Bringing DEI to the Boardroom: How This Chief Human Resources Officer Is Making a Huge Impact

Sponsored by Freshworks

Photo courtesy of Freshworks.

Photo courtesy of Freshworks.

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Fairygodboss
May 15, 2024 at 6:16PM UTC

“DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) means empowering people and embracing their uniqueness,” shares Suman Gopalan, the Chief Human Resources Officer at Freshworks. DEI is a topic that Gopalan knows well, since her day-to-day job revolves around growing an inclusive, welcoming, and diverse culture. “As the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at Freshworks, I lead and guide the company’s global people strategy to engage, develop, and care for our worldwide employees,” Gopalan explains. “I oversee Freshworks culture, talent, and organizational development, employee relations and experience, benefits, compensation, and DEI work.”

For example, throughout her work, Gopalan keeps in mind that everyone brings a unique perspective that will add to Freshworks’ global company culture. As such, “it’s important to me, as a leader working with employees across the globe, that we focus on diverse hires because while everyone may have the equal capability to do things, not everyone has been afforded the equal opportunity to do so,” she says. “[I help] lead the way in giving employees and potential employees that opportunity.”

And this is only one area in which she’s making a difference. “I am involved in all aspects of DEI, whether it be my involvement in resource groups, creating policies, or taking those extra steps to ensure that we are diversifying our talent pipeline,” Gopalan tells us.

Here, Gopalan reveals more about how she grew her own career, how she empowers other women, and best practices for prioritizing DEI. Read on for some inspiration and advice!

To start, can you share a few more details about your career journey?

I started my career in Human Resources in the consumer durables industry. I’ve had the opportunity to learn all different aspects of HR, live in different countries, and travel the world — China, Japan, the U.S., Europe, Africa, Australia, South East Asia, and Singapore. Working with so many people across so many countries has given me the opportunity to learn about and experience different cultures. It has enabled me to truly relate to all different people in many ways and is why I love working in Human Resources.

As my career continued to grow, so did my family, and, at one point, I decided to take a career break to spend time with my family. To some, this may seem daunting, but it is something I am truly passionate about and support. When I was ready to return to work, I did so in a leadership role at Freshworks.

How are you taking what you learned and using it to promote DEI at Freshworks?

My experience has empowered me to speak up and put topics such as career returnship and equality in the workplace on the boardroom agenda. Because of this, we have put our conversations into action and have taken a public #PledgeforEquality. The pledge commits to increasing the female representation of Freshworks’ workforce to 40% by the end of 2023. The pledge has renewed since and today, nearly 35% of women make up Freshworks’ workforce globally. In fact, we made the pledge public and invited the industry to join Freshworks in our efforts.

Additionally, we’ve established a Career Restart program for people rejoining the workforce after a career break, and implemented various programs giving flexibility to working parents. The leadership team at Freshworks has been beyond supportive of these initiatives and has continued to make them a priority.

In your current position, how do you ensure that you are lifting other women up with you?

When I became the Chief Human Resource Officer for Freshworks, my three main objectives were to:

  1. Build the Human Resource function for the company

  2. Scale our Culture and Happy work environment

  3. Build a diverse team at all levels of the company.

To ensure diversity and inclusion were included in the boardroom agenda, I pioneered programs at Freshworks to increase the representation of women and underrepresented groups around the world. I am the co-founder of and a mentor for ACT for Women — a nonprofit collective focused on increasing the participation of women in the startup ecosystem in India. I hope to make the ecosystem more inclusive and identify and fund ideas for solving systemic challenges that women might face when returning to work.

It’s my role to keep the dialogue going and to make sure the opportunities are there and that the leaders of the organization are willing to support these opportunities for growth. Striving for a more equal workforce, offering additional support opportunities for those facing hardships, and providing education and development opportunities.

What are your top 5 tips on how other women can help advance the careers of those around them?

  1. Build a strong network by investing time and effort in others.

  2. Ask for feedback to avoid miscommunications and meet expectations.

  3. Take on new challenges. If you're asked to do something that excites you but you aren't sure you're completely ready for, always say yes — you'll figure out the "how" later.

  4. Exercise projecting confidence. The more confident and competent you appear, the more you'll be able to build confidence in your abilities in others.

  5. Take chances, have conviction, and stand by your choices.

Let’s also talk about DEI as a whole. Can you tell us more about how Freshworks makes DEI initiatives a priority?

Each of us brings our uniqueness to an organization, shaping the company’s culture. We’ve taken great strides in expanding our dedication to DEI across the globe and strive to be more inclusive as an organization.

To start, DEI remains a boardroom topic at all times and DEI objectives are embedded throughout the organization with the intent to build a balanced workplace, create and encourage an empathetic workforce, and create a sense of belonging for all employees. Over the last few years, Freshworks launched numerous employee resource groups, including Freshworks Women360, and Prideworks, as well as a group for employees with disabilities. These groups help retain employees that join Freshworks from various backgrounds and experiences, while also serving to diversify our talent pipeline.

Building a balanced workplace culture starts even before an employee is hired at Freshworks. In the area of recruitment, Freshworks has worked diligently to create bias-free job descriptions and promote roles in intentionally diverse spaces with partners (like Fairygodboss).

What can other companies learn about how your company handles DEI?

Make DEI a priority in all you do and involve your employees in making decisions about DEI initiatives. At Freshworks, DEI objectives are embedded throughout the organization with the intent to build a balanced workplace, create and encourage an empathetic workforce, and create a sense of belonging for all employees.



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