February 6, 2023

Gen Z & Millennials taking the Leadership Front

Smriti Khanna

Smriti Khanna

VP of HR, WOW Skin Sciences
Smriti Khanna

Smriti Khanna has about a decade of experience in the HR industry which helps her understand diverse sets of industries, companies with different maturity stages, myriad talent mixes and profiles, and various sub-functions of HR.

When asked about leadership among Gen Z and Millenials, she claims that the focus now is more on talents that are coming up along with the relatability factor rather than the number of years of experience that a candidate might have.

Smriti believes that it is through respect shown by employees of an organization that it is possible to implement diversity in an organization. Respect for various cultures will hence play a major role in improving the various DEI initiatives.

“It’s been a decade-long experience now with different industries”

I started my HR journey with the telecom industry and then went on to FMCG and then ventured into Incubation state startups. After which I worked with a Series C-funded startup and very recently I became a part of the WOW Skill Sciences. Here I am looking forward to building things up from scratch which will help our organization to reach heights. My experience across these many streams of HR started with talent acquisition and then went on to various generalistic activities. These activities also included compensation, benefits, managing factory HR and business partners. 

My main focus has been on how we build a culture and how we design the organization in such a way that it encourages the kind of culture and behavior we are building. This included not just the organizational level but also on the leadership, development, diversity, and inclusion levels. Talking about diversity, inclusion, and equity are some of the topics that are extremely close to my heart even at a personal level.

“I believe what happens at the workplace or as an employer brand is a reflection of what happens in the market.”

Now if you talk about the industry IMA especially when personal beauty and care is concerned, the kind of consumers we currently have is so diverse. It is no longer what we had traditionally seen before. Talking traditionally, you’d see women in the beauty and personal care section as a major part of the consumers. However, that is not the case right now. In the last five years, we have seen tremendous growth in the popularity of these products among men, pre-teens, teens, and even elderly people. Health has become such an important factor that people right from 10 to 11 years of age to even 70 years of age have started paying attention to their health and beauty care. 

Now given that your customer base is so diverse where it’s not just about gender but also about thoughts, ideas, affiliations, background, and different life stages, it is obvious that you look for people in your team who will resonate with these diverse thoughts and cater to their diverse needs. So I will actually place it as a necessity rather than a good to have. This also means that you cannot just point out a particular set of talents and claim that you need them, instead you need to be open to the variety of talents that are available in the market.

“I think respect is the foundation of diversity in an organization.”

According to me HR people and those in the leadership levels are privileged to drive a culture that respects diversity. Now diversity doesn’t really mean just various backgrounds, it also means building an ecosystem where people can equally thrive. So if I respect various cultures and people from different backgrounds and have different mindsets then I think I’ll be more inclusive and also more caring. This again will result in a diverse organization. Now you can create such an ecosystem through various policies, how you design your processes and procedures, and the type of behavior that you support in the organization. 

Diversity also plays an important role especially in the employee lifecycles right from the hiring to exit. Some of the questions you might want to ask yourself would be am I respecting my people? Am I respecting the teams that I’m working with? Am I inclusive to them? Am I caring about them? If I am doing that, there is an ecosystem for different sets of skills and talents, and backgrounds to come and coexist. 

“You can now see a generation shift every five years.”

What happens at a consumer level is also reflected in the employer economy. Now our major consumer over here would be Gen Z. This means that you need team members who can think and get insights into how Gen Z behaves. So this is where skill sets and talents take a priority over the number of years of experience that a candidate has. Also, yes since there are technological changes happening around and there are changes in the way a consumer behaves it has impacted the employer brands in understanding the merits of prioritizing candidates who have go talent skillsets more than the number of experience. Again over here I am not negating the sheer exposure, and a number of years of experience spring that brings a lot of anchors but at the same time skill, talent, action, and bias have become very important in the last decade. 

Also since it has become an age of entrepreneurial startups, there are more and more young generations starting to take up the management space and run huge organizations. And hence you see a lot of young talent who is there on the basis of their merits and not a number of years of experience. At WOW Skin Science we are especially proud since we are lucky to have organically created a workspace where you can see Gen X, Y, and Z along with millennials all coming in together and pitching in a variety of ideas. This is such a wonderful spectrum, especially in terms of diversity. 

“One question you need to ask while deciding on whether to work remotely or in the office would be, “can this role happen remotely?” If the answer is yes then definitely you can opt for a remote option.”

There has been quite a lot of debate on whether to work remotely or in the office. While there are jobs that require you to be physically present in the office for better performance, there are other roles that can be performed remotely. All you need to do is check into the requirements of the job. And if the requirements need you to be in the office then you know what to do. So the demarcation over here becomes very important. 

“L&D becomes very important especially when you talk about creative skill sets that cannot be easily automated.”

L&D is an important pillar for any organization. The speed at which technology is advancing, the speed at which the changes are happening in the world, if they are not keeping abreast, are still set soon as they obsolete. Especially now that organizations are preferring more gig model working, it has become essential to focus on L&D. You can literally upscale or downscale an organization very quickly when you are at a gig model. In such a setting the people you mostly work with would be those who are innovative, are doing creative thinking jobs, people who are into management jobs, and have all the skill sets which cannot be automated. So as we move forward we need to focus on building a skill set that is more innovation-focused, creativity-focused, ideation-focused, management-focused, and leadership-focused. Hence L&D becomes very important in allowing people to upgrade their skill sets and stay relevant in the market. 

“At WOW Skin Sciences we are proud to say that we have about 40% women in leadership levels.”

When we talk about hiring here at WOW Skin Sciences we do not mention, that we need to hire 50% new female employees. We just specify that we need new talent. Now, this is based on merit grounds, their suitability, and whether they are fit for the role or not. While it does take us a while to build a better team, over time we have been able to organically pick up people from diverse backgrounds which I’d say is not just diversity across generations but also diversity of gender, as well as the diversity of gender affiliations.

So for example, if there is a requirement at a factory and an employee needs to stand for about 8 hours, we do not say that no, a woman cannot do it. We just check if someone fits the right criteria for the job. And this automatically makes it non-gender specific. So it is a slow but sustainable shift is what I’d like to say. Also, we are not just hiring these female employees but we are also looking at ways to support them.

Now say if you hire someone age 40 or 50 it is natural that they might encounter some health problems. Now, this has no relation with gender. However, knowing whether you can support them at various life stages or life experiences is something that needs to be focused on. So the focus is less on gender and more on supporting these people at various life stages.

Technology providing a neutral language that helps make hiring decisions easier.

The technology while it does provide us unbiased results, also depends on how you are interacting with the technology. For example, if I feed in bias filters, then it is quite obvious that the results I obtain will also be biased. But when you have the right set of HR professionals working along with advanced HR technologies it is possible to focus on skillsets and talents rather than gender affiliations.

So all sort of biases gets eliminated and the system in itself does a filtration of these biases because it is smart enough to understand the inputs given.

Hence I really believe HR Tech can remove biases even during hiding processes and other processes of the employee lifecycle as well.

Advice to young HR professionals:
“Have as much exposure as you can, especially with different sets of talents and with people with diverse backgrounds.”

As an HR professional, the first and foremost thing you might want to gather is exposure to various sets of talents and meeting them, and also understanding them. Once you gather information on diverse sets of industries, and the people you meet, it becomes easier to see how varied the conversations are with these people.

Also, it is quite important that you provide a unique experience to each employee in your organization. Now, this can only be possible if you are able to understand where they are coming from and respect that. When you get exposed to diversity it becomes easier to understand, become aware and respect them.