkart is also the first e-commerce marketplace in India to introduce FlexBen, benefits that have been designed to be universal and inclusive, rather than one-size-fits-all. The benefits offer choice of additional child care and elder care, and are inclusive of benefits covering surrogacy, mental well-being, gender reassignment surgery, and coverage for LGBT couples.
Sonali Thite, Automation Product lead, strongly believes that while it is up to an individual to strike a work-life balance, your company plays a key role in enabling it for you. “There are a lot of policies at Flipkart that enable this — maternity policies, new mom mentorship programs, to name a few.”
Sonali played a leading role in bringing Automated Guided Vehicles to Flipkart’s sorting centers — one of the first deployments in India. During the crucial days of the project, she was also expecting her second child.
“This is one of the stories I tell anyone who says it’s difficult for women to have a work-life balance. During the AGV project I was pregnant, but working full-time. The team put the trust in me to lead such a huge responsibility. For me, both my baby and the tech came to life at the same time,” she says, adding that it was this feeling that made it even more exciting to get back to work.
“The culture at Flipkart is open enough to talk about your personal life too, which obviously affects other aspects of your life, including work. There are people advising you on how to put out fires both at home and at work,” she exclaims.
For Nikita, it’s the many women role models at Flipkart that make it an exciting place to work. “It is fantastic to have women leaders. Two of my skip managers are women and it’s inspiring to see the work they do, she says. “I feel like, if they can do it, so can I. I believe these women wear invisible capes. They are superheroes!”
A culture of open communication
It’s not just women supporting women, but a larger culture of support and empathy that makes Flipkart a safe and exciting place for women to work and grow.
Nupur, whose team has a gender ratio of 60-40, says her manager has always enabled and empowered her. “And I’ve enabled the same for my reportees because that’s what I have got from my organization. When you get the support from top down, you become inspired to do the same,” she adds.
Deepti, who swears by work-life integration rather than work-life balance, talks about the many times that her team has had her back. “There have been times when I have had to take many medical leaves. But no one really questions you because the people around you trust you,” she says. Deepti lives with her in-laws and her husband is also a Flipkart employee. “Our families understand the high-pressure jobs we have.”
Lalitha too speaks of her family’s pride in the work that she does. She believes that her experience at Flipkart can inspire many women from the services who refrain from taking up corporate jobs. “I feel I can be a role model for them to say that corporate is also good for them.”
For Bijoya, Flipkart, in a way, is an extension of her family. “We have wonderful families — my husband is my rock. I don’t have extended family here, it’s just me, my husband and my son. Flipkart has been my extended family in a sense. I’m sure that’s true for many of us.”