How Uber Tech in India is applying Design Thinking to craft a Diversity & Inclusion Agenda

A few months ago, when we walked into the Uber Tech office in Bangalore’s Sarjapur Road, we were instantly hit by the dynamism of youth. It was at once colorful and vibrant. And deeply evocative of the great melting pot of disruptive innovation which it has come to demonstrate the world over.  ‘Custom-designed’, as one of the facilities staff members put it, ‘for great ideas!’ And this was by no means an exaggeration. The company takes tremendous pride in the fact that it attracts the brightest and best minds from across the country.

In this heady mix of grey matter and celebration of ideas, lay an undeniable fact. That it was the company’s diversity which was spearheading its search for the next big thing. It was therefore, by no means surprising that it chose to look at disrupting the way it lands at its diversity and inclusion agenda.

How does everyone get a fair seat at the table? How does one bring one’s Authentic Self to work? How do you create an Equal Opportunity Workplace?

These were questions which its leaders were asking, said Stella Joshua, a Senior HR Leader with Uber Tech in India, ‘We are a young organisation on one hand, and a cauldron of several many generations on the other. We are a growing organisation and firmly believe that at the heart of innovation and business impact there’s diversity and inclusion. It is not a good-to-have for us, it is core to our business.’

To get the organisation thinking beyond mere ratios, the company decided to adopt a design thinking led approach for coming up with diversity and inclusion initiatives. Cognizant of time and the need to show a tangible way forward, it chose to look at a short, quick design sprint backed by initial empathetic research.

And this is where we came in.

Our going in point-of-view at LagomWorks was that there has, of course, been a lot of talk around diversity and inclusion. And a lot of it has become about the next monthly event. We did not mean to take anything away from the events. Rather, we wanted to highlight the need to stitch them together - and agree on their purpose. We maintained that it was important to remind ourselves that we could not solve for world hunger. We would have to prioritise and progress tangible, on-the-ground ideas.

Partnering with Uber Tech, we carried out initial empathetic research to identify three key Personas (or User descriptions) which it would want to solve for, as part of its D&I agenda. In the process, we landed at problem statements or ‘How Might Wes’. In the simplest form, 'How Might Wes' help define the Persona’s needs in the form of verbs, as opposed to nouns. Henry Ford didn’t go about asking people if they wanted faster horses. He asked how might they get from one point to the other in a faster manner. Imagine, if he hadn’t!

The Personas and their attendant How Might Wes helped baseline the ideation process, which was carried out through a Design Sprint which saw participation from Business Leaders, Program Managers and Human Resource practitioners. The 6-hour Sprint saw them working in 3 teams, each of which one of the How Might Wes for the Persona assigned to them. From a repository of over 42 ideas, the 3 teams prioritised them, combined some and picked one idea each to prototype. During the prototyping session, teams thought through the desirability, feasibility and viability of their ideas - and prototyped the most unbelievable aspect.

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So, was it as smooth as that? ‘Of course, not!’ says Vidhya Duthuluru, a Director who co-anchors D&I for tech in India. ‘Design Thinking is an iterative process. We had one team piece together a great idea to progress. In fact, it may subsume one of the other team’s ideas within its fold. The second team’s idea needs sharpening. And the third team seemed to have gone back to ideation.’

So was this par for the course? Yes. A short sprint such as this provides a great start - and a wonderful forum to bounce off initiatives with. In the process, we had three great outcomes. One, there was a repository of ideas. Two, we landed on a Diversity and Inclusion strategy at Uber Tech in India - to stitch together the purpose of its many initiatives in this space.

‘And the third one,’ adds Megha Yethakda, Director who co-anchors D&I for Tech in India ‘is that we now have a community of different minds who have come together on this front - almost like a group of advocates.’

As Vidya put it, ‘It is Diversity of Thought which ultimately matters for us. Ratios on gender, LGBTQ, generation and so on are important indicators, but not an end upon themselves. It is about equal participation and their tangible enablers - be it flexible processes and policies, or enabling our managers and people with relevant nudges on how to manage different professional and personal situations. We need to actively encourage and sponsor our under-represented groups to bridge their confidence gaps and support them in realizing their true potential. We have come a long way in our Diversity and inclusion focus, but our journey of strengthening relevance and impact has well and truly begun now.’

Stella Joshua
Stella JoshuaLead HR Business Partner
Stella Joshua is the Lead HR Business Partner with Uber Tech in India. She is an HR leader with over 15 years of experience in leadership roles across Software and Hi-Tech organisations such as Cisco and Yahoo. Her expertise spans HR functional areas such as Workforce Planning, Leadership Development, Employer Branding,Coaching and Performance Management. She holds an SPHR certificate from SHRM and certified at Cornell University.
Abhishek Mohanty
Abhishek MohantyDirector
Abhishek Mohanty is a Bangalore-based Director with LagomWorks, an organizational consulting collective which applies the principles of design thinking to address client challenges in the corporate, social and education sectors. Previously, he was an Associate Director with PwC India’s management consulting team. He has a PGDM from XIM Bhubaneswar and a BA (Honours) in Economics from Hindu College, Delhi University.
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