Startups

PhonePe’s Manmeet Sandhu shares why startups must focus on D&I from the get-go

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“I believe why a startup should pay attention to diversity and inclusion is not different from why other organisations and enterprises do. Of all the reasons, the most important is because it brings diversity of ideas and encourages people to think more deeply and differently,” said Manmeet Sandhu as began her talk on the need for D&I initiatives among startups. 

In her address on Day 2 on YourStory’s Future of Work event, an all-virtual, two-day product-tech-design summit, Manmeet, Chief People Officer at PhonePe, shared an overview of the need for diversity in the startup workplace and also shared how PhonePe was furthering D&I initiatives at an organisational level. 

Manmeet attested that the focus on D&I brings in the advantage of a larger talent pool, and thereby provides better access to talent. She also pointed towards various industry studies that have established a fairly clear correlation between diversity in an organisation and its ability to be inclusive and the shareholder value it is able to generate. 

She added revealed that when a startup is focused on D&I decision cycles tend to be longer, as decisions are often thought through, debated, and discussed. “This might slow down the business a bit. But, this slowing down is what is really important because it helps to question assumptions and arrive at solutions that are much more holistic. And, this will translate into much more sustainable solutions.”

Observing that the nature of the business in the Indian startup space has been undergoing a constant evolution, she shared, “Today, startups in India are solving problems that are uniquely Indian. This calls for taking into consideration the diversity of the challenge, given the very nature of the country. This results in solutions that truly are world class.”

It is here, Manmeet noted, that a diverse and inclusive employee base becomes critical for startups. “They bring in their true self to work. They bring in their experience. This, in turn, can enrich the quality of decision making for the organisation.”

Because of what startups are doing today and their contribution to the business environment, the culture they establish will make a long-term difference to the environment that is be created.

She noted that startups have the inherent advantage of being able to build a strong culture focused on D&I right in the early days as opposed to larger organisations, which need to put more effort as they already have a certain way of working.

This then becomes the most powerful reasons for startups to focus on D&I, she said. 

Why diversity and inclusion is fundamental to PhonePe

PhonePe’s Chief People Officer said the company was focused on creating a diverse and inclusive work environment right from the very beginning. “For a long time, we could afford to do this as a natural process by enabling everyone to contribute to discussions and being intellectually honest in evaluating ideas. But, we now feel that as a larger organisation, some of these things need to be structured and more systematic.” 

“At a fundamental level, to be able to build PhonePe as an inclusive organisation is simply the right thing to do. It’s not about a metric or a number that we want to achieve. For us, it’s about enabling people to be their unique selves and have a strong sense of belonging to the organisation.”

Manmeet emphasised that PhonePe as an organisation places a high premium on openness of thought, collaboration, and holistic thinking.

“We are an IP-driven company. Ideas are what we value and what make us successful. Being able to have an environment where people can engage closely with their peers, question assumptions, and push each other to think more deeply is at the core of our success. Therefore, D&I is not a choice for us. It is what makes us successful.” The challenge for the organisation was being able to do it in a way that lasts through the growth and development that PhonePe is likely to see over the next few years. 

Sharing specifics of PhonePe’s D&I initiatives, Manmeet said, “We are focusing on three specific focus areas as a starting point – gender, sexual orientation and expression, and physical abilities.”

On the gender front, PhonePe has set a numerical goal of reaching 25 percent representation of women in senior leadership positions by the end of 2021 and taking that up to 35 to 40 percent next year – a significant increase from the current 16 percent. This will help to create an environment where people will be positioned to succeed irrespective of gender, she noted.

Manmeet explained that the numerical goal was just a way to put “stake in the ground” as it enabled the organisation to look into what really needed to be done to create a conducive environment to reach that goal and also help to create role models to channelise action and behavioural change on the ground. 

PhonePe is also working towards becoming the employer of choice for the LGBT community. “Here our focus will really be on creating policies, creating safe spaces for conversation and awareness, and making sure that the environment we are building is supportive of people’s diverse sexual orientation and expression,” she said.

From the hiring perspective, PhonePe is channelising efforts to reach out to the community and welcome people, irrespective of their gender orientation or expression. 

The third key focus area for the organisation has been to bring in greater proportion of people with disabilities. “In addition to reviewing gaps in our current policies, we have begun the process where we are looking into specific job roles where disabilities will not hamper their contribution or performance required for the roles.”

PhonePe is taking a learning approach working to get the Diversity and Inclusion perspective right. “We have initiated work to understand the space along the three axis that we have identified, and will be engaging closely with the community to further our D&I goals. We are aware of what the gaps and needs are. We have just taken the first step and look forward to a long and exciting journey,” Manmeet said.


A big shout out to our Future of Work 2021 Co-presenting Sponsors Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Unique Solutions; Digital Excellence Partner, Google Cloud; Associate Sponsor HP and Intel; and Sponsors: Atlassian, Freight Tiger, Archon I Cohesity, TeamViewer, and Pocket Aces.

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