This week on #WinWithWomen, we speak to Rajashree Chandramogan (Shree), who is the Chief Human Resource Officer at Flow, a credit management company that is transforming the business of unsecured consumer finance in the Asia Pacific region through the use of AI technology and the emphasis on ethical practices.
In our previous interview with Katie, she brought up many interesting questions about diversity at the workplace and raised questions around how employees can be involved. It was apt that we then spoke to Shree as Shree has led diversity and inclusion initiatives and was part of the Financial Women’s Association of Singapore (FWA). In this feature, Shree shares her thoughts on diversity at the workplace, what can be done to promote greater diversity in technology companies, potential challenges that the next generation of female leaders will face and how to overcome them.
Hi Shree, could you share what your first job was and what has been your journey to your current role?
As a new graduate, my first role was with the customer service team at Bloomberg. I was then internally to become an analytics help desk representative which required me to handle instant queries from customers. While I then moved on to other roles in the financial services sector, I realised that I enjoyed interactions with people and wanted to move into human resources (HR) to give myself the opportunity to further my interest. I got my first role in HR as a recruiter with Coutts Bank in Singapore and continued my journey as a recruiter in the financial services sector with companies like Visa, JP Morgan and start-ups like RedMart. Knowing how the technology teams worked and what they looked for helped me to develop my interest in technology hiring and people strategy. In Gojek, I got the opportunity to delve into a generalist role as well.
Can you tell us a little about Flow and what you love most about your work?
Founded in 2016, Flow aims to transform the credit ecosystem in Asia. We believe that redefining debt collection begins with creating personalised, ethical and digital-first experiences to help borrowers overcome their financial difficulties.
As the Chief Human Resource Officer at Flow, I love being part of such a niche and innovative company that allows me to look into people strategy, including talent acquisition, compensation, culture and values, performance management and many other processes that prioritises the well-being of our employees.
Why is representation important at Flow and how does Flow support gender balance?
At Flow, we want to be an innovative thought leader not just in the work we do, but also in the way we hire and think of diversity in the organization. This includes hiring female employees and appointing female leaders across all functions and in all locations.
At the management level, we currently have a female leadership representation of 22%. Across all the countries we operate in (Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Ukraine, and Singapore), we have several female leaders in risk, operations, quality assurance, HR and finance.
What do you think can be done to encourage greater gender balance in technology companies?
Many investors and founders know of the benefits of having gender diversity in the organisation. It all starts with asking the question of what we as a company are doing to hire and promote female employees and leaders.
If this consideration is embedded as part of the company’s Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), it further emphasizes its importance which will have downstream impact in all the activities carried out by leaders and employees. It is also critical that aspects of gender diversity is reflected in all policies and processes encompassing the employee lifecycle.
How can one advocate for representation and diversity with colleagues that don’t understand its importance?
I firmly believe in evidence-based decision making and data can even help non-believers to understand why diversity is beneficial for the company. The business case for diversity in the workplace is overwhelming and there is a plethora of research to support this from organizations such as the World Economic Forum and Mckinsey. Diversity is not limited to gender diversity but also concerns diversity in thought, race, religion, and several other factors.
What are some diversity initiatives you have seen companies adopt that worked or didn’t work?
Diversity initiatives should not be a box ticking activity. Founders, investors, and leaders need to believe that this is a norm that is needed to evolve the company from one stage to another.
Employees and the public, especially the younger generation, can see through companies that are simply paying lip service in their initiatives around diversity. The younger generation of employees want to be part of something real and impactful.
Could you share your experience as a female leader in a technology company? What advice would you have for women aspiring for leadership roles?
It is very important as a leader (female or not) to ensure that you really study and understand the business you are in and identify industry trends that can impact the future of the company. This helps you to develop your business acumen and think a step ahead during decision making.
As a women leader, I learned that you do not need to wait to be called upon to contribute. Be clear in your opinion, speak it in your style and receive feedback with an open mind so that you can continue to improve and grow as a leader.
One of my favourite quotes that I hold close and want to share with others is “Leadership is not about necessarily being the loudest in the room, but instead being a bridge, or the thing that is missing in the discussion and trying to build a consensus from there.” – Jacintha Arden.
In one of our previous interviews, Katie from Neat wanted to learn from success stories on convincing companies on the importance of gender balance. Could you share some success stories of achieving gender balance – and other suggestions that one can do to start the conversation on gender diversity?
Educating stakeholders and investors using data on why and how gender and thought diversity is important to companies is the first step that needs to be initiated by the HR team or any other proponent of diversity and inclusion matters. Data can address many concerns and questions that others may have and such data can be retrieved from sources like Mckinsey and DIAN (Community Business).
It is also important to get a senior sponsor in the organisation who believes and supports this cause to opine on its importance and what actions can be taken to improve the diversity and inclusion culture in the firm.
In the past, I have been part of a team who have used data in our presentation to the C-suite managers to convince them to implement diversity and inclusion training in organisations, with the aim of helping managers to manage their biases, hire more females in technology-centric roles and even participate in the Pink Dot event.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of female leaders?
I foresee two big challenges for future female leaders.
Firstly, the ability to have it all as a female – to be the superwoman at work and the supermom, super daughter, super wife, super something in everything that they do. Especially since working from home has become the norm now, being at home makes it easier for our family to assume we can and will be available for everything, including work. Women need to realize that time by yourself, for yourself is very important. We need the downtime to relax, unwind and do nothing if needed. The key is how we as women can find balance amidst the chaos.
Secondly, learning how to deal with shame, guilt, and comparison with other leaders. The growth of social media has brought about positive impacts, but one of the biggest negative impact it has created is allowing you to glimpse the lives of others via their profiles on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok, etc. Social media profiles can be deceiving and very few people share about their struggles and failures publicly. Therefore, do not hold yourself to an unrealistic goal because of what you see online and know that you are moving at your own pace.
Who or what inspires you?
What inspires me is the journey of learning in my career and I have always accepted new responsibilities to learn and grow. This has spurred me on to accept new challenges within the firm, and to also expand my abilities in other areas of interests. I am particularly interested particularly in development work within the social sector.
We understand that you have led diversity and inclusion initiatives and was part of the Financial Women’s Association of Singapore (FWA), is there anything about this that you’d like to share?
During my time as a part-timer in FWA, I helped with various events, including organising the mentorship programme with experienced female leaders in the financial industry. I saw how these women leaders were articulate in communicating the vision for the organisation and how committed they were to the cause. At the same time, these women were holding senior roles and being mothers too. This experience made me become more critical and reflective on what I was doing and how to learn to say no and ask for help when things got overwhelming. I eventually had to step away as I was not able to commit the time required.
Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to be part of several diversity events in the many companies that I worked for. This gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded female leaders as well as those who were aspiring to get there. As mentioned earlier, diversity is not limited to gender diversity but also concerns diversity in race, religion, sexual orientation and thought. Understanding this broadened my mind and perspective!