Voice of Experience: Shveta Verma, Senior Director, Diversity and Inclusion, PwC India

Shveta VermaBy Cathie Ericson

Over the years PwC’s Shveta Verma has found that that the local culture can make it more challenging for women to develop the confidence to speak up and ask for what they want and need and trust their own voice.

“Women here are brought up being told that they are embodiment of love, care and sacrifice; with all this conditioning, everything else around them supersedes their own interests and what they want,” she says. With that in mind she urges younger women to take charge of their careers and make decisions that matter to them.

“Never give the reins to anyone else to steer the direction or acceleration of your career,” she says. “There will be times where family and children take priority and work takes a back seat or vice versa, and this is natural and shouldn’t cause guilt. Above all else, love yourself immensely and choose to be happy every day of your life.”

Finding her Niche by Helping Advance Others

Over two decades in the human capital function, Verma has spent time in a variety of roles from a beginner to a leader. Her longest stint has been at PwC where she has spent almost 15 years, currently overseeing the diversity and inclusion function for both India and PwC Global.

In fact joining PwC is the professional achievement she is most proud of, a journey that began when she was working in the human capital function of Jaypee Hotels at Agra, a hotel that was a regular offsite destination for PwC. “I still remember that afternoon in 2002 very vividly… I was admiring the quality of people and at that moment I silently prayed to be a part of PwC someday,” she says, adding that she hails from a small town in India where no female from her immediate or extended family had ever gone out to work. “I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to step out and be able to attain professional fulfillment. I believe that my joining PwC was the biggest turning point of my life.”

While there she has seen multiple highs and lows, mergers and demergers, but her biggest moment was in April 2012 when she took on a new role as India human capital transformation leader. With no existing role model in place, she carved out the function herself, aligning with the global network which enabled her to focus on developing and implementing a variety of initiatives for the diversity office, including focuses on generational differences, flexibility and social responsibility.

In her current role, she finds that being part of the global team offers the ability to influence change through the length and breadth of the organization and across territories; at the same time being exposed to the multifold nuances that come to play when implementing policies, such as local legislations, cultural dynamics, workforce profile, leadership commitment, organization maturity and many more. One of her most exciting projects this year has been helping create pay equity and inclusive recruitment policies.

Overseeing a Sea Change in D&I

Her role is an exciting one because she sees a huge shift in the mindset towards D&I in India. While a lot of Indian organizations are still struggling to really understand what it means and where to start from, she finds there is an increased realization and energy to focus on creating policies and nurturing an environment that creates inclusion. This focus may lead to a variety of changes concerning D& I, including organizations defining what it means for them and then aligning their diversity strategy with how it impacts the business performance by bridging talent and skill. She also sees an increase in the use of technology and AI at every stage of talent decision-making to remove bias and then deploying analytics to create a diversity strategy and plan, assess key diversity metrics and create accountability.

While there have been many advances for women in India, she finds that there are still few powerful examples of women role models in workplaces. She urges her peers to focus on creating an enabling environment within their teams for younger women to progress and then mentor and guide them. “Let them know that someone is watching over them; there is sufficient space for all of us to move forward.”

PwC India is spearheading a number of initiatives designed to counteract this low representation of women in leadership positions. Special programs designed to prepare them for leadership roles include Reach Out, a networking and mentoring program created in partnership with four other organizations. They also connect newer professionals with high-performing senior women employees to provide them the right enablers to promote growth to leadership positions. “Towards Leadership Program”, which prepares the participants (including men and women) by providing them with key skills, to take on leadership roles.

“As the workforce of the future becomes increasingly diverse, it is imperative that we tap into the potential of our women employees, especially at the mid-management level,” she notes. This can happen by creating an environment for women to achieve their full potential, in both their business and personal lives, and thus reduce attrition.

That was the impetus behind the “WoMentoring program,” introduced for women managers to be mentored by senior leaders of the organization at this critical level where talent is experiencing personal life cycle changes and professional aspirations which impact their career decisions to stay or leave the organization. “We believe that our ability to support and mentor our managers in these stages will go a long way in retaining them and providing a nurturing and developing environment,” Verma says.

Throughout her busy career, Verma finds that her fitness regime keeps her going. A marathoner, she is also training to be a triathlete. In addition she loves theatre — although she finds it more challenging now to find the opportunities to indulge, she won various awards for her acting skills during her college days. “My best way to beat stress now is cooking with my 12-year-old son and going for my long runs,” she says.