Creating an equitable workplace culture with Suman Gopalan, Chief HR Officer at Freshworks

Workplace culture - headshot of Suman Gopalan

The situation is tense in many companies these days, particularly in tech. The Great Resignation; budget and workforce cutback, and the overall financial crises that many are facing have combined to create the perfect storm for HR. The burden is real––and heavy. And it’s time to offer some relief with equitable solutions.

HR execs and teams are tasked with attracting the best talent to fit their culture and company, but the most crucial component is largely unspoken: They need to create an environment where employees want to stay.

According to Suman Gopalan, Chief HR Officer at Freshworks, “The biggest differentiator that organizations can have is actually employee experience. Everything else? Anybody can recreate the compensation.” Other pieces can be recreated as well. Employee experience is the differentiator at businesses built to last, and it must become a priority.

But even a dedicated focus on the EX front is not enough.

When evaluating employee experience, a key component to address is the issue of equity. And this consideration has traditionally presented an impossible hurdle for the global enterprise to clear, never mind sticking the landing with any aplomb.

But Suman has done it––and she shared valuable insight and inspiration with Amanda Berry, Manager of Corporate Brand & Communications at Simpplr, during episode 22 of the Cohesion Podcast.

Discovering a passion for HR and equitable solutions

After a computer science degree, an MBA, and undertaking work in fields that didn’t speak to her soul, Suman’s interests changed direction, and she found herself fascinated with human resources.

She is passionate about helping others experience success. This passion finds outward expression in her mentorships with startups, and a particular focus on working with young women founders and up-and-coming leaders.

In fact, Suman is a founding member of ACT for Women, an organization focused on improving the participation of women in the workplace, especially amongst startups.

All-in-all, twenty-five years later finds Suman having held several different HR leadership roles with regional and global teams at Whirlpool, Dell Technologies, and the Nielsen Company. And today, we connect with her at FreshWorks, where her current role is Chief HR Officer, which seems a natural fit.

At FreshWorks, her focus is comprehensive. Scaling the business is essential, and her purpose is to accomplish this by way of two key enhancements driving toward the same end result: Creating a company culture and work environment that enables “all employees to do their best and be their best.” Not only that, but for the company to be the best in supporting employees in these efforts.

Suman’s own experiences have added clarity to this focus.

A pivotal realization and inspiration

Many women in the workplace take time off for family. Of those, some never turn, but others are forced to seek out different options as they find their old roles are not built to accommodate shifting life needs. Even those without outside priorities to attend to can find it’s a struggle to seamlessly return to the office.

Suman experienced this struggle to varying degrees as well, and it was eye-opening.

For Suman, returning to work required rethinking the kind of organization she wanted to be a part of and how intrinsic employee experience was to this selection. Also, Suman wanted to do something meaningful to effect change.

So, she asked herself, “What can I do that creates impact? That leaves a legacy?” Startups were the answer. And beyond her mentor work, FreshWorks came into focus.

FreshWorks offered the perfect opportunity and platform for developing an employee experience strategy that contained diversity, equity, and inclusion––one that acknowledged the different EX that happens for women and men. And its CO worked alongside Suma to set a revolutionary goal.

With there being equal amounts of men to women in the world population, they pondered, why should the workplace not be equal? Suman and Freshworks pledged to set the record straight in their own house first, as they worked to be the change they wanted to see in the larger world.

“It’s not good enough to say you have 30% women or 40% women. Ultimately it should be equal. And that is our pledge for equality,” Suman stated. And they’ve been diligently working toward that goal since, projected to reach 40% by next year. There’s more work to do, but it’s an exceptional start.

And it’s only one pillar of an overarching plan for creating an amazing and equitable EX.

Putting EX on par with CX

Digging in to unravel challenges to create a great EX takes time. Each experience is highly dependent on the nature and culture of the company, after all. And it impacts how customers experience the company as well.

Suman recognizes the body of knowledge supporting a simple fact: employee experience is synchronous to the customer experience. “We talked so much about customer experience,” she explained. “Every company spends hours trying to decode customer experience. It’s exactly the same with employee experience. We actually took the same principles that we apply with our customers and tried to apply that to our employees.”

And at the heart of this process are the answers to three key questions:

  • How do people experience FreshWorks?
  • How do they experience their role?
  • How do they experience the culture?

This is where their work finds inspiration and understanding today, driving them to create engaging and equitable experiences for their employees, creating the best employee experience for their people––and for the customers they in turn serve.

There’s so much great insight to share from this interview, and we hope you tune into the podcast to hear more directly from this HR trailblazer. And while there, be sure to subscribe for updates so you don’t miss any broadcasts of the Simpplr Cohesion podcast. You can also find it on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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