While working on his book, Little, a biography on Marie Grosholtz, Edward Carey was forced to create a fictional account of the tall claims made by the lady herself. This was because Carey was inspired not by the lady but by her pioneering work. Born Marie Grosholtz and christianed as Marie Tussaud, changed her name to Marie Tussaud, she is known to the world as Madame Tussaud, the lady behind the wax museum.
Human Capital spoke to Swati Rustagi, Director, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, International Markets, WW Consumer, Amazon, who spilt the beans on her personal and professional travails and shed light on the inspirations she has drawn during her journey as an HR professional.
How do you look back at the professional journey traversed thus far? Could you share some enlightening moments experienced at various points in your professional journey?
The first thing that comes to my mind is that it’s been a fun ride and I have been blessed. Like everyone, my professional journey is interwoven with my life journey, and priorities, perspectives, strategies, and options have evolved with time. I started with a desire to make a difference, to learn, and in the past two decades, that has stayed constant. There has been a growing sense of responsibility towards those who work in the front line to keep the lights on, towards communities and sustainable impact versus quick wins.
My biggest rocks have been learning from some of the most talented managers and leaders who have helped me sharpen my sense of right and wrong, helping to build a strong value system and a deep sense of responsibility for those you represent when you get a seat at the table. This helps me to keep decisionmaking simple and helps influence, coach, and lead a network of teams to work towards achieving a common meaningful goal - creating a diverse and inclusive workplace for all. What drives me is the joy of seeing someone around me unleash their own potential, surprise themselves in breaking the limiting mental models and ceilings that they never believed they could.
The team I work with in India has done some super inspiring work around building diversity at the workplace with many pioneering programmes including working with Persons with disability in the front line, building out a robust and thriving Veteran hiring programme, creating virtual working options for women, advocacy for women to work in night shifts and enabling them to do so, welcoming transgender workforce into our front lines, working with neurodiversity -more specifically learning disability, Returnship for women after long work breaks and so many more. All this has been possible over a short time because they believed in it and felt it was meaningful.
Each programme had several barriers to success and it was only their commitment that created the path forward. For me, the role here was to create the bold vision and to give our teams the confidence that we can and will do it and that we would all learn along the way. As I look back, I am humbled by how little I did and how much so many others did individually and building on each other to make this come true. To be able to create that North Star and then let several talented individuals light the path to that Star is what makes me happiest.
How has working across industries from FMCG, BFSI, Healthcare, and e-Commerce made your professional journey more interesting?
This has been a conscious choice. Working across sectors allows me to keep learning and challenging my mental models on how things can be done. I would hate to rehash the same experience 25 times over.
I have worked in FMCG, Health care and e-Commerce has helped me see the core and common around people experience, unique approaches across sectors, and the role of Human Resources on their Boards. Being able to understand where the business is headed and linking that to core talent and capability choices has now become a hobby. It is so easy to see capability as people skills and forget it is as much about culture, mechanisms and products we build, people experience we create, about the congruence in the brand and the people behind the brand.
The other choice that I made has been to work across different hard skills in HR – Talent, Learning, Employee relations, HR partnering, TA, Rewards and now DEI. This helped me when I took on leadership roles including that of a CHRO in the past and continue to enable me to build “judgement” around people practices holistically.
How do you fathom the two experiences - setting up HR from the scratch in an organisation to managing well-established HR frameworks?
This seems like an oxymoron in the world today and how it is evolving. When I started working, organisations had defined and well-established HR frameworks. By the time I was a decade young in the function, the concept of “well established” was challenged in a big way. Organisations, business realities and the world around us is evolving very fast. If any organisation holds on to any “framework” because it has worked in the past, it might be an expensive business decision.
It is great fun building out from scratch. In doing that, you have an opportunity to re-imagine but most of what we do, build, does come from learning from the success and failures of more tenured organisations, and each time something new gets built, it is to solve a current problem. Eventually, we are working backwards from a problem we are trying to solve and to find the best way to enhance the experience of our customers and employees.
In a tenured organisation, it is fun to understand what made out the process the way it is today – what were the choices made and why - it informs us in keeping the practice more current to suit the needs to be solved for today versus using that practice or policy as a proxy to what it was intended to solve.
The last two years have proven to us that adversity brings out true resilience and has forced organisations and HR leaders to adopt and accelerate their digital journeys, dynamically altering how we deliver the experience to our employees. We continue to learn how to engage with ‘work-from-anywhere’ as also how to engage our employees to the organisation, their goals and their teams as they work from anywhere.
What I have learnt about myself in these past decades is I love knowing the “why”, the “how”, the “what and the “where” of all HR frameworks. That helps me build, shape, combine and create what will best solve the situation at hand.
Having been associated with the e-commerce sector, what is your understanding of the business, and how big a role does HR play in this sector? Were there any sector-specific challenges and opportunities you encountered?
In the last 8 years, Amazon has essentially become one of the leaders in the e-commerce sector in India. Our understanding of the sector is and continues to be the overall transformation of how India buys and sells. We set ourselves a very high bar in customer and seller experience and we have made significant investments in infrastructure and innovation towards achieving this goal. While we are continuously working towards expanding the business we are also working towards hiring the right talent to fulfil and align with our goal to serve our customers with the best shopping experience.
Fostering a culture that is conducive to growth and offering people equal opportunities to unlock their full potential while empowering them to do more. As an organisation, we believe in the relentless pursuit to drive a higher customer impact with our dedicated teams by leveraging innovation, using research and insights around talent, and keeping ourselves ahead of the curve.
What I love about being at Amazon is that we seek to be the most scientific HR organisation on earth. We see our role as supporting the best of talent to do their best and ensure that our Day 1 culture, our people process and products enable them to do just that. The level of insight that we as People Experience and Technology (our HR function) bring to business decisions keep me energized at all times. We are a company of owners, We are a company of builders.
Our growth ambitions make the PXT role extremely important to hire the right talent and then give them an inclusive and progressive environment to perform and grow. As an e-commerce company, we are constantly looking for leaders who can invent, think big, have a bias for action, and deliver results on behalf of our customers. We value unique perspectives, experiences, and cultural backgrounds across our operations network.
What are some of the values and ideologies with regard to which you think leaders should definitely walk the talk to win stakeholder confidence?
At the core of any leader who wins the confidence of others are Authenticity and a deep sense of contribution and a desire to see others thrive. What I love about our leaders at Amazon is their humility, ownership, drive and commitment to make “Every day Better” for customers, employees, partners, sellers and our communities.
At Amazon, we are all guided by our leadership principles and while people have always been at the core of all our leadership principles, given our scale and growth over the past years we have now called out two leadership principles that go to the core of Empathy, Responsibility and Inclusion. As we strive to be the Earth’s best Employer and acknowledge that Success and Scale bring broad responsibility, we support our leaders to live by our leadership principles so they can Lead by example.
Every time I am asked how to be a good leader, it’s easy to just look up our LPs and find inspiration be it in “Leaders create more than they consume”; “Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves.”; “Leaders seek diverse perspectives to disconfirm their own beliefs” and “Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others.”
As a part of the Amazon family, what will be your focus for 2022? What are the organisational goals that have been set by you? A Our vision is to be Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work and that translates into a better work environment, policies, benefits and flexible working models that we provide to all our employees.
In my role to support our business around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion across our International markets, the key focus will be to raise the bar on access and engagement for members of underrepresented and marginalised communities around the globe, to champion an inclusive and equitable experience for all employees, candidates, partners and customers across the Amazon ecosystem, to empower us to become Earth’s most customer-centric company, Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s safest place to work.
My focus will be on ensuring that we value diversity as a competitive differentiator, enabling us to authentically engage with and innovate on behalf of customers, to create and sustain mechanisms to welcome employees of all backgrounds, providing equitable opportunities to succeed and advance professionally in an environment where they are safe, respected, valued and belong.
Favourite Quote: “Never regret a day in your life; good days give happiness; bad days give you experience; best days give you memories” “Examine life’ questions from all angles think independently and create a path that is your own and not a pale imitation of those who have walked before you”
Leadership style: Think Big and Bold, Action with humility and inclusion.
Current Professional Goal: Lay the pathway to bringing Amazon’s 15th and 16th LP to life in all we do every day
Favourite Book: To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman; Man’s Search for meaning; Clan of the Cave bearer and all of Jane Auel’s books
Favourite Music Artist: Manna Dey, ABBA
Life is… A gift, use it wisely
Family is… Everything
I strongly believe in… A better tomorrow for everyone on this planet
The most important thing I do when I have a day off … Play with my kids
I deal with setbacks by… Believing in second chances
3 Things I never leave home without… I claim the 5th. Those who know me know I travel like I may need to stay away a year even if I am just going to my office for a day…
Q What’s the one thing you’re deeply proud of but would never put on your resume?
My work with communities
Q What’s the one dream that you’ve tucked away for the moment?
Playing a more active role in teaching
Q Is there something that people consistently ask for your advice on? What is it?
Influencing others, navigating difficult situations
Q When was the last time you astonished yourself?
All the time!
Q What do you value most: free time, recognition, or money?
I feel time is the most expensive and limited asset; more free time to do a lot many things will always be nice.
Q Are you living your life purpose or still searching?
Purpose stays constant and yet evolves as the world around me evolves. The last few years have made it sharper for me- making the world a more equal place matter to me.
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